Right to information still a far cry for journalists in Pakistan
Islamabad: Non-provision of certified information under the freedom of information law and government functionaries avoidance to give version is making journalism difficult in the present era.
The state of journalism in Pakistan is dismal, especially for those who believe in reporting facts, based on certified authentic information. This correspondent has filed almost one and a half dozen information requests using the right to Information law in last six months but except one, not a single institution has provided the information to this reporter.
One minister was contacted to get his version about an alleged land grabbing case against him. However, despite repeated requests and his promises that he will give version he kept dodging the reporter for almost a month.
The minister was not only contacted by this reporter, but also by the Editor Investigation and every time he assured him that he will meet this correspondent tomorrow but that tomorrow hasn’t come yet.
The same is the attitude of most of the federal ministers
The offices of Federal Ombudsman and provincial information commissioners are so toothless that no representative from any government institution even bothers to appear before them and give their response or reason for not providing the information.
On August 16, 2016, this reporter sent an information request to the Pakistan State Life Insurance Corporation (PSLIC) for providing him with certified information about the number of unclaimed benefits cases.
However, despite passage of almost two months the PSLIC management gave no response after which the matter was brought to the Federal Ombudsman.
Despite repeated attempts through phone calls and official correspondence, no official appeared before the Federal Ombudsman.
The ombudsman then issued its verdict for providing this correspondent with the required information and take action against the authorities concerned. However, the verdict is yet to be implemented.
Another RTI request was sent to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) on September 30, 2016 for providing detailed information about its project of installing ferris-wheel. However, despite passage of almost four months no response came from the CDA.
This correspondent filed another RTI request to Ministry of Defence on October 14, 2016 for providing information about the total amount spent on the pension of retired security forces personnel in last three years and the details of perks and privileges given to them. The Defence Ministry refused to provide the information and termed it a matter of national security.
On October 14, 2016 this correspondent also filed an RTI request with the Establishment Division and the provincial government for providing him with information about the total number of MP scale appointees in public sector enterprises during last three years and the perks and privileges given to them. However, despite passage of almost four months no response came from any provincial government or Establishment division.
The State Bank of Pakistan was sent an RTI request by this scribe on October 13, 2016 for providing certified information about the total money sent abroad from Pakistan in last three years. However, after almost two months the SBP refused to answer the query terming it against its policy.
This reporter also sent an RTI request to all the High Courts for providing him with information about the total number of pending cases, cases related to Anti-Terrorism Act and pending appeals against the death penalties. Only the Lahore High Court replied that their annual report till 2014 had been uploaded on the LHC website.
Another RTI request was sent to Ministry of Defence for proving information about the total number of projects being carried out by its entities like FWO, Fauji Fertilizer, NLC etc, their total annual income and the tax paid by them in last three years. But the Ministry refused to provide information seeking refuge under Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002.
This scribe sent another RTI request to all provincial home departments and Interior Ministry for providing information about the total number of people whose name is in the fourth schedule and their affiliation with any political or religious party. However, no response came from any government department yet.
The Higher Education Commission is the only institution which has provided information about the Prime Minister’s Laptop scheme as well as the details about scholarships awarded to students in the last five years.