LAHORE: The governor on Friday promulgated the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Ordinance, 2013, allowing people to open up secrecy doors of the government for the first time in history.
"The law has given the constitutionally granted basic right to people to know what the government and its functionaries do. Earlier everything of the government was a secret. Now except for real secrets, everything else is open to public scrutiny,” a senior official said.
The law was important as it would also lead to perfect record keeping by every government department. “Right now no-one bothers to properly maintain record,” he said.
The ordinance provides for the establishment of a commission for resolving any inconsistencies in the application of its principles or the prescribed rules. It will comprise one chief information commissioner and two information commissioners.
It provides for designation of public information officers by all departments for providing information to the desiring people.
It makes it mandatory to provide the requested information within 14 days, also binding it on all departments to publish their annual reports by the end of August every year.
The information officer shall provide reasonable causes in writing for refusal of any information. No court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable by this ordinance.
The ordinance provides that subject to its provisions, a public body shall proactively disclose its particulars, its functions and duties, powers and functions of its officers and employees, norms and criteria set by it for the discharge of its functions.It shall disclose acts, ordinances, rules, regulations, notifications, circulars and other legal instruments being enforced, issued or used by it in the discharge of its functions.
It shall disclose a statement of categories of information being held by it, a description of its decision-making processes and any opportunities for the public to provide input into or be consulted about decisions, a directory of its officers and employees with their respective remuneration, perks and privileges, its budget including details of all proposed and actual expenditures, the amount of subsidy and details of beneficiaries, particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by it.
It shall reveal facilities available with it for obtaining information held by it, name, designation and other particulars of its public information officer.
The law authorises a public information officer to refuse an application for access to information where disclosure of the information shall or is likely to cause harm to national defence or security, public order or international relations of Pakistan, a legitimate privacy interest, unless the person concerned has consented to disclosure of the information.
He may also reject a request if there is a question of protection of legally privileged information or of the rules relating to breach of confidence, the legitimate commercial interests of a public body or a third party, including information subject to third party intellectual property rights, the life, health or safety of any person, the prevention or detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, or the administration of justice, the ability of the government to manage the economy, or the effective formulation of or success of a policy either by its premature disclosure or by restraining the free and frank provision of advice within the government.
However, the ordinance provides that if the commission determines that the public interest in such disclosure outweighs the harm that shall or is likely to be caused by such disclosure, it may direct the public information officer to provide the information.
It says that where a part of a document is covered by an exception, any information in the document which is not covered by an exception shall be disclosed if it is reasonably severable from the rest of the document.
Official sources said the law would be applicable only after the establishment of the commission, framing of its laws, appointment and training of information officers and proper maintenance of record by all departments.
Information Secretary Momin Agha said soon after the promulgation of the ordinance he wrote to the Management and Professional Department to organise a comprehensive training programme for all departments so as to operationalise the law, requesting a meeting at the earliest.
The letter said the ordinance required government agencies and bodies to provide information to people. It will require the government to fundamentally rethink its approach to storage, filing, indexation and provision of information to people.
“In order to operationalise the provisions of this ordinance, it is imperative that government officials at all levels must get well versed in the law and its implications. All departments will also need to work on developing a robust filing and file retrieval system, enabling provision of timely information to people,” the letter said.