January 17th, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
Citizens are being denied access to their right of information in Balochistan and Sindh where provincial governments have either failed to constitute a provincial information commission or appointed new members on the conclusion of tenures of the previous commissioners despite a lapse of several months.
In Balochistan, the government has yet to appoint chief commissioner and members of the provincial information commission despite a lapse by 11 months of the right to information law’s enactment. Whereas in Sindh, the provincial government has not appointed new members to its information commission for the last seven months after tenures of the previous commissioners ended on May 30, 2021.
The provincial assembly passed the Balochistan Right to Information Act on February 1 while the governor gave its assent to the legislation on February 15, 2021. Under Section 18 of the Balochistan RTI Act, the provincial government had to establish the Balochistan Information Commission within 120 days of the law’s enactment. The four-month grace period expired on June 15, 2021.
The government has to appoint as chief commissioner a retired civil servant not below the rank of grade 20 and three other commissioners to the information commission. One of the members should be from civil society with not less than 15 years’ experience in his field.
The Balochistan RTI Act repealed the previous the Balochistan Freedom of Information Act, 2005, which was considered not an effective law in terms of Article 19 A. The article on right to information was incorporated into the Constitution through the 18th Amendment in 2010.
“Balochistan was the last province to pass an effective RTI law in line with Article 19A after 10 years,” said Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, Executive Director of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI). He said the delay in the establishment of the Balochistan Information Commission reflected the non-serious attitude of the provincial government in matters of public interest.
“It’s been over six months since the parliamentary grace period of 120 days for the establishment of Balochistan Information Commission has expired,” Ali pointed out. Though, RTI activists have expressed reservation over the law, the continued delay in the establishment of the provincial information commission has deprived citizens of their right to information enshrined in the Constitution, the CPDI chief said.
In Sindh, the provincial government notified a three-member information commission in 2018 after 14 months of the passage of the Sindh Transparency and Rights of Information Act by the provincial assembly.
The tenures of Shahid Gulzar Shaikh, chief information commissioner, and commissioners Gul Munir Shah and Sikandar Huliyo ended on May 30, 2021.
According to Mukhtar Ahmed Ali, the previous Sindh Information Commission did nothing to provide transparency and access to information to citizens in matters of public importance. “The performance of the Sindh Information Commission is a matter of concern,” he said.
“It raises questions about the provincial government’s appointments to the commission as well as credibility of the information commissioners,” Ali said.
“An oversight and accountability mechanism is essential for effective implementation of the RTI law,” he emphasized.
He said the seven-month delay in notification of new members of the Sindh Information Commission showed the Sindh government’s non-serious attitude and disinterest in public interest matters.
Appointments in process: Sindh minister
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Saeed Ghani, Sindh Minister for Information, said government officials had earlier suggested that the information commission members should be given extension in service by bringing an amendment in the RTI law. “However, the chief minister and the cabinet rejected their suggestion and decided to appoint new members,” Ghani said.
The minister said he had instructed officials in the Information Department to advertise vacancies in the information commission in a week’s time. “The whole process of appointment of information commissioners is likely to be completed in about a month, “ Ghani said.
Bushra Rind, Balochistan CM’s advisor on information, said department officials had initiated the relevant legal framework for the establishment of the Balochistan Information Commission.