Lahore, October 14: A one-day training session was held by the Punjab Information Commission (PIC) for the Heads of Departments (HoDs) of various government bodies from districts Multan, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur.
The HoDs in attendance were provided an in-depth overview of What is RTI and Why it is Important and Responsibilities of Public Bodies under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Information Commissioner, PIC and Mr. Ahmad Mubarak, a former official of the Police Services of Pakistan, delivered these modules. The training ended with a group discussion of landmark orders passed by the PIC between 2014-2015, which was moderated under the overall guidance of Mr. Mazhar Hussain Minhas, Chief Information Commissioner, PIC.
In the first session, Mr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ali drew extensively on examples highlighting the importance of RTI within both Islamic and Western history. He dismissed the notion that RTI law was solely the domain of developed countries. “Various developing countries like India and Bangladesh have successfully modernized their governance systems through the implementation of RTI and other related measures”. He pressed upon participants the importance of ensuring RTI implementation within their Departments, as this fundamental is not only important in itself, but is also linked to guarantees of other fundamental rights. Mr. Mukhtar also answered a number of questions posed by the participants relating to the status of the Punjab RTI law with respect to laws that restrict disclosure of information, and the interpretation of exception clauses within this law.
Following this session, Mr. Ahmad Mubarak apprised participants about their responsibilities and authority under Punjab’s RTI law. “The Public Body is the first point of contact with the public in the overall system of information disclosure being overseen by the PIC, and, in this regard they have been empowered to decide on matters of information disclosure according to the provisions of RTI law, regardless of the personal wishes of superior officers within their assigned offices or coordinating Ministries,” he said. Mr. Mubarak also explained in detail the duties of public bodies in facilitating information requesters and in upholding the letter and spirit of the law within their assigned departments. He also stressed the allocation of sufficient departmental resources for public bodies to effectively carry out their functions under RTI, such as for the computerization of official records and the production of Annual Reports on RTI implementation for review by the Information Commission.
To sum up the entire session’s learning, participants were divided into groups to discuss and present the various Orders on Complaints passed by the PIC since its inception. This led to insightful dialogue between participants and officials of the PIC presiding over the group activity.
Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President, PILDAT, commended the PIC for its role in leading the way on RTI within Pakistan. He also remarked how necessary such trainings were in producing a culture within government conducive to the smooth and consistent implementation of RTI.
Mr. Mazhar Hussain Minhas, Chief Information Commissioner, appreciated the participants’ enthusiasm and encouraged them to take the knowledge they had gained in the training to their respective government departments and push for the appointment of PIOs and the effective implementation of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. Upon completion of the Training Session, Mr. Mazhar Hussain Minhas awarded certificates to the participants in attendance.
The Training was attended by a diverse group of HoDs representing the Departments of Education, Health, Law and Justice, Police, Housing and Town Planning, Finance and Planning, and Community Development. HoDs from the offices of Tehsil Municipal Administration within the targetted districts were also in attendance.
The Training of HoDs on the Effective Use Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 was organized by Punjab Information Commission in collaboration with PILDAT under the More effective Right-To-Information (RTI) at Federal and Provincial level (Sindh and Punjab) Project, for which PILDAT has received financial support from Development Alternative Inc. (DAI) under the Enhanced Democratic Accountability and Civic Engagement (EDACE) Project.