SAHIWAL: Lawmakers are often at the forefront of advocating for transparency in governance, but when it comes to their own affairs, they are often hesitant to reveal information, even under right to information laws.
A recent development in the Punjab Assembly raises questions about the assembly’s commitment to transparency and accountability, as well as its willingness to uphold the laws it has enacted.
On February 10 of this year, the Punjab Assembly was requested to provide information regarding privilege motions/questions submitted by its members and questions/motions forwarded to the Standing Committees for discussions.
However, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the Punjab Assembly neither acknowledged the information request nor responded to the question. The matter was brought before the Punjab Information Commission, which prompted the PIO to respond via a letter dated March 27.
In the letter, the PIO refused to provide the requested information, citing section 10(3) of the RTI Act, the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013, and an order passed by the Punjab Information Commission in a complaint titled Hassan Raza vs Punjab Assembly.
The order states that citizens can only seek one category of specific information per RTI application with necessary details and an adequate description. The letter deemed the application “not maintainable” based on the Commission’s decision under section 10(3) of the act.
In response to the objection raised by the Punjab Assembly, the Punjab Information Commission passed an order on Monday, stating that the Commission disagrees with the objection that adequate description and necessary details were not provided.
However, the complainant should have filed separate applications for questions forwarded to the standing committee along with recommendations, privileges reports, and copies of the standing committee on privileges report. To make the furnishing of information practicable, the commission decided that the PIO may provide all three categories of information one by one.
It is worth noting that a similar information request was also made to the National Assembly on November 08, 2021. The matter was heard by the Pakistan Information Commission, which on June 01, 2022, passed a detailed verdict allowing the appeal and directing the National Assembly to provide the requested information.
The Commission’s order states that the requested information is a public record as defined under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. Citizens have the fundamental and statutory right to access the record and information, and it is a matter of public importance.
The Punjab Assembly’s refusal to provide the requested information raises concerns about its commitment to transparency and accountability. As lawmakers, they have a responsibility to uphold the laws they have enacted, including the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act. It remains to be seen if the Punjab Information Commission will take further action to ensure the assembly complies with the law.