Unnoticed by most Pakistanis, an absolutely brilliant and outstanding event took place on Friday, 24th October 2014. In a system often described as dysfunctional and dilapidated, something actually began to deliver. In a bold and long awaited move, the Punjab Information Commission handed out the first penalty of its kind for violation of the Punjab Right to Information Act.
In June 2014, a government school teacher in Vehari had invoked the RTI law to seek from the Executive District Officer (EDO) a copy of an inquiry report against the teacher and a seniority list of teachers. As expected and as experienced in 95 percent of the cases, the EDO failed to provide the requested information. The brave Vehari teacher, as stated in the law, moved the Provincial Information Commission. The Commission found the EDO guilty of neglect and indifference. He was awarded the first penalty under the RTI law in Pakistan – a fine equaling two months of his salary.
What makes this event so unique and so consequential? It sets the first precedence of its kind and delivers a strong message to all government functionaries. They ought to respect the citizens’ constitutional right to information. Failure to do so could have serious consequences.
This event also demonstrates a behavior model that needs to be emulated by the Federal and Provincial Ombudsmen. The IG Police of Sindh has failed to provide information relating to policemen and police vehicles that are deployed on VIP duties – a question asked under RTI some six months back. Will the Sindh Ombudsman have the courage and the good sense to fine the IG Police for his neglect and indifference in providing the requested information? Understandably, the deduction of two months salary would be inconsequential for an IG police. It would however succeed in delivering a message that the state needs to follow its own laws.