Implementation of RTI laws not ideal in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Although the citizens and journalists are exercising the Right to Information Laws in federal and provincial governments proactively but the government’s response to these information requests is very unwelcoming. Out of 2,635 information requests filed during last five years, the government responded only to 788 (almost 29 percent), data reveals.
The federal as well as provincial governments has received hundreds of information requests but in most of the cases, the government institutions chose not to respond. Even in some cases, the federal ombudsman directed the various departments to provide the certified information but the government institutions while ignoring these directives gave no response.
The government has formed Federal Information Commission in November 2018 but despite passage of almost seven months, the commission has neither any office nor has any support staff. Federal Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah, however, believes the commission will commence its formal functions from July 2019 as the government has allocated budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
According to the data obtained from Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), citizens and journalists have filed 2,635 information requests from 2015 to 2019 to various government departments by using the Right to Information (RTI) laws. However, only 788 (29 percent of the total) requests have been responded by the government departments. The remaining RTI requests have received no response yet.
As per the data, 459 information requests were filed by the journalists and citizens to the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa out of which it responded to 218 (47 percent) requests from 2015 to 2019. The remaining requests have not been answered by the provincial government.
Similarly, the data further shows that 1,778 requests have been filed in last five years by the citizens and journalists using the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 and only 540 have been responded. The remaining 1,229 were not answered by the authorities concerned.
A total of 100 RTI requests were filed by using the Sindh Transparency and RTI Act 2019. Interestingly not a single request was answered by the provincial government of Sindh.
In Balochistan, citizens and journalists have filed 62 RTI requests using the Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005. However, none of them was responded by the provincial government.
The data further shows that 113 information requests were filed to various departments of federal government using the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 out of which 18 were responded. The remaining 95 have not been answered by the authorities concerned.
Zahid Abdullah, Federal Information Commissioner while talking to The News said the formation of the Commission will definitely improve the status of RTI implementation in the country. A dedicated commission will ensure that the government departments respond to the information requests filed by the citizens and journalists. In order to ensure the process of implementation, the Commission will complete the due process of 60 days and its decision would be final which can be challenged in the courts only.
“We neither have any office nor the required staff for running the function of the Commission. However, the government has allocated the budget in upcoming fiscal year. The Commission will receive the required budget in mid of July after which the commission will commence its regular function”, commented Zahid Abdullah.
When asked whether powerful institutions will implement the Commission’s decision, Zahid said the Commission derives the power from Constitution and the law and it will ensure the implementation of its decisions.
“In the era of fake news, it is essential that we promote the culture of certified and verified information. I would suggest that the journalists should use the Right to Information laws for their investigative reporting, as this will be a great source of information for them. The use of RTI will also counter the fake news factor”, commented Zahid Abdullah.
“The Commission will run advocacy and awareness campaign with the collaboration of civil society organisations to promote the use of RTI laws in Pakistan. People should exercise the power of question and make the government authorities answerable. The RTI law is a great tool for them to exercise their right to ask questions”, commented Zahid.