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Punjab Information Commission Fines 30 Officers For Not Entertaining RTI Requests

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The Punjab Information Commission (PIC) has so far fined more than 30 Public Information Officers (PIOs) of different public bodies for failure to provide information sought under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013.

Since June 2018, the documents available with Naya Daur shows, the Punjab Information Commission has imposed a fine 0.5 million on government officials functioning as PIOs for not entertaining citizens’ requests for provision of information. However, the commission recovered fine only from one officer and that too a part of the fine.

The PIC do not have record of fine imposed order (if any) since its inception in March 2014 to June 2018.

Rana Muhammad Iqbal – Director Land Reclamation and Tariq Yameen Bhatti – Research Officer at Irrigation Department – Lahore were also among those who were fined by the PIC.

While talking to Naya Daur, Tariq Yameen Bhatti said that their director Rana Iqbal was fined 50 thousand while 25 thousand rupees fine was imposed on him, but after the apology from them the PIC withdrew his fine and only Rana Iqbal submitted Rs. 15 thousand rupees in that case.

According to documents available with Naya Daur, the PIC has imposed fine up to 50 thousand rupees each on 30 PIOs of different government departments including Deputy Commission Rawalpindi, Director Anti-Corruption Gujranwala, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Punjab Police, and Irrigation Department Lahore.

The fine was imposed under the section 15 of the said act, which states, where a public information officer has without citing any reason, refused to receive an application, not furnished information within the time limits, or malafidely denied the request or knowingly gave incorrect, incomplete or misleading information, the Commission may, after providing sufficient opportunity of defense to the public information officer, direct the public information officer to pay fine not exceeding two days’ salary for each day of delay or to pay fine which may extend to 50,000 rupees.

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Responding to a question, Tariq Yameen Bhatti said that the information was already provided to the citizen, the PIC imposed fined only due to their anger on reaching late in the court in a hearing.

In an order, the PIC has stated that the respondent (public body) has submitted an undertaking to remain careful in future. In view of the fact that the object of penal provision of law is not to collect or raise revenue rather to make the violator realize his disregard for law and to create deterrence in other public functionaries. Therefore, the order of award of penalty is recalled in the interest of justice.

It is pertinent to mention that most of the complaints on which the public bodies are fined had been pending for the last one year in the commission. While according to the Section 6 of “The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013”, the Commission shall decide a complaint within thirty days of its receipt or, for good reasons to be recorded in writing, within sixty days.

Monus Kayenat Zahra – RTI Program Manager at Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) – said, the commission should remain neutral or should support / encourage the citizen practicing this law, but unfortunately the PIC is not neutral in its affairs.

To a question regarding withdrawing imposed fine, she said, “I have not read the order but if that is the case, it will discourage the common people practicing right to Information laws”.

When contacted, Mukhtar Ahmed – former information commissioner PIC – said, as per law the commission cannot hear the review appeal itself, if PIC recalled its fine order it should write the section of the law under which law PIC has took this decision.

To a question regarding impact of the decision on public, he said the prime responsibility of the PIC is to make a mechanism for easy provision of information to the citizen. If those public bodies which were fined are now providing information within the stipulated time period to the citizen, then it’s good otherwise such decision will discourage the common public.

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Despite repeated attempts, the Chief Information Commissioner PIC Mahboob Qadir could not be reached for comment.

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