LAHORE: Punjab Information Commission held a two-day National Forum of Information Commissioners of Pakistan. The forum consisted of all serving Information Commissioners from Federal, Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan.
On the first day, the forum took a review of annual performance of respective Information Commissions, challenges faced by them to ensure timely disclosure of information to the citizens and the future strategy to effectively implement RTI law in federation and provinces of Pakistan. The Information Commissioners pledged to continue their joint efforts for the promotion of transparent and accountable regime in Pakistan with maximum public access to public information held by public bodies.
In the meeting, orders of Federal, Punjab and KP RTI Commissions were considered for mutual understanding and demand was raised for the operationalisation of RTI in Sindh and Balochistan as well. Moreover, Information Commissioners shared their progress and unique initiatives to implement RTI laws.
Establishment of Asia’s first-ever RTI Court by Punjab Information Commission was a major point of interest. Issues like non-allocation of funds, delay in appointment of information commissioners, lack of administrative support from government, delay in finalising the working rules and subsequent shortage of staff, resistance in disclosing information and colonial mindset of secrecy still held by public bodies were discussed at length.
On second day, all Information Commissions of Pakistan attended an interactive panel discussion in Alhamra. A massive crowd of passionate civil society members, including judges, academia, lawyers and journalists participated in large number.
During the interactive session, Mehboob Qadir Shah, Chief Information Commissioner Punjab and Muhammad Azam Federal Chief Information Commissioner along with other Information Commissioners proactively responded to the questions of participants who appreciated the efforts of Commission but they criticised and deplored the poor response of government departments for appointment of PIOs in all offices of government departments, for delaying proactive disclosure of information and for provision of insufficient funds to the Commissions.
The civil society lauded the services of Punjab Information Commission to make the Commission a vibrant body, establishing a culture of disclosure and for disposing of about 5,000 RTI appeals through Asia’s first-ever RTI Court. Justice (r) Syed Afzal Haider being chief guest was decorated as a founder of first-ever legislation in the shape of Freedom of Information Ordinance 1997.
On the occasion, Justice (r) Anwar-ul-Haq, ex-Chief Justice Lahore High Court and Justice (r) Sheikh Ahmad Farooq also highlighted the need to strengthen RTI law to achieve good governance and participatory democracy.
Almas Jovindah Advocate played an effective role as a moderator of the event. The session was closed with a note of thanks by Chief Information Commissioner, Punjab for the participants, civil society and CPDI who supported in organising the second meeting of National Forum of Information Commissioners.