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IHC upholds PIC order against PHAF

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court has dismissed a writ petition filed against by the Pakistan Housing Authority Foundation and has upheld an earlier decision of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC)

According to details, in pursuance of an appeal filed by a citizen Abdullah Rashed Waraich, the PIC issued a detail verdict on June 12, 2021 and directed the Director General, Pakistan Housing Authority Foundation  to disclose information about the recruitment made for the post of Assistant Directors (E/M)/(Civil) as requested by the citizen.

The public body was directed to comply with the order of the commission within 7 working days.

However, the PHAF challenged the order of PIC in Islamabad High Court and took a stand that the petitioner (PHAF) has already submitted all relevant record/information before the PIC and the citizen in respect of post of Assistant Director (E/M) against which the citizen applied.

The petitioner stated, being custodian of record of applicants, who applied against the various posts, cannot be compelled or directed to provide all other record not relevant to the post of Assistant Director (E/M).

Judge Babar Sattar in an order dated July 12, 2021 dismissed the learned counsel for the petitioner has failed to point out any infirmity in the order of the Pakistan Information Commission, the petition is therefore, dismissed in limine.

Justice Louis Brandeis is often quoted as having said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”, in the context of transparency and disclosure being an elixir to many societal and governmental malpractices. In this context, it is not for the petitioner to determine what information is and what is not relevant for a citizen seeking information that is otherwise liable to be disclosed under provision of the Act, Order of IHC states.

 

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Establishment Division directed to share details of the action taken against officers who are not submitting assets declaration regularly with citizen.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Information Commission has directed the Establishment Division to share the details of the action taken against officers who are not submitting their assets declaration regularly within ten working days with a citizen.
In pursuance of an appeal filed by a citizen Nadeem Umer – a local resident – the commission has issued a detailed verdict and directed to share the list of the officers who have not submitted their assets declaration during their whole service.
According to the verdict of the commission, the appellant in December last year requested the establishment division to provide the list of the officers whose promotion is halted due to non-submission of their assets declaration, list of the officers who have not submitted their assets declaration during their whole service.
The Establishment Division was also requested to provide the details of about the inquiries conducted regarding the increase in assets of the officers.
The Order of PIC states that this commission provided ample opportunities to the Respondent, through duly sent notices to respond to the duly filed request for information of the citizen, but the Respondent has failed to submit its response as to why the requested information cannot be provided to the citizen, this commission is left with no option but to determine whether or not the requested information can be disclosed by juxtaposing it with the provisions of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
The requested information cannot be denied even on the ground of personal privacy as mentioned in Section 7 (g) of the Act. In any case, on the balance, public interest outweighs any harm to personal privacy of civil servants who fail to fulfil their obligation of submitting details of their assets, Commission observed.
PIC order further states that tt is only through the disclosure of the requested information that citizens of Pakistan, who pay taxes for, inter alia, the salaries of civil servants, will be able to know the names, designations and number of officers who are not fulfilling their obligation of submitting their assets declaration; Frequency and duration of the failure on the part of officers in submitting assets declaration; and action taken, if any, by the Establishment Division against officers who failed to submit their assets declaration.
The commission has directed the Establishment Division to share the requested information with the citizen within ten working days and with intimation to PIC commission.

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COMSAT University is directed to shared copies of admission in B-Architecture Fall 2020 semester with a citizen

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Information Commission has directed the Comsats University to share the copies of drawing test along with the number obtained by each candidate who took the test for admission in B-Architecture Fall 2020 semester with a citizen within ten working days.

The commission in a verdict observed that Students enrolled in public universities get access to subsidized education paid through the taxes of the citizens of Pakistan. As such, access to subsidized education through admissions in public universities is a privilege granted to successful candidates. Hence, citizens have the right to know about the performance of the successful candidates who enjoy the privilege of subsidised education in public universities.

The respondent has violated timeline mentioned in the Act to provide the requested information to the Appellant, the unwarranted delay in providing the requested information to the Applicant could have been avoided, Order states.

Comsat University is also directed to notify Public Information Officer, (PIO), under Section 9 of the Act, put the notification to this effect on its web.

