THE provincial government replaced the ineffective Balochistan Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2005, with an effective Balochistan Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2021 in February this year. This was done essentially to ensure meaningful participation of citizens in the democratic process and, subsequently, to improve their involvement in and contribution to the larger domain of public affairs.
There is no doubt that it is a move in the right direction aimed at improving service delivery matters, governance, transparency and accountability.
Under the current RTI Act, public bodies are bound to provide the requested information within 15 working days. Meanwhile, under section 18 of the Act, the provincial government should establish an information commission by appointing three information commissioners within 120 days of the commencement of the Act. This commission should be an independent statutory body which should be responsible for dealing with complaints, conducting hearings, issuing summons, conducting training of government officials and undertaking awareness regarding the Act and its importance.
The Act, under section 6, also bounds the government to designate and notify public information officers (PIOs) in all administrative and attached departments. Sadly, nine months have passed since the enactment, but the government has failed to establish the required commission and it has not designated and notified the PIOs in any department.
These PIOs will be responsible for providing the requested information and, in case of delay or denial, the Balochistan Information Commission (BIC) will have to take a decision over such complaints.
Without the appellate body and the PIOs, the Act is toothless and dys-functional, and, hence, the people’s right to information stands denied. The provincial departments do not share the requested information and the citizens are unable to lodge complaints in the absence of the BIC. This shows that the government is not taking due steps to improve transparency and accountability in the province.
Syed Raza Ali
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021