Quetta: Speakers of the conference demanded Establishment of Balochistan Information Commission immediately by appointing the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners in line with the criterion mentioned in Section 18 of the Balochistan RTI Act 2021.
Accessing government information remains a challenge in Balochistan due to flawed implementation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the absence of an independent appellate body. The Balochistan Government was bound to establish information commission within six (6) months of the enactment of act, but it is almost 2 years now that the law is implemented without any information commission. The demand was raised in a conference organized by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) with the support of European Union in a local hotel in Quetta.
The conference was attended by parliamentarians, government officials, civil society representatives, lawyers, media and general public.
Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Executive Director CPDI Presented the analysis of the Balochistan RTI Act 2021. He discussed the loopholes in the act and presented recommendations to amend the act in the light of regional and international best practice and the requirement of Article 19-A of the Constitution.
Mukhtar said that Section 7(2) of the Act requires the applicant to attach a copy of CNIC with the application. This requirement is unfair, and will make it harder for common people to file application, especially those who live in far off areas with limited access to photocopying machines. It will serve no useful purpose. This section should be amended to omit the requirement of attaching CNIC copy with the request.
Mukhtar also suggested that the Government should frame the rules of business in consultation with the Commission when established. The law doesn’t provide the overriding effect, which substantially weakens the Act. Section 2(b) may be amended to include legal persons in the definition of “applicant” and there should be 3 information commissioners instead of 4 in the Baluchistan Information Commission said Mukhtar.
Mr. Muhammad Kabir Shahi, Former Senator talked about the importance of eighteenth amendment and the legislation as per needs and cultural norms of community. He also criticized the clauses pertaining to absolute exemptions in the RTI Act.
Member Provincial Assembly Mr. Nassrullah Zery questioned the inability of government in implementation of the act. No Public Information Officers (PIOs) have been designated in departments across Balochistan as of yet says Nassrullah Zery. Drafting capacity of the officials needs to be built.
Officials of the law department send the bills to the cabinet without proofreading, no debate generates on bills in standing committee due to which several bills passed by Balochistan have many lacunas says Nassrullah.
Member Provincial Assembly Balochistan Mr. Zahoor Buledi said that despite the fact that Balochistan RTI law requires amendments to bring transparency and openness in affairs of the provincial government, but still it is far better than the previously enacted act.
All the stakeholders should willfully contribute towards the effective implementation of the act. He also emphasized that parliamentarians should proactively practice the oversight role for the implementation status of legislation passed by assembly.
Social Activist and Advocate Ms. Jalila Haider stressed on the need of access to speedy and accurate information during the relief and rehabilitation in post disasters and floods. There is no information about the flood affected people, the magnitude of disaster, need of relief goods etc. available on any relevant website of government of Balochistan said Jalila.
MPA Ms. Shakeela Naveed criticized the negligence of the government in drafting and finalizing rules of business, allocation of budget, and formation of commission. She further stressed that culture of secrecy in embedded in our system so badly that even member provincial assembly face difficulty in getting certified information.
Mr. Adil Jahangir, Executive Director Aid Balochitan stressed on the need of formation and finalization of Rules of Business. He said that Aid Balochistan has drafted and shared rules with government but the response of government is still awaited.