THE Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 has left its mark. On Friday, the provincial information commission handed out its first penalty for violation of the act, ordering the EDO, education, in Vehari to pay a fine equalling two months of his salary for his indifference. In June this year, a government school teacher in Vehari had invoked the law to seek some material from the executive district officer: a copy of an inquiry report against the teacher and a seniority list of teachers. The request was not entertained and after the information commissioner was moved, the EDO failed to respond to the repeated calls to explain his position. This led eventually to the fine, and the setting of an example that should put government officials in the province on alert.
For an office that has yet to be given a budget and a place to operate from, the information commission in Punjab has begun on a promising note. Its formation after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa established a precedent for such a commission was much needed. There was considerable pressure for its creation from within and outside. The effort finally bore fruit late last year, with the focus now shifting to its effective implementation. The commission has so far been working on the sidelines, and has not really been generating the kind of excitement that such an initiative deserves to boost people’s confidence in the working of the system. But if the government was a little too relaxed or reluctant in facilitating the functioning of the commission, the determination the latter has shown in dealing with this case in Vehari should now earn it the required official backing. Transparency and access to information are essential to tackling the growing demand of Pakistanis for better governance. The Punjab commission has 17 other complaints pending. These are crucial early cases that are to set the course for Punjab and the rest of the country. They must get the attention of everyone around.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2014