CDGR financial activities still on hold

rawalpindi –  All the financial activities of City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) are on halt owing to the vacant seat of Executive District Officer (EDO) Finance and Planning, reliable sources revealed to The Nation here on Thursday.
According to sources, the office of EDO Finance and Planning has been running without the officer concerned for last three years affecting the finance and budget preparation activities in the district.
Finance and Planning Department could not prepare budget in time as EDO was not in office. Sources said usually release budget call letter in month of July but this year the letter could not be issued even in September due to unavailability of the EDO.
“It is violation of budget rules which is why district budget for year 2014-15 was present in July instead of June 2014” sources added.
On the other hand, the government claimed they have kicked off process of picking a suitable man on permanent basis for the vacant post but so far it has failed to find one.
According to Punjab Tehsil and District Budget rules 2003, EDO Finance and Planning is responsible to prepare budget. It is due to his absence that websites of 25 districts including Rawalpindi are non-functional and the budget documents could not be uploaded on it for public awareness, number of projects and funds approved for it.
Budget documents are available only on websites of six district governments which were prepared by Center for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) headed by Syed Kausar Abbas.
Due to non-functional websites people have no participation in government activities and projects being launched.
Rawalpindi district was ranked 19th in terms of transparency, performance, people’s participation and preparation of budget documents.
District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sajid Zafar Dall, however, when contacted for his comments, said that he has writen a letter to Services and General Administration Department (S&GAD) requesting to appoint an EDO Finance and Planning. “I hope within 10 days, the new EDO Finance and Planning will be appointed” he said.
He said that due to unavailability of the EDO they were facing problems to run the financial activities but he along with other competent officers including the additional deputy commissioner general (ADCG) and District Officers were running the affairs intelligently.
He said the ADCG was looking after the affairs of Rawal Town and has experience of running its financial affairs which was why the works was going on.
He said that earlier he made his mind to hand over the post of EDO Finance and Planning to ADCG but later the idea was put in shelve as this move would effect dengue campaign and other matters related to law and order situation being seen and run by ADCG.

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CPDI to launch citizen’s oversight on 18th Amendment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), a non-governmental organization under Citizens’ Voice Project funded by USAID, will launch a citizen’s oversight on 18th Constitutional Amendment in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Initially, the organization identified three districts Mardan, Abbotabad and Peshawar for oversight on service delivery issues in three sectors, including education, health, agriculture and food in KP.

This was stated by an official of CPDI, while talking to a group of reporters here on Monday. He said a group of volunteers in each district will be established to oversight the performance of KP Government in the stated sectors. CPDI co-ordinator further elaborated an oversight on performance of provincial government will be made through citizens to identify the loopholes in the service delivery issues. After implementation of 18th Constitutional Amendment, he viewed the provinces have become autonomous to make legislation on their own policies for the development of citizens; so it is imperative for the provincial governments to provide the best service delivery in the Federalised sectors as they are self-governing to manage the issues related to public, the release added.

He further said the oversight groups will be formed in the three districts Mardan, Abbotabad and Peshawar to monitor the performance of the Government. A policy draft for education and health will be developed and presented to the elected representatives after discussion with the stakeholders of the province, he added. About salient features and objectives of the project, he said the purpose of the project is to carry out action-oriented and policy relevant research, which is based on sound understanding of implementation related challenges and which provides practical ideas for progress in terms of people-oriented and more efficient implementation, the release said.

Other objectives are to improve public awareness about the salient features of 18th Constitutional Amendment any implementation gaps, and how it should be implemented in relation to the selected sectors for the benefit of public and to ensure maximum public participation, transparency and public accountability.

Similarly, he said, to oversee the progress in terms of implementation of 18th Constitutional Amendment and highlights progress as well as gaps with the aim of drawing the attention of relevant authorities is also included in main target of the project. To build capacity of journalists and civil society activists in terms of effective reporting or oversight of as well as engagement with authorities about the issues related to 18th Constitutional Amendment. To promote use of available accountability mechanisms for the purpose of ensuring that pace of implementation improves in manner that is consistent with best practices and ensures public participation in all its phases, he concluded.

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Secret no more

The Punjab and KP have enacted robust and progressive right to information laws which can be further improved before implementation. With the enactment of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, all the provinces have put in legislative mechanisms whereby citizens can have access to information held by public bodies. While Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006 and Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 did not generate any debate in the media as these were exact replicas of largely redundant and ineffective Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab right to information laws have given rise to healthy debate in print and social media as to which of the two is better law.

It is important to test key provisions of both these laws on the yardstick of right to information legislation standards in order to understand major points of convergence and divergence in these laws.

