More than a 100 days have passed since the Punjab Assembly passed the Transparency and Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013. According to clause 7 of the Act, all public bodies should have designated and notified as many public information officers (PIO) in administrative offices as necessary within 60 days of the passing of the act. The government has yet to notify PIOs for public bodies, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The RTI Act was passed with a majority on December 13 2013, and the government signed it on December 16 2013.
Clause 5 of the Act states that a Public Information Commission (PIC) should be constituted. The PIC will frame rules and regulations in consultation with the Punjab government, and then make recommendations for the training of designated PIOs.
The government has appointed two information commissioners and the chief information commissioner on March 5. Justice (r) Mazhar Hussain Minhas was appointed as chief information commissioner, and Additional IG (r) Ahmed Raza Tahir and Mukhtar Ahmed, an NGO director, were appointed as information commissioners.
Tahir and Minhas joined the Punjab Information Department last week but have not been provided with offices, staff, or a budget. They said they had been asked to wait for further directions.
Mukhtar Ahmed said that the non serious attitude of the bureaucrats concerned had led to his delay in joining the department.
He told The Express Tribune that he would join immediately if he received indication that concrete work was to begin. He also said that he was working on another project at present.
Two months ago Punjab Information Secretary Momin Agha had told The Express Tribune that he could not disclose the names of designated officers at public bodies. Information Department Deputy Secretary Asad Ali Khan who looks after matters pertaining to the RTI told The Express Tribune last month that the government had designated 400 PIOs so far across the province but refused to disclose their names.
Clause 7 of the RTI Act only requires PIOs to be appointed in public bodies. However, it does not say what is to be done if a public body does not nominate a PIO.
Agha did not provide a comment on why PIOs had not been notified, and why the department concerned had not provided the information commissioners with offices, staff or a budget. Khan did not attend the phone.
Parliamentary Secretary for Information Rana Muhammad Arshad told The Express Tribune that it was the government’s objective to remove obstacles to public access to information.
He said that transparency was the motto of the government, which was why the assembly had passed the RTI. He said it was being obstructed at the bureaucratic end. He added that he would seek a report from the secretary concerned and inform Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in order to immediately implement the Act.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2014.