Punjab commission summons Governor House official under RTI law
ISLAMABAD: After a year of restraint over the blatant violation of the Right to Information (RTI) law by the highest constitutional office of the province, the Punjab Information Commission has finally summoned a top official of the Governor House to explain failure in providing information about the financial affairs of the office.
The summon dated 20th of August, a copy of which is available with The News, is addressed to Tariq Shahzad, deputy secretary (coordination) and public information officer (PIO) of the Governor House Lahore.
“You are directed to appear before the Commission, along with relevant record at 12.15pm on 31/08/2015. You may also submit your written explanation on or before the date of hearing,” says the letter signed by the information commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali.
A citizen had filed information request with the Governor House in September 2014 under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, seeking details of the expenses of constitutional office and gifts awarded by the governor to various persons from the national exchequer.
The commission took strong exception to the non-implementation of its unanimous order by the Governor House under the RTI law.
“Refer to an earlier show-cause notice dated 03/03/2015 and the orders of the commission dated 12/02/2015 and 15/04/2015 regarding a complaint about non-provision of information. As pet our record, the orders have still not been implemented. You have also ignored our letter No. AD(A&C)PIC2-55/15/143 dated 01/07/2015 whereby we directed you to submit compliance report as soon as possible but not later than 08/07/2015,” says the letter.
The commission also directed the PIO to immediately provide the requested information and also explain: “why you have not implemented the above referred orders of the commission within the given time”.
When contacted by The News information commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali said the commission is determined to implement the law in letter and spirit.
He said there are some challenges in implementation of law, as “many government offices do not have correct understanding of the law”.
“The law requires radical changes in the management of information. So it will take some time to ensure implementation by the departments,” he said.
Interestingly, similar information was provided by the chief minister’s office but the Governor House is refusing to share the details of its expenses and gifts given by the Governor during last one year from the national exchequer.
Hearing a complaint against an official for non-provision of information about the detailed expenses of the Governor House, the commission had unanimously passed the order on April 15, 2015 directing the officer to immediately release the information under the RTI law but the officials of the Governor House Secretariat have yet to provide the information.
The original information request was filed in September 2014 with the Governor House Secretariat under the provincial RTI law but for the first six months the officials refused to provide the information.
Under the Punjab RTI law, the officials are bound to provide information within 14 days of filing of the request. After failing to get the requisite information, the person filed a complaint with the Punjab Information Commission, which issued orders on February 12, 2015 whereby the designated Public Information Officer Tariq Shahzad (deputy secretary coordination Governor House Lahore) was directed to provide the requested information. However the order was not implemented and instead of Public Information Officer, Farhan Aziz Khawja secretary to governor, a DMG officer, wrote a letter No SOA/GS(Estt)1-11/2013 to the commission. In his letter Farhan Aziz came up with three reasons for denying access to information.
In response to the letter of the senior official, the commission held a meeting, which was chaired by Chief Information Commissioner Mazhar Hussain Minhas and attended by Information Commissioners Mukhtar Ahmad Ali and Ahmad Raza Tahir on April 15, 2015. During the meeting the commission rejected all the three “objections” raised by the officer.