In this Issue
Regional and International RTI Landscape
Federal Government to lay internationally acclaimed RTI Bill for passage in next Session of Parliament: Barrister Zafarullah Khan
On November 19, 2015, Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs, announced that the Federal Government plans to lay the internationally acclaimed RTI Bill for passage in the next Session of the Parliament. It is not certain whether Barrister Zafarullah was referring to the Senate or the National Assembly of Pakistan in his statement. However, it is likely that he was referring to the 27th Session of the National Assembly, which is due to begin on Monday, December 07, 2015.
The Special Assistant’s assurance for earliest possible passage of the Federal RTI Bill is a welcome development as it the first public commitment made by a representative of the Federal Government since October 26, 2015, when Senator Pervaiz Rashid, Federal Minister for Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, promised to table the Bill in the next Session of Parliament.
Earlier, in July, Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy had declared the Government of Pakistan’s draft RTI Bill as potentially the best RTI law in the world, based on international standards for rating such legislation.
This Bill was finalised in January 2014 by the Senate Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, and, since then, has been awaiting approval of the Federal Cabinet to be tabled in the Parliament as an Official Government Bill. Till date, the Bill has not been presented in 12 consecutive Cabinet meetings since its finalization, between January 20, 2014 and September 16, 2015.
Despite the delays in its passage, the Federal Government must be commended for reiterating its commitment towards the passage of its internationally acclaimed RTI Bill. The Government must also be appreciated for responding to civil society demands for the law’s early passage, which have grown considerably louder with time. It is hoped that the Government will honour its commitment towards early passage of the RTI law so that Pakistan may earn the distinction of becoming the foremost proponent of RTI legislation in the world.
Forum for appeals against decisions of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) RTI Commission still not changed, despite promises
On June 23, 2015 the Provincial Assembly of KP enacted two controversial amendments to its acclaimed Right to Information Act, 2013, which was the first modern RTI law to be promulgated in Pakistan.
As noted in previous issues of this Monitor, these amendments were controversial because they excluded the Provincial Assembly from the purview of the Act. They were also considered controversial because they set the forum of appeals against decisions of the KP RTI Commission as the District and Sessions Court, which is a subordinate court. This particular amendment stood in apparent violation of Article 199 (1)© of the Constitution, which requires the hearing of all complaints on the violation of fundamental rights, including the right to information enshrined under Article 19-A, to be heard by the superior judiciary, i.e. the High Court and above.
While on September 10, 2015, in response to considerable public pressure, the Assembly rescinded one of these amendments by re-including itself under the purview of RTI once again, the Assembly has not, as of yet, set a more appropriate forum for appeals against the decisions of the KP RTI Commission.
On September 21, 2015 PILDAT called on Maj. (Retd.) Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid, the Province’s Chief Information Commissioner, to discuss the post-amendment status of KP’s otherwise robust RTI Act. During this meeting, PILDAT was informed that the process of changing the appellate authority within the Act had already been initiated and would be nearing completion soon.
It is hoped that the Commission, with support of the Provincial Government, is able to expedite the process of changing the appeals forum under the KP RTI Act, thereby restoring this highly progressive law back to its previous position as one of the best RTI laws currently in existence in the world.
PILDAT files complaint against DGPR’s refusal to disclose records on Punjab’s Annual Advertisement Expenditure
On October 20, 2015 PILDAT sent its first information request to the Directorate General of Public Relations (DGPR), Punjab, to obtain a month-wise breakdown of the Provincial Government’s expenditure on promotional advertisements given out in the print and television media between January 01 and October 20, 2015.
The DGPR releases and makes placement of advertisements by all departments of the Provincial Government of Punjab, as per the Advertisement Policy, 2012. According to the same policy, the DGPR also releases payments for advertisements promoting campaigns and schemes of all government departments, bodies, authorities and corporations in Punjab.
PILDAT sought access to the records of the Punjab Government’s annual expenditure of promotional advertisements under Article 19-A of the Constitution and the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. As per the law, the DGPR confirmed receipt of the information request on November 02, 2015. However, in violation of Section 10 (7) of the Act, the designated official of the DGPR did not provide written acknowledgement of the request or communicate his decision on it within 14 days of its receipt.
