HYDRABAD: Four years past the parliament enacted a law to provide access to information held by the federal government departments, people and a large segment of the media seem oblivious of the legislation.
“Only 1,700 appeals have been filed before the Pakistan Information Commission since its formation four years ago,” said PIC Chief Information Commissioner Muhammad Azam Khan during an interaction with the journalists at Hyderabad Press Club on Monday.
Though public in general might be indifferent towards many issues, even the media people are not availing the Right to Information (RTI) law to access information which is generally kept unnecessarily restricted, Azam Khan said.
“Some of the senior journalists from Islamabad have approached the commission and after receiving the required information they have come up with scoops. But their counterparts in Karachi and other cities still seem unaware of RTI law,” he said.
The parliament enacted the Right of Access to Information Act in October, 2017. Under the law the commission was supposed to be set up in around six months from the date of the law’s notification. But it was established on November 7, 2018, more than a year later, Azam Khan said.
The Sindh Assembly took the lead and in April, 2017, the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act was also passed. But it took the provincial government almost two years to form the commission which was activated in March, 2019. Khan told the media people that all provincial governments have also passed laws to provide access to the information to the citizens regarding public affairs.
“Each citizen has the right to know about the utilisation of public funds and they could obtain information from the federal public bodies under the Act,” underlined Azam Khan.
He said the commission has started paying visits to the press clubs in the country to familiarize the media persons with the Act and with the process through which they can acquire the information.
PIC Information Commissioner Fawad Malik urged the media to create awareness about the law among the people who may seek to obtain any unrestricted information from the government departments. He related that a citizen Imtiaz Bota, who belonged to Hyderabad, had filed around 200 applications under the act and that the commission and the concerned departments released to him all the required information.
Azam Khan said an applicant is supposed to write an application and submit it through the post to either a public relations officer or head of a government’s organization for providing them certain particulars. The department is under obligation to provide the required in 10 working days or two weeks, extendable to a similar number of days.
But if a department decides not to release the sought after information, the applicant can file an appeal to the commission which will take a decision concerning the appeal within 60 days. Only the record which is provisioned in section 7 of the Act, which pertains to ‘exclusion’ of certain records, will not be shared with the public. According to Khan, 60% of around 1,700 appeals have been resolved so far.
Under the act, all the government departments are supposed to publish or upload on the internet the performance, audit, evaluation, inquiry, investigation and other reports which have been finalised. The transactions involving acquisition and disposal of property and expenditure undertaken by a public body in the performance of its duties and functions as well as the information about grant of licences, allotments and other benefits, privileges, contracts and agreements has also to be made public.
Source: Express Tribune