The Respondent is directed to take immediate steps to proactively share through the web site all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and submit the compliance report to the commission in the Template for the Compliance Report-Proactive Disclosure of Information under Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017’.

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Citizens not required to provide reasons for seeking information from the government departments: PIC

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Information Commission has held that citizens in no case are required to provide reasons for seeking information from the government departments under the Right of Access to Information Act.

In a verdict, PIC in pursuance of an appeal of Zeenat Bibi, a local resident, has directed that Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, to provide the minutes of board meetings and complete details of budget utilization for the span of period from 10 August to 30 September 2020 within seven working days to the citizen.

Earlier, the appellant informed the commission that he had received a letter from the respondent asking the appellant to come to their office personally.

The commission observed that the respondent’s response with uncalled queries and asking the appellant to appear in person is nothing but an effort to linger and delay the matter through written correspondence giving the impression of non-cooperative behaviour.

This sort of evasive behaviour is not confidence inspiring rather is against the spirit of the Act. The public bodies instead creating bureaucratic technical obstacles must adopt the procedure of faster track provided in the Act to ensure the delivery of information within the time limit mentioned in the Act. The Act in itself is comprehensive and unambiguous in its interpretation. The request that identifies the information in sufficient detail is a proper and valid request, leaving no room for any further details.

The commission warned the Islamabad Wildlife Board to be careful in future in provision of the information to the citizens as to deliberate and wilful obstruction in the activity of the Commission causing prevention and delay in the disclosure of information, warranting imposition of fine under section 20(f) of the Act.

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PIC directs Cabinet Division to public details about gifts retained by PM Imran Khan from Tosha Khana.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Information Commission has directed Cabinet Division to share details with the complainant about the gifts retained by the Prime Minister Imran Khan within 10 working days.

The Pakistan Information Commission (PIC), through a verdict, has also directed the Cabinet Division to share the same information on the website under the Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017.

According to details,  Rana Abrar Khalid, a local resident, had approached the Cabinet Division to get information about gifts received by the Prime Minister Imran Khan from foreign heads of state, governments & other foreign dignitaries from 18 August 2018 to 31 October 2020.

The appellant also requested the specification of each gift retained by the Prime Minister and the Rules under which these gifts are retained by the Prime Minister.

However, the applicant didn’t receive the requested information from the Cabinet Division and approached the PIC.

In pursuance of the appeal filed by the citizen, the Commission issued a notice to the designated officer of the Cabinet Division and directed to submit reasons for not providing the requested information.

Cabinet Division in response to the notice issued by PIC refused to share the requested information and claimed that the requested information is classified matter and cannot be shared with the appellant under Section-7(f) & clause 16(ii) of Right of access to Information Act.

The Commission in its order has observed that cabinet division has not provided any reasons to exempt the requested information from disclosure in the instant. However, in an other appeal titled “Waseem Elahi VS Cabinet Division”, on the identical issue, the public body  submitted that requested information is sensitive as gifts are exchanged between the Heads of States and Heads of Governments to give personal touch to inter-state relations; and disclosure of such information could create media hype and resulted in unwarranted stories, thus potentially damaging the interest of Pakistan in the conduct of international relations and jeopardizing inter-state relations.

PIC observed that when certified information about these gifts will be made available in the public domain for everyone to see, citizen of Pakistan will know that the gifts received on their behalf are being properly managed.  Availability of the certified information about the gifts deposited in ‘Tosha Khana’ in public domain will not only make the entire process about the management of these gifts open and transparent, it will contribute to reducing trust-deficit between citizens and public institutions contributed by opacity and secretive ways of functioning of public institutions. Even citizens of the states on whose behalf gifts are received by our elected representatives and public officials will come to know that their gifts are properly managed, resultantly strengthening people-to-people and inter-state relations.

 

Certified requested information will dispel rumours about the reporting of the gifts to ‘Tosha ‘Khana’ by the public officials and their retention price and which elected representative or public official retained which gift at what price, Order states.

