Bureaucrats hampering free flow of information, says study

ISLAMABAD: Despite enactment of Right to Information (RTI) laws in two major provinces of the country, the bureaucracy in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) continues to offer stiff resistance to efforts for transparency, openness and good governance.

According to a latest research study, the baboos in the two provinces are reluctant to acknowledge people’s right to information as they withheld information in over 87 per cent cases despite proper filing of request by citizens under RTI laws.

During the study, 924 information requests were sent to the governments of Punjab and KP under their respective RTI laws but the response was only received against 115 (12.4 per cent) of them.

Under the new laws, the public bodies are bound to provide the requisite information within a couple of weeks to ensure transparency and good governance.

However, the study conducted by Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) shows that although KP’s Right to Information Act 2013 and Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 meet international standards of such legislation, the culture of secrecy is still hampering free flow of information in these two provinces.

CPDI sent 924 information requests on matters of public importance to KPK and Punjab public bodies under their respective RTI laws from January 2, 2014 to September 16, 2014. These information requests were followed up at all stages and complaints were lodged with respective appellate bodies when access to requested information was delayed or unlawfully denied.

“The fact that information was provided in case of only 115 information requests out of total 924 shows the low priority of KP and Punjab public bodies in terms of responding to information request” the study says. The study shows that the requested information was provided only in 76 cases out of total 328 information requests filed to KP public bodies without the intervention of KP Information Commission. In Punjab the information was provided in 39 cases out of total 596 information requests without the intervention of Punjab Information Commission.

“These facts show how much work needs to be done in terms of raising awareness level of public officials in both the provinces about citizens’ right to information,” says the study.The study also expressed dissatisfaction with the performance of appellate bodies in both provinces.

During the study a total of 215 complaints were lodged with KP information commission against various government bodies for withholding information but despite commission’s letters to 43 public bodies only one responded with the required information.

In Punjab 376 complaints were lodged against public bodies for failing to provide information under RTI law and the provincial commission directed 225 such bodies to provide the information but only 53 complied with the directions.

The study recommended the Punjab and KP commission to ensure implementation of sections pertaining to the proactive disclosure of information so that maximum information is available in public domain.It has also urged the KP Commission to suggest to the provincial government to bring KP Right to Information Act 2013 within Peshawar High Court purview.

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