ExclusiveRight to Information

Poor Implementation killing spirit of RTI Laws

RTI laws are not enough, effective implementation key to protect freedom of information right

Islamabad: Right to Information laws (RTI laws) allow citizens to gain access to public information- an important driver of sustainable development and promotes good governance.  And those officials and departments who deliberately delays, obstructs or provide incorrect or misleading information are punished under these laws safeguarding access to information.

However, Provincial Information Commissions, the appellate authorities for Right to Information Act with the power of civil courts, failed to implement its orders, The Reporters has learnt.

In December 2021, RTI Activist Syed Raza Ali, approached Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Information Commissions to get information about the orders in which the commissions have imposed fine public bodies and their current status, and the information he received has revealed surprising facts.

Mr. Raza wrote to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission commonly known as KP RTI Commission to provide him Certified list of officials who have been fined for not implementing the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013 since December 2013 to date.

He also requested certified information about whether the requisite information was shared/disclosed after the fine was imposed by the KPIC?

Mr. Raza also sent the same questions to Punjab Information Commission (PIC). Interestingly both the Information Commission did not respond to his information requests within 14 days – stipulated time period for the public bodies to respond to citizens’ information request.

He filed complaints to the Commission against Information Commission themselves.

Taking to twitter, Raza said that despite the passage of 30 days KP RTI Commission is unable to share information under #KP #RTI Act. If appellate forum cannot share information within prescribed time, then how can other provincial department be expected 2 abide by RTI law?

Muhammad Naeem, RTI Activist based in Mardan, also stated: “KP RTI Commissioners are killing the KP RTI act 2013.

KP Information commissioners are being lenient in penalizing Public Information Officers for not providing information or being absent.”

After making noise on social media by the RTI practitioners, KP RTI Commission finally shared information with Raza.

Information shared by the KP RTI Commission shows that the Commission has imposed fine on 21 complaints filed against different public bodies since 2013 to dated. The Commission has recovered fine in only 4 complaints which is 19 percent of the total.

Only 13 – out of 21 – public bodies have provided information to the citizen after the order of the Commission.

Only 03 public bodies approached the court against the order of the Commission.

Punjab Information Commission in response to the information requested of Syed Raza Ali stated,

“The record of award of penalties before May 2018 is not traceable. Therefore, its provision is regretted. However, the list of awards of penalties with the necessary details is already forwarded to you.”

Data provided by the PIC shows that the Commission has imposed fine in 18 different complaints and have made recovery of the fine in only 01 complaints. Only Land Reclamation Irrigation Department has fully complied the order of the PIC.

Section 15 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 gives the power to the PIC to impose fine of Public Information Officers for wilfully delaying or denying the provision of information to the citizen.

Section 15 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013 is as under:

  1. Penalty on public information officer.– Where a public information officer has, without any reasonable cause, refused to receive an application, has not furnished information within time limits, or malafidely denied the request or knowingly gave incorrect, incomplete or misleading information, the Commission may, after providing sufficient opportunity of defense to the public information officer, direct the public information officer to pay fine not exceeding two days’ salary for each day of delay or to pay a fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.

However, information has been provided to the citizen in all 18 complaints, after the imposition of the fine by the Commission, data shows.

According to Section 6 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, the Commission may exercise the powers of a civil court to:

(a)         summon and enforce the attendance of persons, compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents or information;

(b)  examine and inspect information;

(c)  receive evidence on affidavits;

(d) requisition information from any office; and

(e)  issue summons for witnesses or documents.

While talking with “The Reporters”, Syed Raza Ali said, the appellate body should set an example of disclosure of information within the stipulated time period and make sure proactive disclosure of information and “Maintenance and indexing of information”.

He added, the data before 2018 is untraceable which shows poor maintenance and indexing of public records.

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