PILDAT therefore chose to request the initiation of an internal review of the handling of its request, under Section 12 of the same Act. This request was sent to the DGPR on November 20, 2015, and its receipt was confirmed on the same day. According to Section 12 (3) of Punjab’s RTI law, the Director-General of the DGPR, Raja Jehangir Anwar, is required to initiate the process of internal review and communicate his decision on the case within 14 working days.
Government of Punjab announces launch of E-procurement system
According to a report in the media published on November 19, 2015, the Punjab Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) and the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (Law and Order) are planning to launch an E-procurement system to standardise the office procurement system within the Province and save the Government between Rs. 100 and 200 billion annually.
Officials from the two authorities have claimed that current procurement mechanism in place lacks a system for inviting tenders for petty purchases, whose annual purchases run into billions of rupees. According to officials, suppliers of such items are not registered with the Government. They also reportedly present inflated bills to Departments to increase their profit margins and pay kickbacks to officials with whose help they are chosen to supply petty goods to government Departments. Further, due to a lack of standardization, different Departments also purchase the same items at different rates.
The E-procurement system planned for rollout will help eliminate malpractice and mismanagement in public procurement. The system will provide a single-stop shop for all procurements, coordinate buying across procuring agencies, allow equal opportunity to all vendors and ensure effective market intelligence. The system will also ensure the sourcing of supplies at the lowest possible cost, which will considerably reduce time and cost of doing business for both vendors and the government.
The Punjab Information Technology Board has been tasked by the Government to develop this E-procurement system. The completed model is slated to include E-advertising, followed by vendor registration, authentication and activation on the E-procurement software. Tender view, e-bid submission, online evaluation, online award and e-payment are other aspects of this comprehensive e-procurement system. It also likely that the system will help the Punjab Government to disclose information and records on its procurements to the public in a speedy and inexpensive manner.
Inadequate resources and public bodies non-compliance prevent effective RTI implementation: Annual Report of Punjab Information Commission
The Punjab Information Commission’s Annual Report on Implementation of RTI, which was recently published on the Punjab Information Commission’s website (http://www.rti.punjab.gov.pk/system/files/Annual%20Report.pdf). The Report identifies a number of reasons for poor implementation of RTI in the Province, including delays in release of the Commission’s Budget and non-compliance of individual public bodies with directives issued by the Commission.
While the release of the Commission’s Annual Report is commendable, it is hoped that the Provincial Government of Punjab takes notice of this Report, which is also to be presented in front of the Provincial Assembly while it is in Session. It is also hoped that the Provincial Government ensures consistent and across the board compliance with RTI.
Is the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan resisting disclosure of MPA attendance records?
A recent letter being circulated on social media, dated April 13, 2015 has concerning implications for RTI in the Province of Balochistan. According to this letter, signed by Mr. Abdul Hameed, Deputy Secretary (Admin), Secretariat of the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan, the attendance records and privileges afforded to MPAs in Balochistan are not to be disclosed as public documents under the Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005.
It is unfortunate that the Assembly Secretariat has chosen to take this stance on such an important issue, especially in light of the positive examples set by the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly, which began disclosing attendance records of their Members earlier this year. It is also surprising that while the disclosure of attendance records by the National Assembly has been ordered by the President of Pakistan under the Federal Government’s FOIO 2002, disclosure of the same records has been denied under the Balochistan Government’s FOIO 2005, which for all purposes is almost identical to the former.
Regional and International RTI Landscape
Taking Stock of Ten Years of RTI in India
In an op-ed published in The Hindu newspaper on November 20, 2015, seminal RTI activists, Ms. Aruna Roy, founder of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), and Mr. Nikhil Dey, Co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), have reviewed ten years of RTI legislation in India. In this op-ed, the authors credit RTI with bringing government closer to the concerns of the people, making official processes more transparent and deterring corruption and wrongdoing by public officials.