LAHORE: The Right to Information (RTI) Coalition on Thursday urged the Punjab government to appoint information commissioners and provide staff to the Punjab Information Commission instead of showing lack of interest in fully implementing the Transparency and Right to Information Act introduced in 2013 to ensure correct working of the government.
Speaking at a news conference at the Lahore Press Club, representatives of three member bodies of the coalition, a consortium of 52 civil society groups working to protect and promote citizens right to information, said it was unfortunate that the Punjab government was not taking proper steps for the implementation of the law.Journalists and citizens were facing serious challenges in exercising their right to information as the provincial government had not provided staff to the information commission to carry out its functions since the enactment of the law. The posts of the information commissioners were lying vacant ever since the completion of the tenure of the first team, said Mr Zahid Abdullah of Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives.
The speakers demanded immediate appointment of the chief information commissioner and two information commissioners in line with criterion mentioned in Section 5 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013.
They said the government should approve service rules for the information commission so that it could recruit staff to carry out its functions. In the meanwhile, the Punjab government should provide the requisite staff to it.
They said the government should instruct public bodies to implement Section 4 of the law pertain-ing to proactive disclosure ofinformation through websites and provide necessary funds to them for the purpose.
It should ensure designation of public information officers (PIOs) in all [public] bodies in line with guidelines issued by the commission and that their contact details are easily accessible through notice boards, websites and publications. The PIOs should be designated by post and not by name to ensure continuity in case of retirement, transfer or death of an officer.
The government should take steps to ensure indexation and computerisation of records in all public bodies and give them requisite fundsforthe purpose.
The government should provide adequatefundsandsupporttothe commission so that it could effectively perform its statutory responsibilities in terms of public awareness and training of PIOs.
Last year, Rs1 million had been allocated for advertisements and publicity, which were insufficient for public awareness in the prov-ince.
Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) Executive Director Amer Ejaz said without the active support of the provincial government, the citizens` right of access to information would remain a pipe dream.
Punjab Lok Sujag Executive Director Taugeer Mustafa said citizens were losing confidence in the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 as many public bodies had not designated PIOs. Even where they had been designated, there was no information available about their particulars on the websites [of public bodies J. Non-availability of requisite staff and delay in the appointment of information commissioners had resulted in hundreds of pending complaints with the commission.
Sangat Development Foundation Executive Director Zahid Islam said democracy itself is weakened when citizens are unable to exercise their right to know and they are kept in the dark about matters of public importance.
Published in Dawn