KARACHI: After a lapse of more than a year to the passage of the Sindh Transparency and Rights of Information Act by the provincial assembly — now dissolved— the Sindh government on Wednesday notified a three-member information commission to provide transparency and access to information to every citizen in matters of public importance. The right to information act is for “promoting transparency in the working of every public authority by setting out a practical regime for every citizen to secure access to information under the control of public authorities”.

A notification issued by the provincial information and archives ministry, the provincial government had established the Sindh Information Commission “with immediate effect”.

It said consequent upon establishment of the Sindh Information Commission(SIC), the Sindh government had appointed Shahid Gulzar Shaikh as the chief information commissioner. Besides, Gul Munir Shah and Sikandar Huliyo had been appointed commissioners.

The commission was to be established within four months from the commencement of the transparency act. However, it took more than 14 months to notify it.

Shahid Gulzar Shaikh appointed chief information commissioner

Similarly, every public body is meant to designate an official with whom the request for information can be lodged. Those bodies who have not yet notified such officials its person in-charge would be deemed the designated official.

The chief information commissioner, as the law says: “shall be a retired senior government servant not below the rank of BPS-20”.

One of the two commissioners is a former district judge while the other is from the civil society “having experience of not less than 15 years in the field of mass communication, academia or right to information.

The commissioner is mandated to conduct an inquiry on a complaint and may direct a public body to disclose information to an applicant.

Besides, it would determine the public interest; resolve any inconsistencies in the application of the provisions of the law or the rules of regulations.

The commission would decide a complaint within 60 days of its receipt and pass ‘appropriate orders’ including recommending disciplinary proceedings against delinquent officials.

The commission “may exercise the powers of a civil court”.

It could summon and enforce attendance of persons, compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents or information; examine and inspect information; receive evidence on affidavits; requisition relevant information from any office; and issue summons for witness or documents.

While inquiring into a complaint, the commission or any person authorised by the commission may examine any information on spot.

The commission would facilitate the application of the provisions of this act and could issue directives to public bodies for preservation,management,publication, publicity and access to information; prescribe the procedure for accessing information from a public body; advise and provide support to the government to make necessary laws and procedures for implementation of the right to information; provide technical and other support to the public bodies for effective enforcement of right to information; conduct training of the designated officials; undertake mass awareness campaign to create awareness about the act, rules and regulations; establish an information web portal;compile a user handbook in Urdu and English containing such information in easily comprehensible from and manner, as may reasonably be required by an applicant; and compile guidelines for use by designated officials.

Besides, as the law said, the commission would prepare an annual report on the implementation of the provisions of the act during a financial year and submit it to the government.

Any complaints against the commission’s head or the commission itself will be addressed by an investigation committee formed by the speaker of the Sindh Assembly. According to the bill, any citizen can submit a written request and seek information from government or institutions.

After a request has been received, the relevant institutions will have to submit information within a period of 15 days to one month.

The bill also states the commission reserves the right to take action against any officer who fails to deliver the information sought.

Failure to deliver the required information can result in a penalty ofRs10,000. Besides, any person who destroys a record which at the time it was destroyed was the subject of an application for access to information could be punished for imprisonment which may extend to two years or would be fined for minimum Rs10,000 or with both.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2018