Electronic RTI application system a failure -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Electronic RTI application system a failure

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: Lack of interest on part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission and public information officers in the working of the electronic-RTI application system has nearly crippled the initiative launched in Sept 2015.

Insiders claim that the RTI commission’s officials tasked with enforcing the relevant law are telling the people to file applications manually instead of using the ERTI portal.

An official told Dawn that the ERTI was part of the e-governance initiative launched by the PTI government soon after its formation.

“It is basically part of the citizen portal launched by the government,” he said, adding that the project’s aim was to provide an ‘easy outlet’ to those seeking information from the government departments.

The official said the ERTI made the process of seeking information from the government department hassle-free compared to the submitting of paper-based applications where one has to personally visit the PIO offices.

He said the directorate of the Science, Technology and Information Technology took around eight months to design the system and that it also trained around 200 government officials in how to use it.

The official said the system also had a facility of chat between the applicant and the relevant PIO, while the applicant could track the status of his application in real time.

He said PIOs who deal with RTI requests at departmental level were not willing to use ERTI system citing work burden, lack of computers and other pretexts.

The official said on the other hand, RTI Commission lack of will was also a main reason behind non-utilization of the system.

“Why the PIOs would start using a system, which requires them to be more efficient and responsive, if the commission itself is not willing to tell them to use the system in unequivocal terms,” he said.

The official said in order to make the system work, the commission needed to issue strict instructions to PIOs.

“A notification from the chief secretary office would also do the trick, as currently the PIOs are not legally bound to use the ERTI system,” he said.

The official said the PIOs’ reluctance to use the system, too, adversely impacted on the implementation of proactive disclosure under the provision of the KP RTI Act 2013, as the PIO had been provided with authorisation to feed the required data into the system.

“The proactive disclosure wherein departments have to provide notifications, merit and seniority lists, annual reports, minutes of the meetings, rules and regulations, budget and sanctioned posts on their website was to make job easier for both the general public as well as departments, but the apathy of PIOs and commission was made the compliance with this provision nearly impossible,” he said.

The search for details of proactive disclosure on RTI portal draws a blank for most government departments.

The figures available on the ERTI web portal show that 383 ERTI applications were pending with the commission, while 554 were turned into escalated requests as the PIOs concerned failed to deal them within the stipulated time.

They show that a total of 49 requests were processed; 48 requests were being processed, and the commission also received 86 complaints.

Another official requesting anonymity informed that non-compliance with the electronic-RTI application system by PIOs had forced the commission to take printouts of information requests before sending them to the relevant departments’ PIOs.

The RTI users confirm it.

Mohsin Ali, a resident of Kohat, complained the PIOs concerned didn’t bother to respond to his two online RTI requests filed in Nov 2016 within the stipulated time forcing him to approach the commission for relief.

He said when he contacted the commission, I was told that there were several issues with the online RTI system and he should file paper-based RTI.

“Later, the commission itself took printouts of his applicants and forwarded them to the departments concerned,” he said.

The PIOs’ lenient attitude towards the implementation of the KP RTI Act 2013 also forced Chief Information Commissioner Azmat Hanif Aurakzai to ask provincial chief secretary Abid Saeed to intervene and direct the government departments to cooperate with the commission.

In a letter written to the chief secretary, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Mr. Aurakzai noted that of the 20 PIOs, only seven turned up for a seminar on RTI Act and budget transparency on Dec 29 in Peshawar showing that by and large, those officers were least interested in the RTI activities.

He requested the chief secretary to ask all administrative secretaries to direct their respective PIOs for cooperation in this respect in the ‘public interest’.

A spokesman for the RTI commission said the organisation was receiving the ERTI requests though their numbers were small.

He attributed it to low computer literacy and the insistence of RTI users to be provided with receipts of applications.

The spokesman said the ERTI was introduced in Peshawar only, a factor partially responsible for the filing of small number of applications.