Setting the tone and declaring the intent, the respective preambles of both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 and Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 evoke constitutionality of right to information by referring to Article 19-A of the constitution. Similarly, both laws acknowledge right of citizens to hold government accountable through the exercise of right to information.

The KP law goes a step further and qualifies the meaningful participation of citizens in the affairs of government with access to information. While both laws restrict the right of seeking access to information only to the citizens of Pakistan and do not extend it to foreigners living in Pakistan, Punjab law takes lead on the KP law as it also extends this right to legal entities. This is a significant point in the sense that media organisations, think tanks, corporate organisations, NGOs and other legal entities will be able to access information from the Punjab government departments, but the KP government departments are not bound to provide information to legal entities.

It is important that a right to information law is extended to a legal entity also because at times interests of a citizen coincide with those of vested interest. In such a scenario, an individual is likely to be more vulnerable to the mafias than legal entities, as the killing of many right to information activists in India illustrates. Intriguingly, the KP law excludes Peshawar High Court from its purview whereas Lahore High Court is not excluded from the purview of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. Chief Justice of Peshawar High Court not only acts as the top judge of the province but also exercises executive powers like head of any other public body and as such is involved in recruitments, procurements and contracts. Therefore, citizens have every right to know how their taxes are being put to use in the case of Peshawar High Court but they cannot exercise their right to information as PHC is given blanket exemption in KP law.

What is truly excellent about these laws is that the process of filing information requests is easy and cost effective. There is no fee for filing information request and only the actual cost of reproducing and sending it to the applicant will be charged. In the KP law, the time limit for providing the requested information is 10 working days, extendable to further 10 working days on justifiable grounds. In the Punjab law, this limit is 14 working days, extendable for further 14 working days.
Civil society organisations need to explain to people how these right to information laws are relevant to them and how these laws could be used both for personal benefits and for public good.

Information pertaining to life and property of a person is to be provided within two working days in both laws. Both laws have empowered their respective commissions to impose penalty on an official for unlawfully delaying or denying access to information. Under the KP law, an official can be imposed a penalty of Rs250 per day for delaying or denying access to information and it can go up to Rs25,000. In the Punjab law, the fine is linked with the salary to offset the inflationary impact on currency and fine of two days of salary for each day of delay in providing the requested information can be imposed by Punjab Information Commission and it can go up to Rs50,000.

It is highly unfortunate that the KP lawmakers introduced a highly undesirable clause into the Act which pertains to the misuse of the information which was not included in the ordinance. What could be the possible misuse of information which should already be in the public domain? With regard to the declassification of public records, the KP laws say even exempted documents will be made public after 20 years. If any public body has any reasonable grounds to keep a document exempted, it could only be done for further 15 years with the permission of the KP Information Commission.

Taking a different route, the Punjab law has declared all documents as public that are 50 years old. It is extremely encouraging to note that both laws have not given absolute exemption to any type of information and if the public interest necessitates, information will be made available even if it belongs to categories of exempted information.

The KP law is more vocal in this regard than the Punjab law and says: “there shall be a strong presumption in favour of the disclosure of information that exposes corruption, criminal wrongdoing, and other serious breaches of the law, human rights abuse, or serious harm to public safety or the environment;”. In a major departure from the Punjab law, the KP law gives protection to whistle blowers and Article 30 says: “No one may be subject to any legal, administrative or employment related sanctions, regardless of any breach of legal or employment obligation, for releasing information on wrongdoing”.

Both laws have strong provisions for proactive disclosure of information held by public bodies. The KP law makes it binding on a public body to publish its annual report and submit to Speaker Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & Information Commission to show its progress in implementation of its legal obligations, details about information requests and responses. The Punjab law requires public bodies to publish annual reports of their activities and make them available but does not make it binding on public bodies to submit them to Punjab Assembly or Punjab Information Commission.

With regard to formation of their commissions, both laws could have done better. The KP government will have the power to appoint two commissioners and one will be the nominee of Peshawar Bar Council. The Punjab law says that the commission shall not consist of more than three commissioners which means that it could be even a one-member commission. Moreover, the appointment of commissioners will be the sole discretion of the Punjab government. It would have been better if both laws had envisaged a selection committee comprising members from opposition and treasury benches to appoint commissioners.

In the final analysis, both the Punjab and KP have enacted robust and progressive laws which can be further improved when these laws are tested through implementation. The onus is on civil society organisations that have been demanding the enactment of these laws. Their real task has just begun. Now these organisations need to explain to the common people how these right to information laws are relevant to them and how these laws could be used both for personal benefits and for public good. Also would be interesting to see how journalists use these laws for investigative reporting.


