28th December 2021
By Rehan Piracha
The department of Excise, offices of deputy commissioners and inspector general’s office of Punjab police were the top public bodies against whom appeals were filed for withholding requested information under the provincial right to information law this year, according to statistics from the Punjab Information Commission.
Citizens can request access to information from public bodies in the province under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. The public information officers are bound to respond to requests for information within 14 working days.
Citizens can request any information held by a public body. The requested information can include notifications, documents, reports, account statements, project proposals, orders, contracts, memos, letters and designs.
A citizen can file an appeal with the Punjab Information Commission if public information officers of public bodies fail to respond in stipulated time or refuse to divulge requested information. The commission is to decide appeals within 60 days.
The citizens filed 1,948 appeals with the Punjab Information Commission this year against various government departments and organisations for withholding requested information. The commission disposed of 1,720 appeals while 228 are still pending with the commission.
According to data from the commission, 48 appeals were filed against the Excise department, followed by 28 appeals against district offices of deputy commissioners while 25 complaints were lodged against the office of Punjab Inspector General of Police.
Besides, 23 appeals were filed against the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board and 13 complaints against the Irrigation department. Interestingly, the information requested from these public bodies mostly related to their budget and expenditures, recruitments, and tenders.
In a report in December 2020, Pakistan Information Commission stated that Ministry of Defence, Registrar Office, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Cantonment Boards, and Ministry of Finance were the top federal public bodies against whom citizens filed the highest number of appeals.
“The analysis of the appeals filed by citizens reveal that most of the requests pertained to finalised audit paras and audit reports of public bodies, information about legislative bills laid in the Parliament, information about the publications pertaining to the asset details submitted by parliamentarians to ECP, number of FIRs filed under different provisions of Cyber law and number of convictions, certified copies of the contracts signed by public bodies to hire services of sanitary workers, total number of sanctioned and vacant posts in different public bodies and the quota for the disabled and transgender persons…,” Pakistan Information Commission said in its implementation report.
The Pakistan Information Commission had cited non-serious attitude of federal bodies a serious challenge to the right of information law. “In many cases, where public information officers have been designated, people don’t know of their contact details, as the public bodies have failed to disseminate the same through notice boards or websites, despite reminders by the Commission through its letter’s circulars,” the report said.