Enforcement of RTI law in Punjab being impeded
ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Information Commission has complained that non-serious attitude of public bodies is impeding the implementation of Right to Information (RTI) law in the province, urging the provincial government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz to take cognisance of the issue.
In its first annual report for 2014-15, the commission, which is tasked to promote free flow of information, strongly criticised the government departments for not allowing implementation of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 in its true spirit. Under the law, the report must be presented in Punjab Assembly by the government.
“The non-serious attitude of public bodies is also evident from the fact that only 35 of them responded to a circular issued by the Commission on June 30, 2015 about sharing information about the status of implementation of the Act during the fiscal year 2014-15. Total number of public bodies is likely to be more than 1,000 as all developed departments, autonomous institutions, boards and higher educational institutes are to be individually treated as public bodies,” the report said.
The commission urged the Punjab government to take cognisance of the matter and direct the public bodies to ensure immediate implementation of provisions of section 4, 7, 8, 9 and 11 of the Act.
“The commission has repeatedly reminded and directed public bodies about their responsibilities but the response remains unsatisfactory and the commission lacks adequate powers to ensure compliance,” says the report, adding that information requests and commission’s direction are seen as undue interference in the so-called “official” work.
The commission also highlighted that most public bodies have either not designated Public Information Officers (PIOs) or have not taken steps to widely share information about the contact details of designated PIOs.
“In general, public bodies have failed to decide information requests in accordance with section 10 of the Act whereby each information request should be decided within 14 working days. As a result, in most cases, applicant have to file a complaint to the commission, which is a worrying trend as the commission may not be able to cope with the workload of most information requests become complaints,” says the report.
The commission also mentioned that significant amount of Rs20.8 million allocated for staff salaries lapsed as the commission could not get the staff against the sanctioned posts.“It took the commission considerable time to establish its office, partly because the government could neither make any official building available for office nor could it ensure quick approval of budget,” the report said, adding that lack of staff was a major challenge which remained unaddressed, despite repeated request made to the government.