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Sindh Right To Information Commission Is Still Ineffective Despite Court Orders

The right to information law is meant to empower citizens and bring transparency in government bodies. However, it appears to be losing credibility as Sindh Information Commission (SIC) is unable to entertain citizens’ complaints.

In compliance with the orders of the Sindh High Court, the Sindh government had notified the three members’ commission in May 2018 to ensure the implementation of the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016. The commission is comprised of Shahid Gulzar Shaikh as chief information commissioner, Syed Gul Muneer Shah and Sikandar Ali Hullio as information commissioners.

Almost eight months ago, the commission established its office in the State Life Insurance Building opposite Chief Minister House on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road in Karachi. The provincial government had allocated a Rs 55 million grant for the SIC for the fiscal year 2019-20. In its recent budget, the Sindh Government again allocated Rs 55 million to the commission.

In January 2020, the SIC published notices in different leading English and Sindhi newspapers inviting complaints from the citizens in case they did not receive information requested under the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016, from any provincial department.

A large number of citizens, including this scribe, filed complaints to the commission, but did not receive any response.

Sikandar Ali Hullio – information commission SIC – said that the Commission has received more than 100 complaints against different provincial departments over the non-provision of the information to the citizen. He claimed that the commission has issued notices to the public bodies but did not receive any response from these. Later, the COVID-19 lockdown halted activities of the SIC.

Sikandar Ali Hullio said that the funds were not released last year due to non-approval of terms of reference (TORs) for the commissioners by the provincial cabinet, non-activation of bank account and other procedural delays.

As the right to information law is new for public bodies, they are naturally reluctant to share the information with citizens and even with the commission, he said.

SIC has become operational now after the lockdown, and will effectively process the complaints as per law, he maintained.

In response to a question, he said that the details of complaints and actions taken against them are noted in a register at SIC. However, the commission does not send any acknowledgment or copy of the notice to citizens. Regardless, the commission has not conducted any hearing so far.

“Members of the commission will meet the chief secretary and will ask him to issue direction to the government department to respond to the notices of the commission”, Sikandar maintained.

Dr. Raza Gardezi – a social activist – has filed a constitutional petition in the Sindh High Court and pleaded the court to direct the provincial government to ensure Sindh Information Commission functioning, which entails, inter alia, the provision of office address and telephone number in order to be accessible to the general public, and to widely publicise all such information.

He also appealed to the government to ensure that the Sindh Information Commission facilitates the application of the provisions of the 2016 Act by enforcing within one month the provisions of Section 13(5) of the Act in letter and spirit.

When contacted, Dr. Raza Gardezi said that the commission was supposed to be notified within 90 days after the act was passed but the government was reluctant to notify it until the court ordered it to.

He maintained, the members of the commission are themselves not serious with their job, they are drawing their salaries from the first day after their notifications but not performing their duties that are to make sure the implementation of the law.

“We sent multiple information requests even to the SIC seeking information about the budget utilization, the commission itself did not respond to the information requests to date”, Gardezi maintained.

Mukhtar Ahmed Ali – former information commissioner at Punjab Information Commission (PIC) – said, establishing a new organization is a difficult job, the PIC did not have its own office and staff for more than one and half year, but the members of the commission started receiving complaints, issuing notices and order form their homes.

He added that while the bureaucracy is accustomed to hiding information, the commission needs to develop a culture of sharing information with the public.

Recruitment of staff, office establishment, budget release and such other activities takes time, but the prime responsibility of the information commission is to make sure to provide information to the citizens. So the Sindh Information Commission should start issuing notices and orders to ensure that citizens receive information, Mukhtar maintained.

The Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Act 2016 was passed by Sindh Assembly on 13th March 2017 and was assented by the governor of Sindh on 08th April 2017.

Using this law, any citizen of Pakistan can seek information and can acquire a record held by any provincial government department or organisation using public funds. The public body is bound to respond to the application within 15 working days.

The department will not charge any fee for making an information request other than the cost of reproducing or sending the information in accordance with a schedule of costs notified by the commission.

In case a public body does not respond to the information request or refuses to provide the information, the citizen can lodge a complaint with the SIC which will then resolve the complaint within 45 days of its receipt, and ensure to pass the appropriate orders, including recommending disciplinary proceedings against the delinquent officials.

The commission has the power to cut 10 percent of their basic salary if an official provides misleading information.

The act also gives powers of a civil court to the commission to “summon and enforce attendance of persons, compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and to produce documents or information; examine and inspect information; receive evidence on affidavits; request relevant information from any office; and to issue summons for witnesses or documents.”

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1 Comment

  1. Waseem Hashmi December 12, 2020

    What a pathetic and unfortunate state of affairs. Sindh Government and Information Commission do not seem to be serious in implementing an excellent Transparency Law enacted in 2017. PPPP stalwarts to please take cognizance of this serious lapse and try to come up to the expectations of people of Sindh …at least.

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