Punjab top offices defying orders of Information Commission

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Information Commission has directed to Chief Minister House and Governor House to share the details of their annual expenditure with the public under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 but the two top offices have been defying the clear orders of the Commission for the last two weeks.

The Commission in its order dated 12 February 2015 directed the Principal Secretary to the Governor to provide the information requested by this correspondent on September 18, 2014 under the RTI law but until Monday no such information has been shared by the Principal Secretary.

“The complaint is allowed. The respondent is directed to provide the requested information to the Complainant as soon as possible but not later than Feb 20, 2015, and submit a compliance report to the Commission,” says the order signed by Information Commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali.

Separately, the Commission also directed the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister to share information regarding the expenditure of the CM House by February 23, 2015 but the same was also not provided within the stipulated period.

“Your report along with relevant supporting documents regarding this complaint should reach the undersigned latest by Feb 23, 2015. If no response is received, the Commission shall decide the complaint ex-parte and pass appropriate order,” says the directive of the Commission addressed to the Principal Secretary to the CM.

The Commission has reminded the Principal Secretary that “it is a legal right of any citizen or a legal person to access information from public bodies, subject to exemptions under Section 13 of the Act. Any violation of the law, including delays beyond prescribed timeframe, can result in penalties in accordance with Section 15 or 16 of the Act.”

Earlier, during the proceedings by the Commission, the respondent Tariq Shahzad, Deputy Secretary at the Governor House, had claimed that any request for information relating to expenditure of Governor’s House could not be entertained, the same expenditure being charged expenditure as stipulated in the Article 121 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan, “can only be discussed by the elected members of the Treasury in Provincial Assembly”.

The Article 121 (1) states: “So much of the Annual Budget Statement as relates to expenditure charged upon the Provincial Consolidated Fund may be discussed in, but shall not be submitted to vote of, the Provincial Assembly”.But the Commission strongly rejected the argument of the respondent terming it wrong interpretation of Article 121.

“The respondent has not only wrongly interpreted Article 121 but has also conveniently ignored Article 19A of the Constitution whereby right to information has been declared a fundamental right. He has also ignored Section 2(h)(iii) of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, which explicitly covers the office of governor under the definition of public bodies on which the Act applies,” says the order.

“This understanding of Article 121 is incomprehensible, and it is hard to believe that any responsible officer who applies his mind can really reach such a conclusion. All that Article 121 suggests is that charged expenditure would not be put to vote in the assembly. Nowhere it is mentioned in the Constitution that information about charged expenditure has to be treated as secret,” the order reads.

The Commission also reprimanded the officials for violating several provisions of the Act relating to the disposal of an application for access to information. “The application for access to information was submitted to the Principal Secretary to the Governor, who should have transferred it to the relevant public information officer under intimation to the applicant, as required by section 11(1) of the Act. However, it seems that he never bothered to inform the applicant about it and, hence, acted in violation of section 11(1) of the Act. On the other hand, after the receipt of the transferred application, it was a duty of the respondent to acknowledge its receipt to the complainant u/s 10(1) of the Act and then decide it within 14 working days u/s 10(7) of the Act. However, it appears from the material on the record that the respondent neither acknowledged the receipt of application nor acted on it as per section 10 of the Act for more than four months starting from the submission of application,” the Commission said.

The order also directed the Principal Secretary to take immediate steps to establish an effective mechanism to fulfil their responsibilities under, inter alia, sections 4, 7, 8, 10, 11 & 12 of the Act, especially in terms of proactive disclosure and disposal of all pending and future applications for access to information within the prescribed time limits.

Waseem Abbasi
The News
Tuesday, March 03, 2015

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