Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan gives the right of access to information to every citizen of Pakistan. It states “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”
All four provinces have made legislation to ensure the implementation of Right to Information commonly known as RTI laws. But due to the reluctance from the Government and its institutions, implementation of the RTI laws is still a challenge for the information commission established to ensure these laws.
Under these RTI laws, the public bodies/government departments are bound to provide information/documents to the citizens within 10 working days, and if the citizen does not receive any response from the public bodies or even if the public bodies refuse to share the information, the citizen has the right to lodge a complaint against that department in the relevant Information Commission.
The Information Commissions are established to ensure the implementation of the Right to Information laws.
Currently, Pakistan Information Commission that is established under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 is fully functional and has issued more than 360 detailed judgments against different federal public bodies. This Commission deals with the complaints related to the federal public bodies only.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission that was once considered the most effective information commission is suffering from some administrative issues. A slot of Information Commissioner is vacant for the last two years, while due to the lack of resources hundreds of complaints filed by the citizens are pending before the commission for more than one year.
Sindh Information Commission is inactive as the tenure of all three information commissioners was completed in January this year, and the provincial government has not appointed new information commissioners so far. So, currently, the citizen of Sindh does not have any form where they can file their complaints, related to the Access to Information, against any provincial public body.
Balochistan Right to Information Act, 2021 was passed by the provincial government in February 2021, and the Balochistan government was bound to establish Information Commission within 120 days of the commencement of the act, by appointing three members of the commission, but despite the passage of more than 270 days, the provincial government has failed to appoint the information commissioners.
Punjab Information Commissioner is also incomplete as the slots of two information commissioners are vacant for last six months.
Before coming into power, transparency and public participation in Government business were among the political slogans of the ruling party Pakistan Tahreek -e- Insaf and its chief Imran Khan.
After winning the 2013 election and making government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Prime Minister Imran Khan quoted the importance of “Right to Information” and its implementation in KP from time to time.
But now after becoming Prime Minister and having Government in two major provinces of the country, it seems that implementation on Right to Information and transparency is no more the priority of PM Imran Khan.
In 2020, Prime Minister Secretariate was asked to provide information about the total flights of the helicopter used by PM Imran Khan and fuel expenses that occurred on these flights. Despite the order of the Pakistan Information Commission, the PM Secretariat did not share the information with the citizen, and now the matter is pending before the Islamabad High Court.
Moreover, this year, Cabinet Division was asked to share information about the gifts received from foreign heads of the states or others. Cabinet Division refused to share said information, this matter is also pending before the court.
Pakistan Information Commission, which is established under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, has recently passed an order against the Registrar office of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, with the directions to the public the information about the sanctioned post, vacant post, other administrative nature information with a citizen, but the Supreme Judicial body is also reluctant to obey this law.
Pakistan Information Commission has issued more than 360 detailed judgments but according to sources, the implementation ratio of these orders is less than 10 percent. The federal public bodies do not bother to comply with the directions of the Information Commission.
Not only the political administration but the bureaucracy of the country is also reluctant to implement the Right to Information laws.
Last year, the Establishment Division – which controls four manager management groups of civil servants – was asked to share the list of the bureaucrats who are not submitting their assets declaration as required by law, despite multiple orders by the commission, Establishment did not share any information with the citizen.
Implementation of RTI laws is also a challenge in the provinces. According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission commonly known as KP RTI Commission is bound to decide the complaints within 60 days, but a large number of complaints are pending before the commission for more than one year. KP RTI Commission was once considered the most effective commission in the implementation of the RTI act, but now the performance of the commission is limited to the issuance of the notices only. Taking advantage of the incompetence of the KP RTI Commission, the provincial public bodies are reluctant in sharing the information with the public.
Moreover, the post of an Information Commission (Legal) in KP RTI Commission is also vacant for the last two years. Which is also affecting the performance of the Commission.
Three members of the Sindh Information Commission have completed their three years tenure without issuing even a single judgment on the complaints received to the commission.
Similarly, hundreds of the complaints are also pending in the Punjab Information Commission which was supposed to be decided within 60 days under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013.
Affective implementation of the Right to Information laws, can play important role in the reduction of corruption and ensuring transparency in government affairs, but ineffective information commissions, and non-serious bureaucracy and political administration is the major hurdle in the provision of this fundamental constitutional right to the citizen of Pakistan.