Umar Cheema wins RTI Award for journalists

ISLAMABAD: The News investigative reporter Umar Cheema has won Coalition on Right to Information’s (CRTI) RTI Annual Champion Award for his efforts to promote right to information through investigative reporting and filing of over one dozen information requests with various government departments.

The award was given in a ceremony hosted by Centre for Peace and Development (CPDI) at a local hotel on Thursday to mark the 12th International Right to Information Day.

The award was given in three categories i.e. journalists, citizen and organization. In category of journalist, the award was given to Umar Cheema. According to organizers, Cheema contributed excellent analytical reports on RTI, perhaps, more than any other reporter. He has also submitted 20 information requests under different RTI laws.

In citizen’s category, Sabahat Ghaznavi won the 1st Annual Champion Award. He was given award on first known case of citizen using KP RTI law for getting job.

In organization’s category Centre for Governance and Public Accountability won the CRTI-RTI Annual Champion Award. CGPA has not only been advocating for RTI law for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but it has also submitted 143 information requests to contribute to the implementation of this law.

Earlier the CPDI’s conference on ‘People’s Right to Information was told that despite enactment of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 in December last year and the appointment of Chief Information Commissioner and two Information Commissioners in April, the Punjab government had not released funds for the functioning of the Punjab Information Commission.

The speakers at the conference also urged the Punjab government to release funds for the Punjab Information Commission on urgent basis so that it can implement Punjab Right to Information Law.

The speakers included Dr. Almut Besold, Country Representative Friedrich Naumann Foundation; Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid, Chief Information Commissioner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission; Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Information Commissioner, Punjab Information Commission; Tasneem Noorani, former secretary Ministry of Interior; Aftab Alam, Executive Director IRADA; Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director CGPA; Zafarullah Khan, Executive Director CCE; Umar Cheema, Mazhar Abbas, senior journalists, and Zahid Abdullah, Coordinator Coalition on Right to Information.

Dr. Besold stressed upon the importance of RTI Laws. “People should make their governments accountable through these RTI laws,” he said.Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director CGPA, said the civil society and media should cooperate with the Information Commission in raising awareness regarding the RTI. He expressed concern about anti-RTI lobbies which are active to weaken RTI laws.

Sahibzada Khalid Mehmood, Chief Information Commissioner Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said freedom to seek information was the basic right of every individual. He said Scandinavian countries were least corrupt due to strong RTI Laws implemented there.

Culture of secrecy, mass awareness and empowering people through the RTI are the greater challenges faced by the KP Information Commission.A total of 122 single complaints and 18 bundle complaints have been received by the KP Information Commission since December 2013 out of which 75 complaints are resolved, he said.

Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Information Commissioner Punjab Information Commission, said no budget had been allocated for the establishment of Punjab Information Commission and the commissioners were working from their homes. He also shared information about the 14 upcoming trainings of public information officers.
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