Thursday, September 26, 2019
ISLAMABAD: In its first year of government, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government performed abysmally poor in promoting transparency in governance matters, a new report has indicated for failing in complying with the mandatory pro-active disclosure clause of Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
None of the 33 federal ministries have uploaded even 50 per cent of the information they are required to put on website under Section 5 of Right of Access to Information Act, commonly referred to as RTI law. Moreover, only eight ministries have so far named public information officer to facilitate applications filed under RTI law whereas Pakistan Information Commission that deals with complaints against departments refusing information has not been provided with enough resources to carry out its functions effectively.
The report titled “Full Open Law, Half-Closed Government" was compiled by Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) found a sorry state of compliance of the proactive disclosure clause. Federal ministries achieved poor scores and fell way below good performance markers in terms of complying with the RTI law.
There are 39 mandatory categories of information the ministries are bound to disclose on their websites under section 5 of the federal RTI law. They included description of public bodies’ organisational structure/organogram, their mission statement, functions, and responsibilities, staff directories showing their contact details, duties, perks and privileges, policies and manuals followed by the public bodies and performance/evaluation reports, conditions upon which members of public can acquire any licence, permit, consent, approval, grant, allotment or other benefits from any public body and terms and conditions for entering into various contracts also need to be disclosed.
These categories of information also include description of public bodies’ decision-making processes and the system of feedback/consultation, whereby citizens can make their contributions in official decision making, detailed budget including proposed and actual expenditure, original and revised revenue targets and progress on implementation of various clauses of the Act.
Taking them as a measure, IRADA analysed the information made available on the websites and found that none of the ministries have shown even a 50 per cent compliance in this regard. If a comparison is drawn among the ministries on the basis of what they have uploaded, the Finance Ministry has scored the highest (48.72 per cent) followed by Commerce and Textile and Water Resources. These ministries have shared the information not in compliance with RTI law but under obligation from the donor community.
Information Ministry, which is the administrative ministry of RTI-related matters, has scored 8th position in this category and is bracketed with Interior, National Food Security, Science and Technology and Postal Services as each of them have scored the same ranking. Ministry of Human Rights, which is to protect the basic rights of citizens, is shy of sharing information like others; though it is a step above the Information Ministry. Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis is the worst performing on this count as it has found a place at the bottom.
Of 33 ministries, 31 have shared contact details of officers, 27 also uploaded contact details of employees, 26 ministries have on their website organogram, mission statement and charter/function. However, none of the ministries have shared information about duties/functions of officers, remuneration they receive, perks and privileges for them, criteria standards or guidelines for using discretionary power, audit reports and inquiries/investigation report etc. In short, nine out of 39 categories of information mandated by the federal RTI law have not been proactively provided by any of the 33 federal ministries on their official websites.
The notification of a designated official or public information officer by every federal public body is mandated by the law but only eight of the 33 federal ministries have this information on their websites. Section 09 of the Act specifically requires all public bodies to notify one or more ‘designated officials, not below the rank of an officer in Basic Pay Scale (BPS) – 19’ within 30 days of the commencement of the Act. In the absence of a designated official [to facilitate the process of information requests] it becomes cumbersome both for public body – to provide timely and accurate requested information – and for requester to get access to required information, observes IRADA report.
The report further noted that the Pakistan Commission on Access to Information, mandated under the law and established in November 2019, even after about 10 months of its existence has, appallingly, not provided the required resources for its effective functioning since its inception, by the federal government; thereby severely affecting its function of enforcing compliance with the federal RTI law.
“By the time this report was compiled in September 2019, the three-member commission was still temporarily working from a small room of the Federal Information Services Academy without any technical staff and equipment. The commission, which has to direct all public bodies to ensure the presence of the information on their website proactively, is itself lacking in having a dedicated web-portal for the display of its activities, functions and other information required under Section 05 of the Act,” the report noted.
Nevertheless, the report goes on, with the existing poor level of resources and facilities due to the apathy of the federal government, it is unrealistic to expect from the commission to ensure enforcement of the provisions related to the proactive disclosure information of the Act by the commission itself. “Therefore, for the effective functioning of the commission, there is a need for adequate resources including technical and support staff as well as a proper secretariat, equipped with all necessary equipment and information technology. Otherwise, without these resources, the commission will continue struggling for effective implementation of the Act. Non-provision of the required finances, equipment and human resource will ultimately make the entire exercise of enactment of the Act as well as establishment of the commission redundant.”