Islamabad: The right of access to information, defined as the right to seek, receive and impart information held by public bodies, is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19A of the constitution.
In order to protect this fundamental right, the federal and provincial governments have enacted legislations and established RTI Commissions in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad to empower citizens to question the government, its working, secrecy and abuse of power practiced in governance. Despite these legislations, obtaining information from government departments requires a lot of patience, constant coordination with the commissions and understanding of the law.
According to Nadeem Tanoli, who most recently earned the CRTI– a coalition of 53 civil society organisations, RTI Chairman’s Award for the best use of access to information laws to highlight social issues on September 28 in a ceremony held in Karachi.
In response to a question regarding implementation of access to information laws, Nadeem Tanoli said that it is the same as how other laws are put into practice, these laws are no exception.
He said that many departments are ignorant of access to information laws. Governmental bodies regularly fail to reply to requests for access to information despite being telling them that this is a legal right guaranteed to all citizens.
When RTI activists file information request with government departments, the department often replies in writing that the requested information is exempt from these laws. I believe this formula of denying information request by the public bodies is working for them that why 90 percent of people give up since they are unsure of what to do next.
Justifying his argument, he claimed that approximately two years ago, I had enquired of the Rawalpindi Anti-Corruption Department on the cases brought against government department officers, the recovery made from them, and a list of the officials detained on charges of corruption. After receiving no response from the Anti-Corruption Department, I filed a complaint with the Punjab Information Commission. After several months, the Commission ruled that it should be up to the Anti-Corruption Department to decide whether or not to provide this information to the public.
In its final decision, the commission said that it is the right of the citizen to obtain this information under the Punjab Access to Information Act, but instead of three or four years of information, Anti-Corruption Department should provide one year information. However, neither the information has been provided nor the decision implemented so far.
In reply to a query, Nadeem Tanoli said that typically all the information commissions started with excellent work, but they eventually also become like other government departments. The Punjab Information Commission is doing all business on phone and WhatsApp. For getting copies of any notice or order, the applicant must repeatedly contact the office.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission spent months some time years in resolving complaints, while the Sindh Information Commission even didn’t consider to entertain complaints.
Pakistan Information Commission is better than the rest in this matter, the citizens are informed about the action taken on the complaint, but their decisions are not implemented, however, the Pakistan Information Commission has established good tradition by issuing detailed decisions. After reading the decision, you will understand the whole case. Other commissions do not issue such detailed decisions.