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Order on Appeal No 2147-08/22 Malik Umar Vs President Secretariat

The requested information about appeal mechanisms and orders on representations is not available on the web site of the Respondent, President Secretariat. The representative of the President Secretariat submitted before the Commission that the web site is in the process of upgradation. Once it is updated, all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Act, 2017 will be proactively published on the web site.

This Commission holds that once an Order is issued by the President of Pakistan on a representation filed by a citizen, or, a public body, or, a commercial entity, its disclosure cannot be withheld from any citizen under Section 6 (d) of the Act, 2017, nor, its proactive publication can be withheld on the web site under Section 5 (1) (b) of the Act, 2017.

This Commission holds that right of access to information for one is right of access to information for all. If a record, in the case of instant Appeal, a final Order is to be made available to the parties of the case, the public has also the right of access to such an Order.

This Commission maintains that all appellate bodies and courts protect right to privacy of identifiable individuals as well as legitimate commercial interests of commercial entities in the final Orders. Therefore, the assertion of the Respondent that some of the final Orders are not published on the web site as these may cause harm to privacy/commercial interests does not hold water. In any case, the Act, 2017 envisages a situation wherein a document, which should be otherwise be made public but its parts may contain private information, or, information that may cause harm to legitimate commercial interests of an entity. In such an eventuality, the part containing private information, or, information likely to cause harm to legitimate commercial interests can be severed from the document, after recording reasons in writing for the same, as mentioned in Section 16 (1) (i) of the Act, 2017.

The Respondent maintained in the hearing that at times Orders on representations contain sensitive information about harassment related issues. This commission is cognizant of the sensitivities involved in such matters. However, it does not mean that there can be blanket exemption to such final Orders. All sensitive information can be withheld and blanked out and the rest of the Order should be made public.

This Commission also does not concur with the Respondent that some final Orders cannot be published on the ground that the either of the parties may take any legal action. The right of access to information of citizens cannot be denied on the possibility and assumption that a party may take legal action against the Order of the President of Pakistan.

 

As the Respondent, President Secretariat is in the process of developing its web site, it needs to keep in mind the observation of this commission in multiple orders issued against different public bodies. This Commission has observed the Web sites of federal public bodies contain generic information and not specific information as required under Section 5 of the Act.

This commission hopes that such an august office as the President of Pakistan will ensure implementation of Section 5 of the Act, 2017 in letter and spirit, setting example for all federal public bodies.

The Respondent, President Secretariat was directed to publish all final Orders on its web site, after severing/blanking out records, or, parts thereof and information which is likely to harm right to privacy of identifiable individuals while ensuring that reasons for such a severance/blanking out of records/information are recorded in writing. The compliance report to this effect be submitted before this commission within one month of the receipt of this Order.

The Respondent, President Secretariat was 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’. This template is available under ‘Information Desk’ category at the web site of the commission www.rti.gov.pk.  The compliance report be submitted to this commission within one month of the receipt of this Order.

The Respondent, President Secretariat was directed to ensure accessibility of the information proactively published on its web site under Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 for all citizens, including the blind, low-vision, physically disabled, speech and hearing impaired and people with other disabilities and submit compliance report to this effect using ‘Web accessibility checklist’. This checklist is available under ‘Information Desk’ category at the web site of the commission www.rti.gov.pk. The compliance report be submitted to this commission at the earliest but not later than one month of the receipt of this Order.

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Order on Appeal No 2033-06/22 Aamir Baloch Vs Registrar, Islamabad High Court

This Commission holds that the stance of the Respondent that the proceedings on the instant appeal be warrant sine die adjournment as two Writ Petitions on the similar subject are pending for adjudication in the Islamabad High Court, Islamabad does not hold water. The matter under the consideration of Honourable Islamabad High Court in the said petitions is the maintainability of the Writ Petitions which means that it is at pre-admission stage.   The question in these petitions under consideration is whether the Registrar of the Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan is competent to invoke the jurisdiction of the court and whether the same falls within the definition of aggrieved person in the context of Article 199 of the Constitution and not the Order of the Commission itself, at least at this stage.