The seven pages verdict also directs the Cabinet Division to put Rules under which gits are retained by the recipients on the website along with all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and submit the compliance report to the commission within 10 working days.

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CAA directed to share information about passengers’ rights through websites, public address system and airline counters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Information Commission has directed Civil Aviation Authority to prominently display passengers’ right’s at airports, airlines counters and on websites.

According to details, on an appeal of a citizen the commission has issued a detailed verdict and directed the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure information about the rights of passengers is prominently displayed at airports, on its web site and that passengers are apprised about their responsibilities as well as their rights through Public Address Systems.

Moreover, airlines should also make sure this information available on their websites, electronic and printed tickets and at airlines counters.

CAA as a regulator, cannot absolve itself from its responsibility of sharing rights of passengers by merely putting information about their rights on its web site, at some obscure corner, which is not easily accessible to citizen, the Commission observed.

A citizen, Syed Abu Ahmed Akif had lodged an appeal against a private airline in which he had maintained that he was informed by its call centre about the cancellation of the flight, (both through text message and voice call) but he was not informed about his right to be endorsed on other airlines. He appealed with the commission that “While the airline has settled this case by providing additional tickets, the issue of dissemination of passenger rights on tickets and by call centers remains unresolved – and hence citizens continue to suffer both financial and other losses”.

The commission maintained that the Appellant has raised a pertinent point that “a commercial organization cannot be expected to act against its interests by giving full information on rights which hurts its commercial interests”.

The commission in its order has observed that “it is responsibility of CAA, as a regulator, to ensure that both the commercial interests of airlines and the rights of passengers are protected”

The twelve pages verdict of PIC states that the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 requires that citizens not only have ‘improved access’ to information but that the information should be made ‘accessible’ to all citizens, including citizens with low-literacy level and those with different disabilities.

PIC order states, it would be stating the obvious that passengers should not be treated as a homogenous group of people while disseminating information about their rights as passengers. Passengers also include those with different disabilities i.e., low-vision, blindness, speech, hearing and physical impairments.

The ability to exercise the right of access to information by passengers with different disabilities is dictated by the nature of their different disabilities. As such, it is responsibility of the CAA to ensure that both the content and the design of the web sites of CAA and those of airlines is accessible and that information about rights of passengers should be provided catering to the special needs of passengers with different disabilities.

Every passenger has the right to travel with dignity on equal basis with others irrespective of any disability. It is responsibility of CAA to ensure that both ground staff and the plane crew are apprised of the rights of passengers with different disabilities and trained to provide services to passengers with different disabilities in line with the nature of each disability.

CAA is responsible to ensure that information about the rights of passengers is prominently displayed at airports, on its web site and that passengers are apprised about their responsibilities as well as their rights through Public Address Systems, Order states.

The commission has sought compliance report, containing relevant documents and empirically verifiable evidence, pertaining to the dissemination of information mentioned above by February 12, 2021.

PIC in its order has also directed to CAA to notify Public Information Officer, (PIO), under Section 9 of the Act, put the notification to this effect on its web site as required under Section 5 (1) (b) of the Act, put name, designation and contact details of the PIO on its web sites as required under Section 5 (1) (h) of the Act within 10 working days.

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Cabinet Division directed to provide all records conferring civil award to a citizen

Islamabad, August06, 2020: The Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has observed that the availability of the certified information about the civil awards in public domain will make the entire process about the conferment of these awards open and transparent, and will contribute to reducing trust-deficit between citizens and public institutions.

In an order, issued on Friday, PIC expressed, certified records pertaining to the conferment of civil awards will be made available in the public domain for everyone to see, it will further enhance prestige of these awards.

PIC in its order has directed Cabinet Division to provide all records along with noting on the files, minutes of the meetings conferring Sitara-e-Imtiaz civil award to Mian Muhammad Mansha by President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf.

The commission also directed Cabinet Division to provide recommendations furnished by public officials who nominated the recipient in the process which led to the conferment of the award.

