In last 4 years, ever since its establishment on November 7, 2018, Pakistan Information Commission, (PIC) has been carrying out its statuary duties implementing the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.
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 had to file appeals with the commission which created grave problems for the under-staffed and under-resourced commission.
The PIC received a total of 2474 Appeals, out of which 2153 were received via post and whereas 321 were received via email through Information Management System, developed by the commission to facilitate citizens to file appeals online. Out of these, 1030 were resolved and the requested information was provided to the appellants to their satisfaction and Case Closure certificates were shared with both the Appellants and the Respondents.
The commission issued notices and held hearings on these appeals three days of every week. The commission facilitated citizens in exercising their right to information through summons to public officials and where necessary issues Orders.
Of the total of 2474 appeals filed by citizens, the commission received, 154, the highest number of appeals against the Ministry of Defence and its attached departments, followed by 60 appeals which were filed against the Ministry of Finance. Fifty-one Appeals were filed against each of CDA and FIA and 50 appeals were filed against each of Cabinet Division and FBR. Forty-nine appeals were filed against Ministry of Law and Justice and 49 appeals were filed against the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Islamabad High Court. Forty-six appeals were filed against each of Establishment Division and NADRA followed by 43 against NAB, 42 against Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Forty-one appeals were filed against each of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Energy followed by 40 appeals against each of ECP and Ministry of Interior.
Thirty-seven appeals were filed against HEC, 35 against IESCO, 30 against FPSC and 29 appeals were filed against each of National Assembly Secretariat and PM Secretariat. Twenty-eight appeals were filed against each of AIOU and Senate Secretariat and 25 each against Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training and SNGPL followed by 24 against Ministry of Climate Change, 23 against NBP and 22 against NTCL. Twenty-one appeals were filed against each of SBP and OGDCL and 20 appeals were filed against Ministry of Human Rights.
Sector wise, citizens filed a total of 105 appeals against constitutional bodies and the commission issued a total of 16 Orders.
Citizens are also interested in knowing what transpires in electric supply companies and they filed a total of 80 appeals against these companies and the commission issued a total of 32 Orders.
Citizens also sought information from different Commissions and filed a total of 183 appeals and the commission issued a total of 39 Orders.
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 finalized 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 realizing their other rights like access to justice, gainful employment on equal basis by ensuring judicious utilization of public funds, improving governance, reducing corruption and inefficiency in public bodies through transparency and public accountability.
The commission has issued a total of 661 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, 58, were issued against the Ministry of Defence and its attached departments. Twenty Orders were issued against CDA followed by 16 against FBR and 14 against Ministry of Interior. Thirteen Orders were issued against each of FIA and NBP followed by 12 each against Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Eleven Orders were issued against each of NADRA and ECP and 10 each against National Assembly Secretariat and AIOU.
So far, a total of 73 Orders of the commission have been challenged in High Courts. Of these, 5 Orders of the commission have been upheld whereas 2 have been reversed and 1 has been disposed of. The five Orders of the commission that have been upheld are: Appeal No. 463/08/2020, Abdul Samad Sarla-Vs-National Bank of Pakistan, 888-02/2021, Kashif Ali-Vs-Oil and Gas Development Company, 1490-11/2021, Abdullah Rashid-Vs-Pakistan Housing Authority Foundation, 437-07/2020, Tariq Bashir-Vs-National Accountability Bureau, 052-06/2019, Mukhtar Ahmed Ali-Vs-Federal Board of Revenue and 1563-12/2021, Rana Abrar Khalid Vs Cabinet Division.
Islamabad High Court has reversed 2 Orders of the Commission and these are in Appeal No. 954-03/21 in the case of Muhammad Rehan Paracha VS PTCL A and in Appeal No. 813-12/20 in the case of Amer Ejaz VS Comsats Univerrsity. In the case of Appeal NO. 936-03/2021 in the case of Muhammad Nawaz Vs Survey of Pakistan, the Appellant approached IHC for implementation of the Order of the commission which was disposed of by the IHC.
A total of 36 Orders of the commission have been suspended whereas in case of 29 Orders, notices have been issued to the Respondents and proceedings are taking place in the relevant High Courts.
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 right of access to information/records of officers with disabilities on equal basis with others, 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 janitorial 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 right of access to information/records of officers with disabilities, in Appeal No. 1418-10/21, Azaz Syed Vs-Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the commission maintained that “the Appellant has sought access to policy “to remove access barriers at the work place so that the officers with different disabilities could perform their official duties on equal basis with others”, those official duties include, inter alia, getting ‘access to official records in the performance of the official duties. Furthermore, ‘access’ needs of persons with disabilities are characterized by the nature of their different disabilities and can only be ensured through reasonable accommodations clearly spelled out in a legally binding policy document”.
With regard to the rights of patients to the information 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 passengers, 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 declared Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited, PCB and Islamabad Club to be public bodies. Through its various Orders, the commission 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.
In the case of Farhat Ullah Babar Vs. Ministry of Defence, the commission held that these records pertain to categories of records to be proactively published under Section 5 (1) (b) and (e) of the Act, 2017. The Commission also held that the Act, Rules and Regulations governing retirement benefits of Army officers have no nexus with defence preparedness. The Commission also maintained that Act, Rules and Regulations governing retirement benefits of Army officers pertain to the welfare activities which are not excluded under Section 7 (e)of the Act, 2017.
The Commission endeavored to ensure proactive disclosure of information through its Orders and issued specific directions for the implementation of Section 5 of the Act. In one of its Orders, the commission held that all reports that are more than 20 years old are public records. Through its different Orders, the Commission 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 were directed to implement Section 5 of the Act and in cases where a public body had not designated PIO, the Commission issues directions for the designation of the PIO through its Orders. Furthermore, the Commission directed the public bodies to submit compliance report within a specific time period, generally one month from the receipt of the Order.
In September and October, 2022, PIC held a total of 100 specific hearings seeking compliance reports from public bodies based on the templates for proactive disclosure of information and information accessibility as well, made available on the web site of the Commission and referred to in the Orders of the Commission.
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 the Ministry of Infromation and Broadcasting and 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 C 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.
- Realizing 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 Public Information Officers (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 eight 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.
Click here to download Report