Ever since its establishment on November 7, 2018, Pakistan Information Commission, (PIC) is carrying out its statuary duties implementing the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
The PIC has so far received a total of 1734 Appeals, out of which 1536 were received via post and 198 were received through E-mail and through Information Management System, developed by the commission to facilitate citizens to file appeals online. Out of these, 696 have been resolved and the requested information has been provided to the appellants to their satisfaction and Case Closure certificates have been shared with both the Appellants and the Respondents. These resolved cases do not include appeals on which the commission has issued over 395 Orders in which the partial information has been provided after specific directions of the commission and are in process of implementation. The remaining appeals are at various stages of resolution as notices have been issued and hearings are being conducted on these appeals three days of every week.
Citizens are finding it difficult to get information from federal public bodies, be it constitutional bodies, federal ministries, commissions, educational institutions, electric supply companies, regulatory bodies or different commissions. Federal public bodies provide information as an exception when citizens file information request under the Act and not as a rule even when requested information is of simple nature does not need to be contested on any legitimate grounds. As a consequence, citizens have to file appeals with the commission which is creating grave problems for the under-staffed and under-resourced commission.
The commission is facilitating citizens in exercising their right to information through notices, summens to public officials and where necessary issues Orders. Sector wise, citizens filed a total of 88 appeals against constitutional bodies and the commission issued a total of 9 Orders. Civil servants have not realised the significance of transparent functioning of federal ministries with regard to good governance in the country. Citizens filed a total of 713 appeals against 40 Federal Ministries and the commission issued a total of 140 Orders. citizens are also interested in knowing what transpires in electric supply companies and they filed a total of 72 appeals against these companies and the commission issued a total of 21 Orders. citizens also filed a total of 85 appeals against educational institutions and the commission issued a total of 21 Orders. citizens also sought information from different commissions and filed a total of 92 appeals and the commission issued a total of 19 Orders.
The commission received highest number of appeals against the Ministry of Defence and its attached departments, (141), followed by the Ministry of Law and Justice, (44), Supreme Court of Pakistan and Islamabad High Court, (42), the Ministry of Finance, (37), Federal Board of Revenue and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, (34), CDA (33), National Accountability Bureau and the Ministry of Education and Professional Training, (32) and FIA (31). Thirty appeals were filed against each of the Ministry of Interior and Cabinet Division and 27 Appeals were filed against each of NADRA, ECP and the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmoney. Twenty-five Appeals were filed against Senate Secretariat, 24 against Establishment Division and 23 against each of Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Railways. Twenty-2 Appeals were filed against Higher Education Commission and and 21 each against Prime Minister Secretariat and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The analysis of the appeals filed by citizens reveals that most of the requests pertained to the enquiry reports against officials, certified copies of the merit lists of candidates and recruitment criteria , contracts signed by public bodies to hire services of sanitary workers and security guards through third party contractors, number of FIRs filed under different provisions of Cyber law and number of convictions, total number of sanctioned and vacant posts in different public bodies and the quota for the disabled and transgender persons. Citizens have also filed appeals to get access 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 Election Commission of Pakistan, information available with NADRA about total number of CNIC issued to women, and the total number of transgender persons and people with disabilities in the country, details of assets of judges and officers and salaries, perks, privileges and benefits of judges, civil and military officers.
These appeals suggest that, through the exercise of their right of access to information in matters of public importance, citizens aim at realising their other rights like access to justice, gainful employment on equal basis by ensuring judicious utilisation of public funds, improving governance, reducing corruption and inefficiency in public bodies through transparency and public accountability.
The commission has issued a total of 395 detailed orders on the appeals filed by citizens against federal public bodies for delaying or unlawfully denying access to information. The highest number of orders, 33, were issued against the Ministry of Defence and its attached departments. Eleven Orders were issued against each of Ministry of Railways and CDA followed by 9 against each of FBR, SNGPL and NBP whereas 8 were issued against FIA, NADRA, Cabinet Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Law and Justice. Seven Orders were issued against the Ministry of Interior, followed by 6 each against Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination, National Accountability Bureau, National Assembly Secretariat, ECP, and Metropolitan Corporation. Five Orders were issued against each of LESCO, PESCO, MEPCO, NHA and Islamabad Model Colleges, followed by 4 each against EOBI, HEC, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Federal Employees Housing Cooperative Society, The Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Climate Change.
Each order of the commission is being vigorously pursued for implementation through show-cause notices seeking time-bound compliance reports. If a public body does not challenge order of the commission in the high court after 30 days of the issuance of the order, the commission issues show cause notice to the concerned public body to ensure the implementation of its order.
So far, a total of 30 Orders of the commission have been challenged by federal public bodies in High Courts. Of these, 5 Orders of the commission have already been upheld whereas remaining are pending decision. None of the Order of the commission has been reversed by any of the High Court. So far, Registrar, Supreme Court of Pakistan, Cabinet Division, Establishment Division, PTCL, ECP, Office of the President, SNGPL, the Ministry of Law and Justice, Pakistan Housing Authority Foundation and NTDC have challenged orders of the commission in the High Court.