The order was issued on an information request of a citizen who sought records pertaining to the conferment of the award, but the request was denied by the cabinet division stating that record relating to the personal privacy of any individual; and record of private documents furnished to a public body either on an express or implied condition that information contained in any such documents shall not be disclosed to a third party under the Section 7 (g) (h) of Right of Access to Information Act 2017

The commission maintained that the records requested by the Appellant pertain to recommendations submitted by public officials to confer a civil award on the citizen in question during the process.  Furthermore, requested documents pertain to the records generated during the process by the three Award committees during May-July and summary by the Prime Minister sent to the President to finalise the conferment of the civil award.  

“This commission is of the view that right to privacy is a sacred right and any information which infringes personal privacy of an individual should be protected. As such any information like health condition, financial details, personal communication, CNIC details, phone numbers and residential addresses of citizens should not be made public.  Therefore, all such information provided by public officials who nominated the recipient for the award and the recipient himself is exempted from disclosure. Any other information furnished in the process which led to the final decisions is public information”, states Order of the commission.

The commission held that the argument put forward by the public body that private documents submitted by a third party are exempted from disclosure under Section 7 (h) of the Act is neither applicable in the instant appeal nor holds water.

Civil awards are conferred on citizens for their high accomplishments and contribution to the betterment of our society in various fields. Such information testifying their contribution to the society is already available in the public domain.

These awards are conferred on citizens based on the recommendations of public officials and not on the basis of any private documents. Therefore, information submitted by public officials who nominated the recipient for the civil award with the confidence that it testified that the recipient was worthy of the award cannot be exempted from disclosure.

In fact, if there is any information which is not already public, it should be made available so that citizens can know more about accomplishments of the recipients of these awards and their contribution to the society.  

The commission also observed that in the instant appeal, as final decision has been taken by the public body, therefore, noting on the files and minutes of the meetings are public documents. Section 7 (a) exempts noting on file only subject to ‘a final decision’. Once final decision is taken by a public body, noting on the file becomes a public document.  Similarly, Section 7 (b) exempts minutes of meetings only subject to ‘a final decision’ by a public body. Once final decision is taken by a public body, minutes of meetings become public documents.

The commission also noted that final decisions are public documents under Section 6 (c)of the Act.

The commission observed that it expects the Respondent being Cabinet Division to be a trailblazer for other federal public bodies in ensuring the implementation of the Act to facilitate citizens’ constitutional right of access to information in matters of public importance.

The commission also directed Cabinet Division to designate Public Information Officer (PIO) as required under Section 9 of the Act, put contact details on its web site as required under Section 5 (1) (h)of the Act and submit notification to this effect to the commission.

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Show Cause notice issued to Department of Stationery and Forms for not providing copies of gazettes through email to a citizen

Islamabad, July 29, 2020: Pakistan Information Commission on Wednesday issued Show Cause notice to the Department of Stationery and Forms for not implementing Order of the commission.

The show cause notice was issued on an appeal of citizen Syed Muhammad Amin Gilani Department of Stationery & Form

The citizen had sought information under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 through a request for information in October 2019, sent to Director General of Department of Stationery and Forms (S&F). The citizen had requested “all published copies of the Gazette of Pakistan in possession of the Department of Stationery & Forms.

Through its Order dated February 25, 2020, the commission held that “the department of S&F is in possession of the requested information which it was legally bound to computerize and make accessible through online to the citizens of Pakistan. While the department may provide Gazettes to the citizens who prefer printed book and through annual subscription, the Respondent should also make all Gazettes accessible through online”.

The Department of Stationery and Forms was directed to provide the requested information to the Appellant through E-mail at the earliest, but in any case, not later than 10 working days after the issuance of the order. PIC also directed the Department of Stationery and Forms to take immediate steps to publish all Gazettes online and submit the compliance report to the commission by 24/03/2020.

In response to Show Cause notice for not implementing the Order of the commission, the Department of Stationery and Forms communicated through a letter dated 10-03-2020: “this Department is always ready to provide all information regarding Gazette to general public but on payment being saleable document as per this Department “Rules for Stocking, Distribution and sale of Government Publication Rules 8,13 &17 at page-8 & 9 and Dy. Financial Advisor Organization (Cabinet) revise price and annual subscription fee Gazette of Pakistan ordinary & Extra-ordinary Gazette of Pakistan vide UO No. (F.3 (20)-DFA (Cabinet) /2007-1435, dated 14.11.2007, Annexure-III & IV respectively”. 

