Govt departments reluctant to share information under RTI law

ISLAMABAD: Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), in collaboration with Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) organised a one-day dialogue on “Right to Information: Implementation Status, Achievements and Challenges”.

Objective of the dialogue was to share findings of the RTI assessment report and generate informed debate among stakeholders about the challenges and hurdles posed in the implementation of RTI laws in Pakistan.

The panelists of the dialogue included Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director, CPDI, Senator Taj Haider, Muhammad Azam, Chief Information Commissioner, (PIC), Fawad Malik, Information Commissioner, Zahid Abdullah, Information Commissioner,  Farah Hamid Khan, Chief Information Commissioner KP, Naeema Kishwar, MPA KP Assembly, Ms. Kanwal Pervaiz Ch, MPA, Punjab Assembly and Mr. Anwar Yousafzai, Executive Director C-GPA. The event was attended by Public Information Officers (PIOs) of the Federal Ministries, journalists, CSOs’ personnel and lawyers’ fraternity.

Consultant, CPDI Amer Ejaz, shared the findings of a study titled “Assessment of Right to Information Implementation (Proactive & Reactive Disclosure)”.

The study identifies gaps regarding proactive disclosure of information, implementation of specific institutional measures, and responses to RTI requests. Monitoring the results of the implementing the Right to Information legislation in Pakistan demonstrated that public bodies do not follow the requirements of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 in letter and spirit.

The study found that the ministries and departments have failed to impart training to PIOs and sensitise them about the legal requirements of the Right to Information.
None of the selected ministries or departments has developed any plan for RTI implementation. Only a couple of ministries have placed the guidelines prepared by the Information Commission on their websites.

Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, ED CPDI, explained the importance of information and said that the essence of RTI revolves around online/offline proactive disclosure of information by government departments. He appreciated that RTI laws have been enacted in provinces and federal level whereas implementation remains a question especially in Sindh and Balochistan.

The state should disclose information about their actions and steps proactively. Resultantly the respect of departments can be increased, added Senator Taj Haider. He offered his service to improve the federal and Sindh RTI laws in terms of maximum disclosure of information procedures to be simple and easy.

MPA, KP Assembly Naeema Kishwar said that Proactive disclosure of information through websites in the digital age can decrease the burden of Information Commissions in terms of access to information.

Kanwal Pervaiz Ch, MPA, Punjab Assembly, said RTI is a tool for transparency but the designation of Public Information Officer (s) PIOs in the department is important to implement the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 as various departments are working without the nomination of PIOs.

She offered to raise her voice in the Punjab Assembly for effective implementation of Punjab RTI law. Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) is facing serious challenges to implement the Act. These challenges include administrative, procedural and legal challenges since its establishment in November 2018 added Mr. Muhammad Azam, Chief Information Commissioner, PIC.

Despite these challenges the commission got more than 260 PIOs nominated in different federal ministries and departments, more than 578 orders have been issued and with the limited resources PIC extended awareness campaigns throughout Pakistan in each press club.

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