As the world celebrates 12th International Right to Know Day today, it would be appropriate to take stock of the legislative landscape of right to information laws of the country with special focus on the implementation status of these laws.
So far as legislation is concerned, we have Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 for public to access information from federal public bodies and Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2006, Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 cover provincial and district public bodies. Whereas FOIO 2002 and its replicas in Balochistan and Sindh are largely ineffective and toothless laws, KP and Punjab introduced highly robust and progressive right to information laws in 2013 that meet international standards of effective right to information legislation.
Having effective laws on paper is one thing but getting them implemented on the ground is another. For example, independent and autonomous information commissions were to be established under both KP and Punjab right to information laws.
The establishment of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission was a relatively smooth affair: One Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners were appointed, and the KP Information Commission got the budgetary support in time and started functioning soon after its establishment. This has not been the case in Punjab where Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners have been appointed since this April.
These commissioners are drawing salaries but the provincial government has yet to allocate budget for the functioning of the commission. As KP Information Commission has funds at its disposal, it has launched awareness raising campaign about citizen’s right to information and has imparted trainings to Public Information Officers designated by public bodies under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 to provide the requested information to citizens.
In a recent research conducted by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, 924 information requests were submitted to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies under their respective laws from January 02, 2014 to September 16 2014. These information requests were followed-up at all stages and complaints were lodged with the respective appellate bodies when access to requested information was delayed or unlawfully denied.
The purpose of submitting information request to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies was to collect empirical evidence about the level of effectiveness of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2014 and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2014. The fact that information was provided in case of only 115 information requests out of a total of 924 shows that the low priority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies in terms of responding to information requests.
In case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies, a total of 328 information requests were submitted under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and information was provided in case of 76 information requests. In case of Punjab public bodies, a total of 596 information requests were submitted under Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 and information was provided in case of 39 information requests.
In other words, 23 per cent information requests were responded positively by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies whereas only 6.54 per cent information requests were positively responded by Punjab public bodies. A total of 215 complaints have been lodged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission and it has asked 43 public bodies to provide the requested information but only one public body has provided the requested information. This clearly shows that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission needs to be more proactive in resolving complaints lodged by citizens and civil society groups.
As Punjab Information Commission does not have office, therefore, complaints were lodged to Chief Information Commissioner through Secretary Information Department. Out of a total of 376 complaints lodged, the Punjab Information Commission has asked 225 public bodies to provide the requested information out of which 53 public bodies have provided the requested information. This demonstrates that Punjab Information Commission is doing relatively better when compared with KP Information Commission despite the fact that its commissioners do not have offices and secretarial support.
Apart from providing requested information on demand, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies are bound to proactively disclose certain categories of information under Sections 4 and 5 of their respective laws.
Each public body is bound to proactively publish, among other things, such critical information about amount of subsidy and details of beneficiaries if the public body provides any subsidy, budget of the public body including details of all proposed and actual expenditures, a directory of its officers and employees with their respective remuneration, perks and privileges and a description of its decision-making processes.
If ‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information’ and ‘Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’, a research report conducted by Digital Rights Foundation after six months of the enactment of KP and Punjab laws, is any guide, implementation of provisions pertaining to proactive disclosure of information does not seem to be a priority for public bodies in both the provinces.
With regard to information about a public body, its functions and duties, Punjab scored an average score of 6.76, while K-P scored 7.08 out of a possible 10. So far as sharing information about budget of the public body including details of all proposed and actual expenditures is concerned, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa scored better than Punjab, scoring 1.5 to Punjab’s 0.64.
However, with regard to information about the recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by the public bodies, all the 17 Punjab and 12 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa public bodies performed abysmally low and scored zero and 0.11 on average, respectively.
This analysis of both on demand provision of information and the proactive disclosure of information suggests that both the commissions will have to work very hard to implement their respective laws. These are still early days for both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission and Punjab Information Commissions for a verdict to be issued on their performance. However, jury will not remain out for long.
Meanwhile, chief minister of Punjab needs to figure out why his administration has not been able to allocate budget for Punjab Information Commission despite the appointment of information commissioners five months earlier.