This commission maintains that the pendency of a writ petition regarding the admissibility of another matter cannot be a valid ground to stop the Commission from performing its functions in the instant appeal as the subject matter of the requested information and the Appellant are different. The Appellant in the instant appeal has the right to approach relevant legal forum to exercise his fundamental right of access to information as the said writ petitions are still pending decision at the honourable Islamabad High Court.

The Respondent has submitted that “Islamabad High Court is following the policy guidelines given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan on the matter of provision of Information of Superior Courts in its letter No. F.1/18/2009-SCA, dated: 30.09.2014, to Ministry of Law and Justice (copy enclosed)”.

This Commission holds that the said letter is of administrative nature and not a court verdict and as such cannot trump the Right of Access to Information, 2017 and its Section 2 (xi) (e) which brings Islamabad High Court within the definition of public body and is as under:

“Any court, tribunal, commission, or board under the Federal law;”.

While this Commission entirely agrees with the stance submitted by the Respondent before this commission by Relying on the operative part of policy of Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan, that the independence of Judiciary shall be fully secured”, this Commission maintains 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. This commission also believes that exercise of constitutional right of access to information in matters of public importance through the Act cannot be equated with executive oversight of superior judiciary.

The categories of information to be proactively disclosed under Section 5 of the Act have no bearing on the independence of the judiciary. Similarly, the information to be provided to the applicants under Section 6 of the Act is also not in conflict with the independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, the Public Information Officer to be designated under the Act will receive applications and can turn down any request for information which is likely to impact independence of the judiciary, relying on the relevant exemption clauses of Section 7 and 16 of the Act.

The Respondent has submitted that “the Superior Courts do public Annual Reports on their working giving, amongst other things, the details of year wise Institution/disposal/pendency of cases for information of the general public. Such reports as well as other information pertaining to the composition of Courts, etc., are also available on the websites of the respective Courts”.

This Commission holds that it is not a at the discretion of the public bodies to decide which information is to be proactively published, and how is to be published after the enactment of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 but each public body is legally binding to proactively publish, in accessible manner, all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Act, 2017, including Audit Report of audit year 2020-2021, as requested by the Appellant in the instant appeal.

This commission maintains that the disclosure of the requested information is matter of public importance. Citizens of Pakistan have the right to know under Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the provisions of the Act, 2017 about the total sanctioned strength of officers, staff members of Honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan,  total vacancies in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against different pay scales/ positions (category wise) and dates since which these positions have been lying vacant, number of staff members who are not regular but have been engaged on daily wages basis or through short term or long term contracts against various positions/ pay scale ( category wise), number and types of positions created anew since January 1 2013, total number of female staff members (category-wise) against various positions/pay-scales, total number of persons with disabilities working with Supreme Court of Pakistan against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise), total number of transgender persons working with Supreme Court of Pakistan against various positions/ pay-scales (category-wise).

In fact, the requested information about the officers and the staff of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the instant Appeal is identical to the one requested in Appeal No 060-06/19 in the case titled Mukhtar Ahmed Ali vs Supreme Court of Pakistan on which this commission issued Order on   July 12, 2021.

This commission maintains that the citizens of Pakistan have the right to know under Article 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the provisions of the Act, 2017 about total numbers of vehicle provide to Honorable Judges, officers, staff members and employees of Honorable Islamabad High Court, and vehicles purchase, auctioned, depreciated from January 1, 2013 to onward as requested by the Appellant.

This commission maintains that details of allocated & utilized budget and expenditure statement of the current financial year 2021-2022 of the Islamabad High Court Including proposed and actual expenditures is public information and its disclosure is warranted under the provisions of the Act, 2017.

