Civic agencies urged to share information with public

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Transparency Access

KARACHI: Civic agencies should appoint a senior official as a focal person responsible for providing information to the general public, and provision of information be made a rule rather than an exception, said an activist of an NGO working on civic issues.

As a rule, the civic agency officials like most of their colleagues in the officialdom, were not very forthcoming in providing information and showed extreme reluctance to let go of information on issues of public interest, said Dr Raza Gardezi, activist of Shehri.

He was speaking at the launching of a study titled “proactive disclosure of information by city district government Karachi or Karachi Municipal Corporation” here on Saturday.

It was, therefore, necessary that people were made abreast of the various laws that existed though rarely implemented which could be used to glean information from the taciturn officials, he said.

He said the KMC websites were good and provided a lot of information on many things the civic agency was doing but the most vital information was not displayed on them.

For instance, the websites did not have any information on invitation of public objections to levy of various taxes, charges, fees, etc by the KMC, he said.

The website was silent on the issue of charged parking and provided no answer to the question under which law the KMC had imposed the parking fee and whether the laid down procedure had been followed before imposing the fee, he asked.

Dr Gardezi said that the civic agency was asked to provide information on the subject. When it failed to come up with an answer then the NGO approached Sindh ombudsman who called the officials concerned and asked for the information but they themselves expressed ignorance of the issue, he said.

The ombudsman had fixed a date in October when the officials would inform him under which law the fee was being charged, and if and when public objections were invited on the fee before its imposition, and if the laid down procedure had been followed before formulating new laws relating to imposition of new fees and taxes, he said.

He suggested that a law be made giving a timeframe for the officials to come up with required information and provide it to general public when asked. It should also be made clear in the law how many times, at a maximum, a person had to visit the civic agency office to get the required information, he said.

The law must say, he said, if the information was not provided within the prescribed timeframe and number of visits then to whom a complainant should turn to for the redressal of grievances.

He proposed formation of an appellate or complaints hearing body, which should be independent and armed with punitive powers that could be used against the official concerned who failed to provide the information requested by general public.

He said the civic agency should give its information in Urdu, Sindhi and English languages. The detailed budgetary allocations should be made public and the agency should accept online requests for information under the freedom of information laws and online and mobile tracking of requests for information be made available, said Dr Gardezi.

Citing an example he said that an extensive public participation exercise was carried out in 2002 when the Sindh building control laws were being made.

But later, a number of amendments were made to the law without involving public in the process, resulting in the amendment section getting thicker and bulkier than the original law itself, he said.

He said that if public actively participated in the process of lawmaking and the government exercised transparency in its functioning there would be less corruption.

Among others, Sameer Dodhi, Mehfoozun Nabi Khan, Zahid Farooq and Manzoor Badayuni also participated in the discussion which was followed by presentation.

DAWN

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