Govt urged to enact access to information law

Peshawar: (February 26, 2013) Out of total 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), only two districts provided copies of education and health budget books in response to the information requests filed by Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) with Districts Officers, Finance and Planning (DOs-F&P) of respective districts.

CGPA filed information requests for provision of district health and education budget books of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011-2012 and FY 2012-2013. Article 19-A of Constitution of Pakistan was cited in these information requests, which states that ‘every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulations and reasonable restriction imposed by law’. These information requests were filed on January 5-6, 2013. However, out of total 25 DOs-F&P, only two DOs-F&P (Chitral and Upper Dir) provided the requested information, while DO-F&P of Malakand district responded that such information can be accessed from finance department of KP provincial secretariat. CGPA did not receive any response from DOs-F&P of remaining 22 districts of KP.

CGPA lamented that such attitude of public service providers is causing huge frustration amongst citizens. Disclosure of such information could do public good by promoting citizens’ trust on state functionaries. Public service providers are entrusted to spend citizens’ tax money for public wellbeing through transparent and accountable manner. The right to information legislation is considered anti-corruption tool and oxygen for democracy. Treating budget books as official secrets is tantamount to violation of basic constitution right of citizens of Pakistan.

CGPA stated that until and unless there is no comprehensive law on Right to Information (RTI) in KP, citizens’ constitutional right to access information held by public bodies will be violated.

CGPA demanded a comprehensive RTI law in KP. This law shall soon be enacted for KP according to the international best practices of right to information legislation. The law shall provide for proactive disclosure of information, minimum exclusion/exception list of information not to be accessed under the RTI law, and independent and powerful provincial information commission to decide on denial of information requests.