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Draft of Information Act: A Case of More Responsibility than Freedom
Source: http://dawn.com/2012/12/22/draft-of-information-act-a-case-of-more-responsibility-than-freedom/
Source Date: Saturday, December 22, 2012
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Pakistan
Created: Dec 27, 2012

The Punjab bureaucracy on Friday finalised draft of the Freedom of Information Act 2012 though it requires clarifications about the nature of some types of information which it says cannot be shared with the public.

The draft was finalised during a meeting of the administrative secretaries which was presided over by Chief Secretary Nasir Khosa. The chief secretary decided to send the draft to the chief minister for approval and tabling it in the Punjab Assembly for adoption.

The act carries a list of information which cannot be shared with people. The provision that enlists these items causes confusion but officials said it would be removed after a final perusal by the law department.

They said the negative list (non-sharing information) would be mentioned in the schedule of the law. And the confusion would be removed while drafting it.

The stated aim of the law is to provide for transparency and freedom of information to ensure that the citizens of Punjab have improved access to public information, and to make the Punjab government more accountable to its citizens.

Officials said the draft law had been prepared after consulting related laws in different countries and of the federal government besides seeking inputs from the public- and- private-sector organisations and NGOs.

According to the draft law, (sharing) information means any information providing unit’s constitution, structure and official activities and includes any memo, book, design, map, contract, representation, pamphlet, brochure, order, notification, document, plans, letter, report, accounts statement, project proposal, photograph, audio, video, drawing, film, any instrument prepared through electronic process, machine-readable documents and any other documentary material regardless of its physical form or characteristics.

The information that will not be shared includes (if declared secret) summaries and notes, office noting, working papers, minutes of the meetings, inquiry proceedings and reports, merit list for recruitment before finalisation/approval by the competent authority.

Legal opinion or advice tendered by the Law Department, Public Prosecution Department, Solicitor’s Department or Office of Advocate General, Punjab.

Annual and supplementary budget statements along with explanatory memoranda, all documents relating to the preparation of the budgets, taxation proposals, Finance Bill and budget speech before presentation of the Annual and Supplementary Budgets to the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab.

War Book, daily situation and intelligence reports, threat alerts, security and emergency plans/instructions and reports on and matters relating to defence planning or strategic installations.

Information relating to movement of VVIPs, foreigner VIPs, prisoners/persons on threat list, matter under investigation, including forensic reports, sensitive equipment of law-enforcement agencies and Civil Defence high security prisons and barracks, storage and transportation of arms and explosives, terrorists and sectarian elements and militant organisations, troops and their members, Indus Water Treaty and water accord.

The National Finance Commission Award before announcement of the award, and matters pertaining to the Council of Common Interests and the National Economic Council before approval of a proposal.

Designs and layouts of bridges, prisons, barrages, headworks or any other strategic installations including digital data.

Reserve price for purposes of auction of any material, stores, produce or property, personal evaluation reports of the employee, audit observations until the appropriate forum has taken a decision in accordance with rules, registration certificates issued to a factory under section 20(j), any information classified as secret by the Federal Government or other agencies under any law.

The draft law provides for the Punjab Information Commission that will look to enforce the law. It will comprise five members — three former (senior) government servants and two retired high court judges, or equivalent seniority.

The commission will be responsible for resolving any inconsistencies in the application of the principles of this Act, or the prescribed Rules, either through a complaint, or otherwise.

It will receive complaints, conduct inquiries of its own accord or upon a complaint and impose fine upon public information officer found not furnishing the required information.

It will issue directives to authorities for preservation, management, publication, publicity and access to information. It will within 12 months from the commencement of the Act, compile a ‘User Hand Book’ in Urdu and English, containing such information in easily comprehensible form and manner, as may reasonably be required by a person who wishes to exercise his Right to Information under this Act. The ‘User Hand Book’ shall also contain all pertinent information, required by the Public Information Officer for implementation of this Act.

Every department will, within 150 days of the enactment of this Act, designate and notify as many officers as public information officers in all administrative units or offices under it as may be necessary, who will be responsible for providing information to applicants, and carrying out any responsibilities pertaining to this Act as prescribed in the Rules.

The law binds all departments to properly maintain record of all information for its easy transmission to people on demand.

They will be required to publish annual reports by July 31 every year. People could inspect or purchase such report.

The information could be sought through a request form and while depositing fee. The information would be provided or denied with reasons in writing within 21 working days.

Information related to life and liberty will be provided within 48 hours. The draft law provides punishment of up to two-year imprisonment, or fine, or both for a person who destroys a record which at the time it was destroyed was the subject of a request or of a complaint with the intention of preventing its disclosure.

No court shall take cognisance of the offence punishable under this Act except on a report in writing of the facts constituting such offence made with the previous sanction of the Punjab Information Commission or an officer authorised on behalf of this commission.

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