Islamabad – The Coalition on Right to Information presented its fifth annual Right to Information (RTI) Champions Awards on Friday, 28 September, which is celebrated around the world as the International Right to Know Day.
Media for Transparency spoke with Zohaib Hassan, who won the award in the citizens category.
Mr. Hassan, 23, is a visually-impaired English Literature student from Lahore. He said he learnt about the RTI laws during a workshop conducted by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives in his city. He has used his information requests to resolve civic issues in his area and get answers about support for people with disabilities in government policies.
He said the RTI has helped him shine a light on poor governance.
“How we see the society being run and how it is supposed to be run on paper is poles apart,” Mr. Hassan said. “With the RTI, I used the public bodies’ own evidence against them to pressurise them into changing their poor ways.”
Over the past year, Mr. Hassan said he submitted over 30 information requests to different government departments in Punjab. Around 20 of these requests were addressed to educational institutions while the rest went to the police department, the water management service, and the health department among other offices.
Mr. Hassan said he faced some challenges in using the RTI law. Some departments did not have designated public information officers or PIOs, who are supposed to receive and respond to information requests.
“I would have to explain to them that their organisation’s head was the acting PIO or whomever he had assigned the job,” he said.
If the public officials argued with him further, he said he told them a complaint will be filed after 14 days to the Punjab Information Commission.
“This usually scared them into accepting the request,” he said, with a laugh.
Mr. Hassan has received responses for only four RTI requests and has sent complaints to the commission about the rest. Some of his complaints are still pending at the commission but he is not one to lose hope.
He said the civil society activists should work to get the RTI law enacted in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.