Government departmens still resist giving information despite promulgation of RTI laws, moot told
The right to information is a fundamental right of every citizen and nobody should deny access to public information. However, government departments often create hurdles in providing information to the citizen.
This was said at a conference organised by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) in collaboration with the Sindh Information Commission (SIC) on Thursday. Speakers at the conference discussed challenges and way forward about the RTI and demanded the implementation of the RTI law in letter and spirit.
Special Assistant to Sindh Chief Minister Senator Syed Waqar Mehdi stressed the importance of reviving the print media saying that print media is still considered the most credible source of information. He laid emphasis on imparting information about the RTI and information commission to the students of colleges and universities.
He maintained that the Sindh government was committed to correcting some issues in the Sindh RTI legislation and would arrange a meeting of the RTI advocates with the chief minister so that improvements could be made in the RTI law. He added that the Sindh government wanted to strengthen the information commission to ensure that the people of the province had access to the public information.
Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, the CPDI executive director, told the conference that the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) had been dysfunctional for the last two months despite the fact that civil society and a former chief information commissioner had written letters to the federal information ministry to initiate a process for the appointment of the federal information commissioner.
Ali added that political parties in the incumbent federal government had earlier criticised the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf for not disclosing information about the Toshakhana, but now, despite a court order, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led government was not willing to disclose that public information.
Mehboob Qadir Shah, the chief information commissioner of the Punjab Information Commission, informed the conference that the commission had passed more than 10,000 orders since its establishment and took measures to ensure the implementation of those orders.
He maintained that departments of the Punjab government created hurdles in providing information to citizens, but the commission was doing its best to ensure the implementation of the right to information.
Farah Hamid Khan, the chief information commissioner of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission (KPIC), said political will was mandatory for the implementation of the RTI law 2013. She added that when the government was interested in the implementation of the law, the KPIC was considered an ideal organisation, but now more than 1,700 complaints were pending in the KPIC due to vacant posts of information commissioners.
She said that more than 44,000 people in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had used the RTI law, 13,000 of whom received their required information directly from the government department, while more than 10,000 citizens had filed complaints to the KPIC. The event was told that the KP commission passed more than 8,000 orders and ensured the provision of the information to concerned citizens.
Nusrat Hussain, the chief information commissioner of the Sindh Information Commission (SIC), said that despite limited resources, the SIC had launched its website, and all the necessary information would be made available on it.
He said that the commission had so far received 150 complaints, of which 25 had been resolved and the rest were under process at different stages. Sindh Assembly member Abbas Jaferi said that laws were enacted but their rules and regulations were not made. He agreed with other speakers that the government resisted sharing information and it required much commitment on part of the seeker to dig out the information.
Journalist Azaz Syed emphasised that social and economic progress depended on not only freedom of expression but also the right to information. He added that a mindset of secrecy was prevalent across all the departments and institutions.
He advised the information commissioners to impart RTI trainings in the provincial and federal civil services academies, to parliamentarians and to those in the local government. He stressed the need for moving from the culture of secrecy to a culture of transparency, saying that without it, democracy could not be strengthened.
Journalist Syed Ali Shah said that good governance was an answer to all ills of the country. He emphasised that it was important to impart awareness to journalists at the district level so they could create pressure on government for improved transparency.
Syed Raza Ali, CPDI project coordinator, discussed the importance of the RTI laws and challenges faced by the citizens using those laws. He said that despite the legislation, citizens faced hurdles in getting information from government departments.
He maintained that the objective of the conference was to debate on the challenges related to the RTI laws and discuss their solutions. Owais Aslam, the general secretary of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said the right to information was an effective tool to counter the fake news. Journalists should make filing information requests regularly their routine, he opined.
Source: The News