The department of Stationery and Forms also “requested that the order to publish all Gazettes online may kindly be review and appellant may kindly be asked to ascertain his requirement of Gazette, enabling this department to let him cost of the same and on receipt of payment, Gazette will be supplied without loss of time.

Through Show Cause notice dated July 29, 2020, the commission directed the Department of Stationery and Forms to refer to   Section 25 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 which states that the “Act to override other laws— The provisions of this act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force”

The commission directed Ms. Shaheen Controller (S&F) Department of Stationery and Forms (S&F), to appear in person before the commission on August 20, 2020 to provide reasons as to why proceedings may not be initiated under Section 20 (2) of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 which is, 

“Non-compliance of a decision of the Information Commissioner under the clauses of (e) and (f) of sub-section (1) may, if it has not been appealed against within thirty days, be dealt with in the same way as contempt of court”.

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PIC directs Cabinet Division to provide reasons in writing for exempting information about gifts deposited in ‘Tosha Khana’

Islamabad, July 29, 2020: Pakistan Information Commission on Wednesday directed the cabinet division to submit recorded reasons for exempting the information about Tosha khana under Section 7 (f) of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 before 27th August.

The directions were issued through an interim order in an appeal of citizen Muhammad Waseem Elahi against Cabinet division.

The citizen had sought information under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 about gifts deposited in ‘Tosha Khana’, names of recipients of these gifts, value and type of each gift and how many “complaints and inquiries of fraud/theft/lost/misappropriation/embezzlement regarding these gifted items are currently underway and concluded in last 30 days.

On March 09, 2020, the commission received an unsigned, undated and unreferenced letter containing copies of starred questions asked by the an MNA and Senator along with the reasons on which requested information was denied. The letter also contained a letter of Prime Minister’s office declaring the said information as classified and a decision of the President and the findings of Federal Ombudsman.

The commission in its interim order stated the unsigned, undated and unreferenced letter containing copies of above-mentioned documents cannot be treated as official communication.

The commission also noted that that the requested information has been sought under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and reasons for the exemption of the requested information have to be recorded under Section 7 (f) of the Right of   Access to Information Act 2017 which states, Records declared as classified by the Minister-in-charge of the Federal Government.

Provided that the Minister-in-Charge of the Federal Government shall have to record reasons as to why the harm from disclosure of information outweighs public interest and further that information pertaining to allegation of corruption and violation of human rights shall not be excluded.

“In exercise of the powers vested in this commission, the cabinet division is directed to appear before the Commission through Secretary, his representative or Public Information Officer designated under Section 9 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017”, Interim Order stated. The appeal is fixed for hearing before the Pakistan Information Commission on August 27, 2020 at 11:30AM.

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Ministry of Interior directed to provide SOPs about ECL

Islamabad, July 29, 2020: Pakistan Information Commission has directed the Ministry of Interior to provide Standard Operating Procedures, (SOPs) about placing and removing names of people on Exit Control List, (ECL).

A citizen filed information request under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 to the Ministry of Interior seeking list of people who have been put on exit control list from 1st October 2018 to 1st October 2019. The citizen also requested information list of people who have been removed from the exit control list during the said period along with reason of removing from ECL against each name.

The Ministry of Interior, through a letter No. 12/72/2020-ECL dated 23rd June 2020 stated, that the requested information can be provided only to the persons whose name is placed on the ECL”
Pakistan Information Commission has directed the Ministry of Interior to provide information about Standard Operating Procedures, (SOPs) adopted by the Ministry of Interior in putting and removing names of citizens on ECL.

The PIC in its notice stated that whether these Sops put on the web site of the Ministry of Interior? And Is there a Standard Operating Procedure through which a citizen can know whether his or her name has been removed from ECL and is this Sop available on the web site of the Ministry of the Interior?

Pakistan Information Commission will issue detailed order on requested information in the coming days.