PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission (RTIC) has miserably failed to force the government departments to comply with the relevant law’s provisions on proactive disclosure.

Section 5 of the KP RTI Act, 2013, provides for the people’s access to records of the government departments.

The section makes it binding on public bodies to publish 12 categories of information ‘in an up-to-date fashion and in a manner which best ensures that they are accessible to those for whom they may be relevant, including over the internet.’

The information, which the public bodies must disclose, includes the relevant legislations, directory of officers and employees, norms and criteria set for the discharge of its functions, description of its decision-making process, relevant facts and background information relating to important policies and decisions, budget, subsidy or any welfare programme, and recipients of concessions and permits.

RTI Commission too not making own records public

The KP RTI Act sections 5 (2) and (3) say that the public body shall also publish an annual report on what they have done to implement their obligation under the act including details of RTI requests it received and the way they were processed and the report would be would be forwarded to speaker assembly and information commission.

Though it is unclear how many departments have compiled annual reports and submitted them to the speaker of the provincial assembly and RTIC, the commission has failed to follow the provisions of the law on the proactive disclosure.

At the same time, it also failed to disclose own records on its website, which shows the minutes of just one meeting uploaded on March 28, 2016, while five tender notices dated back to January 2017. Also, six notifications posted on the website date back to 2015.

To access details about working of the commission, one has to go to click a button inscribed with “erti” on the main website and go to another website, which a not so tech savvy casual visitor is most unlikely to do.

Section 26 (2) empowers commission to conduct inquiries for the proper implementation and it can inspect premises of public bodies and examine and inspect information. However, the commission website lists only three inspection reports of government entities, all dating back to 2016.

The RTIC had written a letter in February 2016 about the proactive disclosure to government departments, listing nine categories. However, in doing so the commission conveniently forget to mention some crucial categories mentioned in the act including sharing relevant facts and background information relating to important policies and decisions, details about subsidy or benefit program operated by public bodies and particulars of recipients concessions, permits, licenses granted by the public body.

The commission’s website under the heading of proactive disclosure provides 35 government department web addresses. The information displayed on most of government department websites is too little and two to three years old.

Ironically, the website of the information department, which oversees the commission, has procurement details dating back to 2016. The last time it updated its budget information was in 2015. The minutes of the committee meeting date back to 2015.

The archeology and museums department only two related links are working and date back to 2014. Most of the documents shared on elementary and secondary education department also date back to 2015, while the link leading to irrigation department website opens a lengthy introduction of administrative secretary, while download section is almost empty. Documents available on the local government department all date back to 2015-16, while higher education department has also all information dated back to 2014-115.

KP IT Board website under the download menu only offers IT Board Act 2011, while home department data also dates back to 2015. Public health engineering data dates back to September and October 2016, mines and mineral department has uploaded some forms and acts, chief minister secretariat website details staff salaries dating back to 2017 and law department website only provides details of legislation but nothing about the working of the department. In addition to this many of the remaining departments have too displayed old or little details about their working, policy formulation and staff.

KP health department is the only entity, which has shown some semblance of proactive disclosure. The department website under the proactive disclosure and downloads section lists up to date information on its website. KP assembly has followed up in detailing information about the house proceedings on its website, while the finance department also keeps on sharing notification and other material on its website from time to time.

RTIC annual report for 2017 notes that it was noted under the review majority of the public bodies failed to comply with the provisions under the proactive disclosure.

“The main obstacle in the way of putting the required information on website is the non-availability of technical staff and IT facilities with public bodies,” the report justifies the failure on proactive disclosure.

A source told Dawn that a major reason for the commission’s failure apparently lied in appointment of academics as the commissioner-II at the RTIC.

“Both the current and former commissioner II were academics,” he said, adding that the law suggested that the commissioner II should be from the civil society and must have 15 years’ experience in mass communication, academic or right to information.

“Both the first and incumbent commissioner II has academic background, whereas someone from the civil society or media could have played much better role compared to a retired academic,” he said.

When contacted, RTIC chief information commissioner Azmat Hanif Orakzai said around 35 public bodies had followed the law’s provision on proactive disclosure.

He said to further improve the proactive disclosure, the commission recently sent a note to the chief secretary’s office and had been seeing some improvement since.

“We are also preparing a manual for disclosure and record maintenance at the public bodies,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2018

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