ISLAMABAD: Despite lagging behind Punjab in many areas, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government is far ahead of Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab government in the implementation of Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The official data and the research conducted by this correspondent indicate that the bureaucracy in KPK seems readier to share information regarding its working to the public as compared to its counterpart in Punjab despite the fact that the two provinces have enacted almost similar Right to Information Law early this year.
The data provided by the respective information commission of the two provinces show that over 400 complaints have been filed against various departments in Punjab for withholding information during last four months while in KPK only around 180 such complaints have been received in the last eight months.
This correspondent also sent similar information request to all districts of Punjab and KPK on the same date but the response from KPK was much faster and better in terms of information than that from Punjab. The request was sent to 19 districts of KPK on September 2, 2014 and until yesterday (Wednesday) five districts had already responded with the required information. In contrast, out of 35 districts of Punjab, only four had responded with the required information while one has snubbed this correspondent for making the information request.
The executive district officer (Health) of Lahore even summoned this correspondent to his office in response to an information request, in an illegal move depicting the typical secretive and authoritative mindset of the bureaucracy.
“You are requested to appear personally along with your original National Identity Card in this office on any working day for collection of the said information,” reads the response signed by EDO (Health) Lahore.
When contacted, the member of Punjab Information Commission (PIC) Mukhtar Ahmad Ali said the EDO had no right to summon a citizen over an information request indicating that the commission would proceed against the official after receiving a written complaint against his attitude.
According to data provided by PIC member, around 400 complaints have been received by the commission during last four months against the officials of the Punjab government who failed to provide information to the citizens under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act (RTI) 2013.
“Under the law, the concerned department is bound to provide required information within 14 days of the filing request. Even if the information cannot be provided owing to some genuine reasons, the concerned department must give its response to the applicant within the stipulated time,” Mukhtar Ahmad said.
He said the culture of secrecy was still prevalent in the province but the commission was trying to create more awareness about the law through training workshops for officers of the various departments.
However, he said PIC was yet to get a proper office and budgetary allocation by the government.The situation is a lot better in KPK where the Right to Information Commission started working in December 2013. Talking to The News, the provincial Chief Information Commissioner Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid said the fist complaint against a KPK official for withholding information was received in February 2014.
“So far we have received 170 individual and seven group complaints against various officials of KP government for violation of KPK’s Right to Information Act 2013 and the commission have already disposed of 55 such complaints,” he said.
Khalid said the KPK Assembly must be commended for passing the RTI law as it had enabled the common citizen to access information regarding the working of the government. “This is something that I had not imagined happing during my life,” he said.The chief information commissioner said the law was playing a vital role in improving governance in the province as the officials knew that they were under public scrutiny.
He said in other countries several years were given for awareness campaigns before the implementation of RTI law but in KPK and Punjab, the law had been immediately implemented.