No transparency, no information
Worthy legislation is one thing, getting it implemented quite another. There is much to applaud in the passing of the Punjab Right to Transparency and Information Bill in December 2013, but since the bill came on to the statute books precious little has been done to implement it. The government has not reserved any funds for the setting up of the necessary offices and the three information commissioners who were reportedly appointed on March 5, 2014 are apparently twiddling their thumbs in frustration having been told to remain at home but continue to draw their salaries. The bill became an Act after it was approved by the provincial governor on December 16, 2013 and matters seemed to be proceeding smoothly until the commissioners were appointed, at which point everything came to a shuddering and thus far unexplained halt.
Everything had been done by the book up until the commissioners came into post, and they had a reasonable expectation that there would be an office established, equipped appropriately and they would then set about framing the rules under which the Act would operate. The latest information — from an unnamed official keen to stay out of the spotlight — says that a summary regarding the budget for the commission was ‘pending’ and is currently with the finance department. This is the bureaucratic equivalent of saying that matters have been kicked into the long grass somewhere in an alternative reality. The ball now sits in the court of the Information Department. The government is clearly in violation of its own rules; namely clause-7 of the RTI Act of 2013 which states that a public body shall, within 60 days, put in place the machinery for implementation of the law. This is a classic example of political tardiness in play when potentially discomfiting legislation, correctly tabled, debated and passed, is set to hit the ground running. This situation needs to be remedied on an urgent basis; there is simply no good reason for delay.