Proactive sharing: Govt websites struggle to disclose information under RTI law

Published: February 13, 2016
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

PESHAWAR: The provincial government is struggling to proactively disclose information through its websites to the public under the K-P Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013.

According to a report jointly prepared by the Coalition of Right to Information (CRTI) and Digital Rights Foundation on February 4, no improvements have been witnessed in the disclosure of information on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government websites. The report, titled ‘The state of proactive disclosure of information in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab public bodies’, monitored 13 government websites from K-P and 19 from Punjab between July and December 2015.  It has given marks out of 10 to these websites after assessing their performance in providing information to the public.

Access to information

Under Section 5 of the RTI legislation, public bodies are required to publish information on various categories of information in an up-to-date and accessible fashion.

As per this clause, information must be provided through various media, including the internet, and is subject to “reasonable restrictions based on limited resources”. The list of categories includes details on the body’s structure, functions, powers, services, budget, and perks and privileges.

Failure to disclose

According to the report, a majority of the government’s websites are struggling to implement sections of the 2013 legislation on proactive disclosure of information.

In addition, it states the RTI Commission’s website has also failed to provide information.

Not a single website – including the websites of the police, information and public relations, health, education and social welfare departments –disclosed information. As a result, they scored zero.

As per the report, the K-P Investment Promotion Cell’s website is not accessible. Almost all departments have not disclosed the information regarding concessions and permits granted by them.

There is also limited information available about the budgets of various departments and details of the proposed and actual expenditures. “The only exception is the RTI Commission and finance department’s website,” the report stated. “The RTI Commission’s website is better than the rest. However, it has failed to describe its decision-making process and has not shared the powers and functions of its employees or officers.”

According to the report, the K-P Information Technology Board, which creates websites for various departments and updates them, has also failed to proactively disclose information.  “It does not have the directory of its staff with their salaries, perks and privileges,” the report stated. “It has not disclosed its budget details, the power and functions held by its officers and its decision-making process. The board has not shared details about its rules and regulations either.”

The report stated, “Almost all public bodies have failed to act on recommendations provided in previous reports.” It added, “Some websites have broken links.”

A matter of implementation

RTI Commission Chief Information Commissioner Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid was unavailable to comment despite repeated attempts to contact him.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, RTI Commissioner Professor Kalimullah said proactive disclosure has remained a problem for a long time. “We will get fewer complaints if information requests are entertained and information is proactively disclosed,” he added. According to Kalimullah, the Commission recently asked all departments to maintain records of all data for 2016 on their websites.

“Most websites have not been updated due to capacity issues within various departments,” he said. Kalimullah added, “The ground reality is people have yet to claim ownership over the law.” Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) Programme Manager Malik Masood echoed similar sentiments, saying the discrepancies stem from the failure to effectively implement the RTI legislation.

Technical support

Waqar Khan, focal person for K-P Board of Information Technology said, “Our job is to create websites for the departments. Once the websites are handed over to departments, the management decides to what to display. At this stage, we can only provide technical support.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th,  2016.

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