ISLAMABAD: After the dismissal of writ petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has finally shared the requested information with the citizen under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
Muhkhtar Ahmed, former information commissioner at Punjab Information Commission had requested information about the total sanctioned posts, vacant posts, number of the disabled persons, total number of women working in the FBR and copy of the service rules under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 commonly known as RTI law.
The public body denied the requested information by referring to exemption mentioned in Section 16 (b) (iii) of the Act.
The FBR in response to the information request, stated that the right to information under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 is subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law, whereas, the required information are exempt from disclosure under Section 16 (b) (iii) of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 which states that: “The information may be exempt if its disclosure is likely to reveal the identity of a confidential source of information”.
After the denial of the information request, the citizen – Mukhtar Ahmed – approached PIC and requested that FBR may be directed to share the requested information without further delay, proactively disclose and update such information on periodic basis on its web site, and improve its capacity to decide information requests in a competent manner, while paying due attention to citizens’ rights, instead of summarily dismissing such requests on frivolous or totally unrelated grounds”.
After multiple notices and hearing the PIC issued order on August 6, 2019 and directed to provide the requested information to the citizen at the earliest, but in any case, not later than 20 working days of the order. Furthermore, the public body is directed to take immediate steps to proactively share through the web site.
The PIC in the decision had stated that FBR other than merely invoking an exemption clause of the Act, has not provided any arguments for withholding requested information from the citizen. The requested information can only be withheld from a citizen by invoking an exemption clause on justifiable grounds.
Moreover, the FBR has failed to provide any cogent arguments for withholding the requested information, benefits of bringing this information in the public domain are too obvious to be missed.
The FBR instead of providing the information decided to challenge the decision of PIC in Islamabad High Court. The court also dismissed the writ petition and stated that the petition is without merit and is therefore accordingly dismissed.
After the dismissal of writ petition the FBR finally provided the requested information to the citizen.
While talking with Daily Times, Mukhtar Ahmed said, general statistics was requested from the FBR, and its disclosure is not likely to harm any of the protected interests mentioned in the Act, but the public body not only refused to share the information with the PIC but also challenge the PIC decision in the court which shows the mindset of the public bodies regarding the information sharing with the public.
He said, after the court decision he had received the requested information from the public body.
Zahid Abdullah, Information Commissioner at PIC, commenting on the court decision said, it is a good development to protect and promote citizens constitutionally protected fundamental human right of access to information of public importance.
Especially given the fact that honorable Chief Justice of the Islamabad high court dismissed in Ilumili the petition of the public body and upheld the decision of PIC, he added.
Zahid maintained, the commission is in the process of ensuring that Federal Board of Revenue compliance with the order of the commission in letter and spirit. It is extremely important that public bodies proactively share categories of information enlisted in section 5 of the ria act 2017 through their websites in a manner that such information is accessible to all people including those with no vision and the blind who use screen reading software to access information.