ISLAMABAD: It is not just the bureaucracy that practices doublespeak; the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) too resorts to this practice, depending on who is seeking the information.
In March this year, The News filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with the FPSC, seeking – among other questions – a district-wise breakdown of candidates appearing for the CSS examinations between 2003 and 2013 and those who qualified. However, after a passage of eight months as well as prodding by the Federal Ombudsman, the FPSC point blank denied having the required information and claimed that the organisation maintained no such records.
Interestingly enough, when the same question was posed to the FPSC in 2009 by PML-N MNA Baligh-ur-Rehman (now a minister of state) for the period between 2004 and 2008, the FPSC had no qualms sharing the information. Rehman was accordingly provided with the names of each candidate, their district and the year they appeared for the exams or qualified for service.
However, this is not an isolated case. In an earlier RTI request filed on behalf of The News, the Privatisation Commission was asked whether the government had a mechanism for monitoring the implementation of terms and conditions agreed to with buyers of Public Sector Enterprises post 1991. Much like the FPSC, the Privatisation Commission didn’t respond till the Federal Ombudsman intervened and then too, refused to release the information since it was “secret”.
However, when Senator Saeed Ghani sought similar information in 2012 through the Senate secretariat, the Privatisation Commission promptly informed him that there was no such mechanism to monitor the implementation process.
The cavalier attitude of governments’ towards their citizens’ right to know can also be judged by the interesting example offered by the Punjab information department. Responding to an RTI request by The News asking for the address and contact information of the provincial information commission secretariat, a reply sent on behalf of the secretary information listed an address that turned out to be fabricated. The chief information commissioner for the Punjab himself admitted that he had to work from home due to the non-availability of an office space for him.
The problem of withholding information, however, has less to do with the law and everything to do with the people concerned. While the Freedom of Information Ordinance of 2002 implemented at the federal level looks good on paper, it is weak in terms of enforcement mechanisms. According to the law, the Federal Ombudsman is an appellant authority vested with only the power to make recommendations and lacks the power to either enforce the recommendations or hold accountable the departments concealing or denying information. Accordingly, any department facing adverse recommendations can appeal to the President of Pakistan for permission to retain the classified tag on the information sought. (Significantly, even the president refused to answer an RTI request inquiring about the expenses incurred on the Hajj performed by him, his family and staff.)
Comparatively, while the Punjab’s RTI law is very strong, it faces organised resistance from the bureaucracy, which leads to the same result: no information.
– See more at: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-284610-FPSC-also-has-double-standards-in-giving-information#sthash.DTLNcEvW.dpuf
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