Low budget, manpower shortage thwart RTI function

SAHIWAL: The Punjab government has drastically slashed awareness and advocacy budget approved in 2014-15 after passage of ‘The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013’.

“The budget has been reduced from Rs30 million (in first year) to Rs1 million in the financial years 2015-16 and 2016-17,” according to Ahmed Raza, Information Commissioner, who spoke during two training workshops on ‘The role and responsibilities of public information officers.’ The workshops were organised by the Punjab Information Commission (PIC) in Sahiwal and Pakpattan in the last two days.

As a resource person, the information commissioner said there’s a lack of political commitment on part of the PML-N government and “some elements in the provincial and federal bureaucracy don’t want to share information with the citizens.”

Thanks to reduction in the budget, he said, the commission had failed to recruit staff against 43 vacant posts during the last more than two years. “There are not more than five to six personnel working in the PIC and three of them are information commissioners,” Mr Raza said.

Zahid Abdullah, National Coordinator, Coalition on Right to Information, told Dawn that the law had been passed in 2013 but the Punjab government had failed to frame rules to implement it and “this is the main hindrance to provision of information to ordinary citizens.”

Ahmed Raza, while speaking to this correspondent, said the PIC could not function without proper allocation of budget.

The Punjab government had promised that a high-tech IT centre would be developed and online complaint system integrated like the one in KP but not a single IT expert had been appointed in the commission, he said.

Sources said more than 600 complaints were pending with the PIC.

Dr Mirza Moeen, a workshop participant, said no concept of transparency could be implemented in governance until citizens were given right to ask questions from public departments.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2017