Plea to enforce information law

01 Mar 2004

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ISLAMABAD, Feb 29: Government departments are prone to withholding information rather than facilitating access to them as required under the Freedom of Information Ordinance (FIO).

This was stated by Centre of Civic Education-Pakistan director Zafarullah Khan and CRCP executive coordinator Mukhtar Ahmad Ali at a news conference convened by the two organizations to narrate their experiences in soliciting information from government departments, on Sunday.

They said they had sent about 25 requests to a number of ministries and government departments but their requests mostly drew blank, although they had taken care to draw attention of the departments to relevant clauses of the FIO. Only two government departments were able to supply the information, they added.

Mr Ahmad said to get the information his department had to file a complaint with the federal ombudsman. Mostly, government departments took refuge in the argument that the required rules of business to make the FIO operative had not yet been designed, he commented.

Departments take the position that in the absence of requisite rules they could not supply the information. However, the FIO ordinance stipulated that an information would be supplied on payment of a user charge within three weeks.

Mr Ahmed said the practice would have added to the income of government departments but they did not opt for making this practice operative. He said CRCP and the CCE had proposed draft rules to help the government in making the FIO operational but the officers concerned had a closed mindset which was operating in reverse of the government's proclaimed enthusiasm for adopting modern e- governance posture.

Recently, the CRCP and CCE jointly conducted a survey on the information management system in the health ministry and discovered that there were not sufficient computers to enable the ministry to respond to public enquiries, they stated.

They were of the opinion that the enhanced pressure from civil society and liberal interpretation of laws could perhaps move government departments and officials to work out the Freedom of Information Ordinance in the right spirit.