ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) on Thursday said it would make public its detailed order on a petition filed by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) secretary general Farhatullah Babar against non-provision of information sought by him about the post-retirement perks of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the three services chiefs.

This was stated by Mr Babar in a statement issued after the completion of hearing of his petition in the PIC office that was held by chief commissioner Mohammad Azam and information commissioner Zahid Abdullah.

After completing the hearing, the commission announced that it would give a detailed order next week, the petitioner said.

The officials of the Ministry of Defence and the petitioner were also present.

The ministry officials, according to Mr Babar, argued that the information sought was confidential in nature and exempted from disclosure under Section 7(e) of the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2017.

The petitioner, however, contended that the information sought by him more than 20 months ago pertaining to “allotments of land and other benefits and privileges” was public domain under Section 6 of the RTI Act. Far from being ‘exempt’, he said, this information should have been placed on the website of the ministry in accordance with the ‘Proactive Disclosure’ requiring bodies to make public such information proactively.

Mr Babar said the rules and regulations pertaining to post-retirement benefits were subordinate legislation and laws made by parliament after open debate were public documents and so were the subordinate legislation made under them.

“By refusing to provide information the defence ministry is treading on a dangerously slippery slope as it means that retirement benefits and perks are doled out to general officers arbitrarily, whimsically without any rules and regulations,” he said.

“It is inconceivable that retirement benefits of general officers are doled out whimsically, in an ad hoc and arbitrary manner, secretly and without regard to rules and procedures. I would strongly implore the defence ministry to seriously consider the explosive consequences of this. One shudders to even think of it,” he added.

The PPP leader said the exemption related only to “record relating to defence forces, defence installations and ancillary to defence and national security”. As an added precaution against withholding information, he said, the lawmakers made sure that it shall not apply to “commercial and welfare activities”. Post-retirement benefits are ‘welfare activities’, he said.

Mr Babar said neither a retired general was a combatant nor the information about land allotted to him undermined national security.

“Even welfare benefits of a combatant cannot be withheld from the public,” he said while quoting examples from other jurisprudences to substantiate his arguments.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2022

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