KP bureaucrats thwart info rights law, refuse to respond

ISLAMABAD: Although a robust Right to Information (RTI) law has been enforced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the provincial bureaucracy is still refusing to provide the requested information as only 18 percent requests sent to the government departments were responded to after stipulated the time period of 10 working days.

A study by Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) has found that out of 50 information requests sent to all deputy commissioners and district hospitals, only seven got a response. There are 25 districts and only three deputy commissioners and six medical superintendents of top district hospitals turned out to be responsive.

Requests were filed by Islamabad-based Center for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) and Peshawar-based Center for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) in the period falling between August 20 and November 4 this year. KP’s RTI Ordinance was promulgated on August 13 allowing citizens to exercise their right.

The ordinance passed into an Act from the provincial assembly on October 31, 2013.While all deputy commissioners were sent only one question that was about the certified copy of the log-book of each vehicle under the use of concerned deputy commissioner, a record that bureaucrats hate to share. It is often not maintained in order to misuse the vehicle and fuel facility.

A similar kind of RTI request by CPDI, for instance, to a deputy commissioner in Karachi returned with a revealing answer that the field offices were not provided with the log-books, let alone maintaining it.

As The News reported this reply that was submitted only after the intervention of provincial ombudsman, Sindh government announced to fix the problem directing all the deputy commissioners’ offices to maintain the record.

As for the requests for the same information in KP are concerned, they were responded only by deputy commissioners of Peshawar, Haripur and Tor Garh. Reminders were sent to the rest but they failed to respond. Similarly, CGPA submitted information requests to medical superintendents of all District Headquarter Hospitals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on August 20, 2013 and maintained the follow-up.

Only six of them provided the requested information. They are medical superintendents of Batagram, Haripur, Swabi, Lakki Marwat, Upper Dir and Lower Dir.The rest did not provide the requested information. They were asked 16 questioned related about the X-ray machines, ECG machines, ultrasound machines, and CT scan machines. In each case, questions were asked about the number of machines; how many of them are functional; and how many of them are out of order.

This research report shows that culture of secrecy prevails in public bodies. Let alone responding to information requests, a majority of public officials did not even acknowledge the receipt of information requests, said Zahid Abdullah, coordinator of CRTI. This clearly means that an effective and autonomous implementation mechanism is required to implement right to information law in the province.

The News

CRTI demands extension of RTI to FATA residents

PESHAWAR: Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) has demanded the federal government to immediately remove the constitutional anomaly so that FATA residents can exercise right to information held by federal public bodies operating in FATA.

Similarly, CRTI also urged the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to liaison with the federal government to bring about desired constitutional amendments and legislative reforms to protect and promote right to information of FATA residents.

In a statement here on Monday, the CRTI said regretted that right to information legal regime both at provincial and federal level does not extend to residents of Federally Administered Tribal Areas, (FATA). It pointed out that this right has also been accorded status of fundamental right and given constitutional protection through the insertion of Article 19-A into the Constitution through 18th Amendment.

It pointed out that successive governments have not carried out constitutional reforms and as a result Article 247 that governs FATA contradicts Article 19-A of the constitution. It regretted that even the right to information bill that remained under consideration with Senate Committee on Information and Broadcasting does not include FATA in its jurisdiction and neither the committee recommended to the federal government to fix this constitutional anomaly.

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Frontier Post

KP’s right to information law fails to produce results yet

It was expected that provincial right to information law, first promulgated as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Ordinance 2013 on August 17, 2013 and later turned into an Act of provincial assembly on October 31, 2013 will usher in a new era of transparent functioning of provincial public bodies.

However, a recent research conducted by Coalition on Right to Information, (CRTI) shows that public officials do not respond to information requests filed under right to information law of the province and transparent functioning of government departments in the province still remains a pipe dream.

Spokesmen for their respective organisations said on Saturday that Centre for Governance and Public Accountability, (CGPA) and Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, (CPDI) filed information requests under KP RTI Ordinance 2013 to District Headquarter Hospitals and deputy commissioners of the province seeking information about medical equipment in the hospital and access to certified copies of the log-books of official vehicles under the use of Deputy Commissioners respectively. Out of total 50 information requests filed under KP Ordinance, information was provided in the case of only seven requests. None of the Deputy Commissioners provided the requested information within the time period of 10 working days as stipulated under KP Right to Information Ordinance 2013.

CRTI and CPDI urges the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to establish independent and autonomous information commission as envisaged in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013.
The News