Punjab excels in effective RTI legislation: Report

ISLAMABAD: Punjab has scored the highest marks in terms of effective RTI legislation when measured against the global best practices while Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has slid down in the ranking due to the negative amendments enacted recently in addition to other problems in the law.

Freedom of information legislation at the federal level as well as in Sindh and Baluchistan stand nowhere in comparison to Punjab and KP as they are less effective in helping citizens to access information.

In its annual report, the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has also indicted KP Information Commission for failing in even delivering a single judgment on complaints filed by citizens.

The commission, the reports says, has only been serving “as post office, forwarding complaints of citizens to public bodies for necessary action but has failed to pass orders on complaints even when public bodies failed to provide information on its direction.”

The report titled “State of Right to Information Legislation 2014-15” has also noted with serious concerns the recent changes in the complaint form made by the KP’s commission requiring the photo in addition to the CNIC copy of the complainant lodging complain against the department refusing information. Its rules of business have not been notified even after the passage of two years in existence.

As far as ranking on the basis of legislation is concerned, the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 scores the highest marks on CPDI score sheet based on the analysis of right to information laws against internationally accepted standards of effective RTI legislation with 140 out of a total of 145 points. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 scores 125 as it lost 9 points owing to the negative amendments introduced by the KP Assembly when it exempted itself from the purview of the law and also lowered the status of KP Information Commission when district courts were declared forum for appeals against the decisions of the Information Commission.

The score of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and its replicas in Balochistan and Sindh in the shapes of Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 is 32 out of 145, reflecting ineffectiveness of these laws when juxtaposed against the standards of right to information legislation.

A comparison of KP and Punjab’s legislations on RTI has also been made in the report to indicate why the former has lost ground to the latter. One of the key measures to determine the efficacy of an RTI law is how liberal its proactive disclosure policy is.

Another important measure is the clarity in the law as to how clearly and narrowly the exceptions are granted. Punjab’s law, for instance, is one score ahead of KP in this measure. In terms of cost effectiveness Punjab is two points ahead of KP, as the former doesn’t claim postal charges from the applicant if the information has to be delivered through postal service.

However, in terms of speedy provision of information, KP’s law is more promising and is one point ahead of Punjab as it promises the provision of information within 10 working days as against 14 working days in Punjab.

But complaint redressal mechanism is more effective in Punjab than KP and the former has scored three extra marks on this ground. The decision of Punjab’s information commission is final whereas the status of the KP’s information commission has been curtailed as its can be challenged before district and session judge.

Punjab’s law promises penalties harsher than the KP’s for officers blocking access to information. A fine of Rs250 per day can be imposed for delaying the information (up to Rs25000 under KP law) whereas two-day salary can be deducted for delay or fine up to Rs50000 can be imposed in Punjab.

KP has lost five points to Punjab for first excluding Peshawar High Court and then the provincial assembly from RTI law purview. Punjab’s law doesn’t call into question the nature of the use of the information obtained through RTI law unlike KP where it is a criminal offence to use the information for ‘mala fide purposes’.

KP’s law has scored an extra point on the count of making head of the public body responsible to act as Public Information Officer in the absence or unavailability of the PIO. Punjab’s law says that head of the public body is to function as PIO if PIO has not been designated.

Umar Cheema
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
From Print Edition

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