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Order on Appeal No 2015-08/22 Muhammad Akram Usman Vs Election Commission of Pakistan

This commission has already settled the identical matter in Appeal No. 2102-08/2022, In the case of Atif Chaudhary Vs Election Commission of Pakistan and held that searchable electoral list on a UBS can be provided to an Appellant under Section 79 (3) of the Elections Act, 2017 which is as under:

“79. Supply of final electoral rolls. — (1) The Commission shall provide the Returning Officer for each constituency with copies of final electoral rolls for all the electoral areas within that constituency.

(2) The Returning Officer shall provide the Presiding Officer of each polling station with copies of the final electoral rolls containing the names of the voters entitled to vote at that polling station.

(3) On the application of a candidate or his election agent, the District Election Commissioner or any officer authorized in this behalf by the Commission shall provide to a candidate or an election agent a hard and searchable soft copy on universal serial bus (USB) in portable document format (PDF) or any other tamper-proof format of the final electoral roll with photographs of the voters and shall ensure that the copy is the same as provided to the Returning Officer and Presiding Officers”.

This commission notes that Section 79 of the Elections Act 2017aims at ensuring free, fair and transparent conduct of electoral process by providing election agents of the candidates soft as well as hard copies of electoral roles containing names, addresses and photograph of the voters of the constituency.

This commission also holds that the disclosure of photographs of voters even to the extent of candidate, or the agent of the candidate is tantamount to the invasion of privacy of identifiable individuals, hence hit by Section 7 (g) of the Act, 2017.

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Dissenting Note of Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah On Order Nadeem Umer Vs Al-Shifa Trust

Information Commissioner, Zahid Abdullah in his dissenting note has stated that there is no stigma attached with free treatment if a person cannot afford such a treatment. In other words, there is no invasion of privacy if community comes to know that a particular individual got treatment for free at Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital. Therefore, there is no harm in disclosing the names and addresses of beneficiaries of public funds, if there is at all, it far outweighs the benefits.

The stigma should be attached with people who can otherwise afford but get concessions and benefits from public bodies in connivance with corrupt officials.

The stigma should be attached with those corrupt officials who fudge numbers, register either ‘fake’, or, ‘underserving beneficiaries and embezzle public funds knowing that names and addresses of the recipients of public funds will stay hidden.

If names and addresses of beneficiaries are proactively published, as the law requires, it would help curb corrupt practices.

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Order on Appeal No. 2173-08/2022 Nisar Momand Vs Water and Power Development Authority

In the instant appeal, the citizen has sought following information from Water and Power Development Authority,

0i.        “Details of approved PC-1 Mohmand Dam.

  1. Copy of Agreement between the government and Mohmand tribe regarding construction of Mohmand Dam .

iii.       Complete details of the compensation Cheque issued by the government to the Mohmand Dam affectees.

  1. Complete details of the total area acquired for Mohmand Dam.”

The representative of the public body has initiated the process for the furnishing of the requested information, which is appreciated on their part. The public body has never denied the provision of the requested information under the umbrella of exemption clauses provided in the Act, meaning thereby that all the information and record sought by the appellant is admitted as public record, open for access.  The representative of the public body has assured the Commission that the information and record will be made available to the appellant as and when made available.

The appeal is allowed. The General Manager / Project Director, Mohmand Dam Hydropower Project, Water and Power Development Authority, WAPDA House Peshawar is directed to furnish the appellant information and record detailed at serial number ii, iii & iv in para 1 of this order, by or before 25-11-2022. The PC-I mentioned at serial number (1) of the para number 1 of this order has already been furnished to the appellant.

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Order on Appeal No. 2209-09/2022 Mst. Shah Iran Vs Pakistan Railways

In the instant appeal the citizen has sought proceeding made on her applications. While dealing with the matters related to information and record sought by the citizens under the Act of 2017, the public bodies are under obligation to respond the applications as mandated in the Act. In the case in hand the respondent has not acknowledged the application, information is not provided to the applicant in the stipulated time frame and the notices of the Commission are ignored. The reply is not submitted and the hearing before the Commission was not represented by the public body. It is presumed that the respondent public body is willfully avoiding the proceedings before the Commission and that the public body has nothing in the sleeves to submit in the defense. In such like circumstances the Commission is left with no option but to decide the appeal ex parte after going through the file in light of the Act.

