Information commission fails to enforce Right to Information (RTI) law -
Pakistan Press Foundation

Information commission fails to enforce Right to Information (RTI) law

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: Despite the existence of a provincial right to information (RTI) law, which guarantees citizens access to information with regards to the working of public functionaries, Sindh’s populace has failed to gain anything substantial from it due to bureaucratic hurdles.

The Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act was unanimously passed back in 2017 and its preamble states that the legislation’s focus is on provision of public information to citizens to promote transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government. However, five years on, the body enforcing the law remains toothless.

“The three-member commission, formed under the Act, has resolved only one case since its inception. Dozens of applications seeking access to information are still pending,” sources privy to the workings of the commission confided to the Express Tribune. The commission, which exercises the powers of a civil court, has to ensure that information is provided to concerned citizens within 45 days, otherwise it can take action against the designated official or information officer of the government department or its head.

Despite the stringent guidelines the legislation imposes on government officials to disclose public information, Syed Ali Raza, a right to information activist, has been waiting for his request to be accepted since September of this year. Raza, who approached the Inspector General Police (IGP) Sindh, had requested district-wise data regarding police encounters in Sindh. “The access to information from public bodies is a fundamental right of citizens under the country’s constitution and Sindh’s transparency legislation. Unfortunately, the police’s lack of a response shows that this legislation only looks good on paper,” Raza remarked.

“The commission has written to the designated official at the Central Police Office directing them to provide me with the requested information within 7 days. Presently, I am waiting for the response,” he informed. Raza however has little hope of the request being granted.

“You will be surprised to know that the Sindh Assembly, which passed the law, is also defying it. I requested its Secretary to give access to information about foreign visits of lawmakers but have not heard back,” said Raza.

Similarly, Imtiaz Boota, a resident of Hyderabad has submitted around 30 different applications for information to the Mayor of Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, Deputy Commissioner, and Chief Secretary of the province but is not hopeful of any of the applications being addressed owing to his past experiences. “In 2019, I requested the mayor to provide me with the details pertaining to development work in the areas of religious minorities. When they failed to answer, I lodged a complaint with the commission, but it has not seen the light of the day yet,” he lamented, adding that his other applications addressed to the environmental protection agency, local government, education department, and health department were still pending as well.

All departments which do not comply must be held responsible for engaging in delaying tactics to withhold information,” Boota opined. A senior official, who spoke to the Express Tribune under the condition of anonymity, informed that around 200 applications were pending before the commission. When quizzed about these pending applications, Shahid Abbas Jatoi, one of the information commissioners, conceded that there were 165 applications pending when the new commission took charge from the outgoing commission back in May.

“There was no proper equipment, office, and budget when we assumed charge five months ago. Now, we have received funds and started writing to the concerned departments to provide information. We will also start a massive media campaign to make people aware about the right to information, soon,” Jatoi told The Express Tribune.

Source: Express Tribune