Defence ministry refuses to share info under RTI law
ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Defence has refused to respond to a query about the total number of amount spent on the pensions of armed forces’ retired personnel during the last five years under the provision of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and termed it against the national security, and that providing the same will not be in general public’s interest.
The applicant, Fakhar Durrani, filed an information request to the Ministry of Defence on October 14, 2016, to provide him the information under the provisions of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 relating to total amount spent on pension of the retired armed personnel during the last five years.
However, after passage of more than two months, the Defense Ministry has sent a letter to the applicant and refused to respond to the queries by seeking refuge in the Section-8 of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002.
The ministry’s letter says, “Reference Application form submitted by Mr Fakhar Durrani, resident of Islamabad, for obtaining certain information relating to Ministry of Defence and its organisations. In this connection, it is informed that the information asked by him cannot be provided under Section-8 of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, which states as under: Section 8 (e) record relating to defence forces, defence installations or connected therewithin, or ancillary to defence and national security, (g) record relating to the personal privacy of any individual, (i) any other record which the Federal Government may, in public interest, exclude from the purview of this Ordinance.”
The applicant also sought certified information about the total number of two, three and four star Generals who have retired during last five years and the perks and privileges, including agricultural and residential land and amount paid to them on their retirement. Similarly the applicant asked for certified information about the total amount (monthly pension) paid to the retired Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) annually and the total amount paid to retired Commissioned officers (up to Brigadier rank) annually.
The applicant also sought certified information about the list of perks and privileges given to the retired JCOs and the perks and privileges given to the Commissioned officers after their retirement.
According to budget document for the fiscal year 2016-17, a major chunk of the amount earmarked for pensions directly goes to the retired army personnel as Rs174 billion out of Rs245 billion i.e. 71 percent of the total amount has been allocated for the pensions of armed forces.
The federal government in the current fiscal year has allocated Rs245 billion for the pensions of federal government employees. However, well placed sources said that Rs174 billion out of the total amount has been allocated for the retired army personnel. It is pertinent to mention here that the government has increased the pensions of the retired employees by 10 percent whereas the pensions of the employees, who are elder than 85 years, have been increased by 25 percent.
A former president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), while talking to The News, said the information about the amount spent on pensions of the retired armed personnel can never be termed against the national security. If the ministry has refused to give information on this query then it should be challenged at any relevant forum.
It is pertinent to mention here that renowned legal experts and RTI practitioners also see no breach of national security in issuing information about the total amount spent of retired armed personnel. According to them every State has legitimate security needs and defence related information which may jeopardise the security of the State. But there is no blanket exemption in the RTI laws. In this particular case no information has been sought which is sensitive most and it has nothing to do with the defence of the country.
The RTI practitioners believe that the law is weak and many government organisations seek refuge in the section 8 of the ordinance.