The appeal is allowed. The Divisional Superintendent, Pakistan Railways, Peshawar is directed to furnish all the requested information detailed in para-1 of this order, forth with but in any case not later than 7 days of the receipt of this order.

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Order on Appeal No 1880-04/2022 Nadeem Umer Vs Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital, Rawalpindi

The appellant has asked for the provision of information pertaining to the current executive director, the details of patients with billing detail who were treated for eye lenses, the details of the free eye camps organized, the details of patients treated in free eye camps, the details of doctors with qualifications and experience currently appointed, the details of international and national donors with grants and the detail of warning letters and showcase notices issued to the staff working in Al-Shifa Eye Trust Hospital during 2021 till date.

The administration of Al-Shifa Eye Trust Hospital although has provided most of the information but on the other hand has claimed exemption from disclosure. It is stated that Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital is a Non Government, Non Profit Charity Organization, that information sought by the applicant are private, privileged, exempted and relates to privacy of individual and disclosure of such information will damage the interest of the Charitable Trust and that as per Section 2 of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, it is applicable to public bodies of the Federal Government.

Information Commissioner, Zahid Abdullah in his dissenting note has stated that there is no stigma attached with free treatment if a person cannot afford such a treatment. In other words, there is no invasion of privacy if community comes to know that a particular individual got treatment for free at Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital. Therefore, there is no harm in disclosing the names and addresses of beneficiaries of public funds, if there is at all, it far outweighs the benefits.

The stigma should be attached with people who can otherwise afford but get concessions and benefits from public bodies in connivance with corrupt officials.

The stigma should be attached with those corrupt officials who fudge numbers, register either ‘fake’, or, ‘underserving beneficiaries and embezzle public funds knowing that names and addresses of the recipients of public funds will stay hidden.

If names and addresses of beneficiaries are proactively published, as the law requires, it would help curb corrupt practices.

The appeal is disposed of.

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Order on Appeal No 2176-08/2022 Zafar Iqbal Vs Employees Old Age Benefit Institution

The appellant desires the information pertaining to salaries, EOBI and Social Security registration and other incidental thereto of the employees currently working in the Gujranwala Club, Gujranwala.

The requested information falls within the category of public record that should have been published proactively by the organization. This Commission has already dealt with numerical appeal with sort of similar information.

The appeal is allowed. The Public Information Officer, Employees Old Age Benefit Institution is directed to provide the appellant all the requested information, forthwith, but in any case not later than seven days of the receipt of this order.

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Order on Appeal No 2128-08/2022 Muhammad Awais Vs Pakistan State Oil

The appellant has asked for the information and record viz a viz Bismillah Carriage Contract with PSO and incidental thereto, by his father Abdul Rahim, presently a mentally disordered person. The appellant is appointed as Guardian / Manager by the court of competent jurisdiction to look after and manage the affairs of Bismillah Carriage Contractor, under the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001. The appellant reserves his legal right to have access to the desired information to look after the affairs of the business of his father.

The appeal is allowed. The Managing Director, Pakistan State Oil is directed to furnish the appellant all the requested information and record detailed in this order, forthwith, but in any case not later than seven days of the receipt of this order.

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Order on Appeal No 2185-08/2022 Beautiful Success Vs Collector of Custom (ICT)

The appellant, an overseas Pakistani, has asked for the provision of footage / record of scanning at the International Departure Hall when his personal belongings were detained by the Assistant Collector Customs (Traffic) for Flight No. VS-379 dated 18-05-2022 at 830 hours from Islamabad International Airport, Islamabad.

The appeal is allowed. The Deputy Director (Legal), Airport Security Force, Islamabad is directed to provide the appellant the footage of his personal search at the Islamabad International Airport for Flight No. VS-379 dated 18-05-2022 at 830 hours.

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