Instead of implementing the Order of the commission or challenging in Islamabad High Court, as required under the Act, Senate Secretariat sent a letter to the commission stating that “Chairman, Senate is authorized to declare any, or, all record of the Senate Secretariat as classified”. The information requested from Senate Secretariat pertained to total number of sanctioned and vacant posts, quota for the disabled etc. which the commission declared to be public information under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
Some of the public interest Orders of the commission pertain to the issue of minimum wage of sanitary workers and security guards, rights of passangers and patients, constitutionality of right to information, declaration of records more than 20 years old as public record, disclosure of information pertaining to the fees paid to the lawyers from public funds and declaration of SNGPL, Pakistan Cricket Board and Islamabad Club as a public body. After a citizen linked the right of access to information in matters of public importance with the issue of minimum wage of janitorial staff, hired through third party contractors and performing duties in different public bodies, 44 Cantonment Boards, Civil Aviation Authority, and CDA has started paying minimum wages to its genitorial staff after Orders of the commission. The commission has also settled the issue of applicability of the Act on superior courts. The commission has held in Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar and Others Vs Ministry of Law and Justice that the exercise of constitutional and statutory right of citizens in matters of public importance through the Act is neither likely to, nor, designed to curtail independence of the superior judiciary. The commission through its different Orders has also interpreted that the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 is also applicable to constitutional bodies. The commission through its different Orders has held that the attorney – client privileged communication does not cover legal fees paid to the lawyers from public funds.
With regard to the rights of patients to the ininformation held by the hospitals and doctors, in Appeal No 175-11/2019, Ms. Nadia Naeem
Vs. Pakistan Medical Commission, the commission held that any record that can be submitted to a regulatory body, or, the regulatory body is empowered to get access to the record, is record/information for the purposes of this Act and can be shared with the applicants/appellants, if warranted by the provisions of the Act. With regard to protecting rights of passangers, in one of its Orders, the commission observed that Civil Aviation Authority, (CAA) is responsible to ensure that information about the rights of passengers is disseminated through all channels of communication which the airlines employ for transaction of business with their passengers. As such, the Respondent should ensure airlines make available information about the rights of passengers through their web sites, electronic and printed tickets and airlines counters.
Through its different Orders, the commission has declared Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited, PCB and Islamabad Club to be public bodies. Through its various Orders, the commission has held that academic degrees, experience certificates of short-listed candidates, selection criterion, merit list allotted marks and remarks of the interview committee members are public records and should be provided to citizens to ensure transparency in the recruitment of government jobs.
The commission is endeavouring to ensure proactive disclosure of information through its Orders and issues specific directions for the implementation of Section 5 of the Act. In one of its Orders, the commission has held that all reports that are more than 20 years old are public records. Through its different Orders, the commission has held that the information proactively published under Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 should be ‘accessible’ for all citizens, including the blind, low-vision, physically disabled, speech and hearing impaired and people with other disabilities. In all most all the Orders of the commission, federal public bodies are directed to implement Section 5 of the Act and in cases where a public body has not designated PIO, the commission issues directions for the designation of the PIO through its Orders. Furthermore, the commission directs the public bodies to submit compliance report within a specific time period, generally one month from the receipt of the Order.
Other achievements of the Commission during this period include the following:
- The Commission has drafted, notified and published the Right of Access to Information Act Rules 2020 in response to the queries of the Ministry of Law and Justice which has been notified after the approval of the Federal Cabinet.
- The commission developed service rules so that it could recruit staff for the commission once the commission has the budget. These service rules were shared with Establishment Division once the Ministry of Finance formally sanctions post for officers and staff for the commission.
- The Commission developed and notified a Schedule of Costs for the guidance of applicants and government officers on August 23, 2019. Citizens will be no longer required to first deposit fee for filing an information request under the Schedule of Cost notified by the commission. Previously, citizens were required to deposit Rs.50 at the time of submitting an information request to a federal public body under Freedom of Information Rules 2004 which was great hindrance in the exercise of the right of access to information in matters of public importance as guaranteed by Article 19-A of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
- Giving primacy to proactive disclosure of information as required under Section 5 of the Act, the commission has developed ‘Template for the Compliance Report-Proactive Disclosure of Information under Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017’. The commission is ensuring through its Orders and Circulars that all federal public bodies publish information according to this template.
- The commission developed ‘Procedure for the Processing of Appeals’ as required under Section 27 (c) of the Act.
- Realising the significance of the fact that information should be accessible to all citizens, including persons with disabilities, the commission has developed checklist for all federal public bodies to ensure that information provided through web sites is made accessible to the blind, low vision people and persons with other disabilities.
- Letters and circulars were issued to remind and guide public bodies as well as PIOs about their responsibilities under the Act.
- The Commission developed and issued ‘Guidelines for Public Information Officers and Heads of Federal Public Bodies for the Implementation of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 which are being shared with Public Information Officers and the heads of public bodies.
On the request of the commission, TDEA developed a website of the Commission (www.rti.gov.pk). This provides significant resources for the guidance of people and government officers including PIOs. The commission has been able to establish its office after prolonged delay of One year and eight months; the commission has yet to acquire requisite staff to effectively perform its functions.
Despite the lack of requisite staff, the commission has been doing all that is possible to achieve its goals ever since its inception. The Establishment Division has not yet approved Service Rules of the commission. As such, the process of recruitment of staff above BPS 16 has not started yet. However, the commission has recruited two Assistants-BPS-15, two steno typists, BPS-14 and one LDC, BPS-9 after following due legal process. With over 8 months of unreleased salaries of the members of the commission as well as the lack of an official working space until June, 2020, the commission has been taking significant steps towards the promotion of peoples’ constitutional right of access to information and transparency in government.
After the appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner and two information commissioners, the major challenge for the Commission was to establish a functional office, which took considerable time in view of time-consuming government procedures related to approval of budget, creation of posts, opening up of account, hiring of office building, arranging staff and procurements. The commission began performing its substantive functions right after its inception in 2018 and has been doing so tirelessly without even an official working space till June 2020. All functions were performed entirely in accordance with, inter alia, section 19 of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2019. One of the most important functions of the Commission is to receive and decide on appeals among others, wrongful denial or delay in providing access to information.
For the first year and seven months, working from the one-room office in the Information Services Academy, the Commissioners issued notices on all 185 appeals to the federal public bodies. In the absence of staff and required equipment, at the initial stages, the appeals were processed with the help of the TDEA.
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