Fate of Right to Information Act hangs in balance

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Transparency Access

LAHORE: Six months after the introduction of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act (RTI) 2014, the government has failed to implement the legislation and has not reserved any funds for the purpose in this year’s budget.

This has raised questions about the establishment of the Punjab Information Commission (PIC), and the three information commissioners tasked with implementing the Act.

The Punjab Assembly passed the RTI Bill 2013 on December 13, 2013. The bill became an act after the governor approved it on December 16.

The information commissioners appointed on March 5, have reportedly been running from pillar to post to arrange offices for themselves so they can implement the Act.

The government appointed Additional Inspector General Ahmed Raza Tahir and Mukhtar Ahmad Ali as information commissioners, and Justice (r) Mazhar Hussain Minhas the chief information commissioner.

The appointments were made in line with clause five of the RTI Act 2013. The clause states that the PIC should have an office to start its operations, implement the act and frame rules under the Act.

Several government officials have revealed that the three commissioners are in quandary as they have no funds at their disposal to set up offices and implement the Act.

The notification of their appointment had been issued only to fulfil official procedures, said the officials. They said the commissioners had been asked to stay at home and keep drawing salaries until a further directive.

Officials requesting anonymity said that the information secretary had informed the three commissioners that a summary regarding the budget for the commission was pending with the Finance Department.

A senior government officer said that instead of empowering the PIC, the provincial government was relying on the Information Department.

“Allocating and approving budget is only a matter of two days. Six months have passed since the Act was introduced but the government has not allocated a single penny for the PIC. This shows that the commission is not the government’s priority,” the officer told The Express Tribune.

He said the chief minister was assisted by his Press Secretary Shoaib Bin Aziz, Information Secretary Momin Agha and Director General Public Relations Athar Ali Khan.

He said the government was delaying funds for the PIC on purpose.

The government has also violated clause 7 of the RTI Act 2013 which states a public body “shall within 60 days of the commencement of this Act designate and notify as many officers as public information officers in all administrative units or offices under it, as may be necessary”.

Currently, the government has notified only 50 public information officers for Lahore. Other districts in the province await appointment of information officers.

Momin Agha declined comment. He said he was busy at a meeting.

PML-N Parliamentary Secretary on Information Rana Arshad said that the party had always favoured transparency and merit. He said he would place the matter before the chief minister.

Mukhtar Ahmad Ali said 50 public information officers had been trained by the Management and Professional Development Department. They would serve in Lahore, he said.

He said officers from other districts would also be trained after the month of Ramazan. He admitted he had no staff to implement the Act.

Express Tribune

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