The new director general of the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) in Punjab has warned subordinates that giving information to the media is a punishable offence and told reporters not to ask questions unless they have written permission to ask them from the Punjab government.
Journalists condemned the ACE official’s instructions as a hurdle to the press’s responsibility to monitor the activities of public officials, while lawyers condemned it as illegal.
Posters warning officials that the Government Servant (Conduct) Rules of 1966 do not allow them to speak to journalists have been posted all over the ACE offices. They advise journalists not to approach ACE officials for information unless they have approval from the Punjab government to seek that information, “in order to ensure that your precious time is not wasted”. The posters are signed by Abid Javed, a BS-20 officer of the District Management Group (DMG) who was only recently appointed the ACE director general in Punjab.
Since the notice was pasted all over the ACE building, officials have become increasingly reluctant to be seen talking to journalists visiting during office hours.
Sarmad Bashir, the president of the Lahore Press Club, said the director general’s instructions violated the media’s right to access to information. “Such sanctions must not be imposed in a democratic set up; they are the hallmarks of martial law,” he said. “The chief minister should take action on this issue. This is meant to conceal the poor performance of the public sector.”
Bashir said it was ironic that an anti-corruption organisation was suggesting measures that would decrease the transparency of government operations, which would in turn encourage further corruption in the public sector. He said the director general should appoint a focal person who media men could approach for information.
Shujauddin, additional director general of ACE (also an additional sessions judge and on deputation from Balochistan), refused to comment on the sanctions. He said the director general was abroad and would answer questions about the policy when he returned. The Express Tribune did not seek permission from the Punjab government to talk to Shujauddin.
Another ACE official suggested that the director general may have issued the sanctions to prevent instances where information concerning corruption investigations is leaked to the press and ends up hurting the chances of prosecution. Safdar Shaheen Pirzada, a senior advocate, said denial of information to the press was a violation of fundamental rights. “ACE cases do not come under the purview of the Secrets Act. The director general’s notice is illogical and illegal. Nobody can deny the media access to information,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2011.