Islamabad — A majority of government departments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have failed to publish significant public information, including annual current and development expenditures, on their websites.
The departments are bound by provincial Right to Information (RTI) laws to voluntarily share these details about their operations with the citizens. The laws use the term proactive disclosure to describe this form of sharing information.
These findings were published by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) in two reports on the state of online proactive disclosures in the provinces. The reports were launched on 28 September, which marks the annual International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The CPDI studies noted that government departments published information online selectively.
“More than 80% of the departments have only shared their annual development programs, the (overall) provincial citizens budget, and white papers, but not the actual budget documents (development and non-development) and expenditure details,” said Amer Ejaz, the Executive Director of CPDI.
If departments proactively publish information, the public will only need to ask specific information from the public bodies under the RTI laws, said Moonus Kayinat Zahra, the RTI program co-ordinator at CPDI.
“We believe that the essence of RTI revolves around proactive disclosures,” Ms Zahra said. “With this study, CPDI aims to promote maximum proactive disclosures in the provincial departments.”
Which Information Needs to be Shared?
The reports monitored 37 Punjab government websites and 30 KP government websites for different types of information to be published under the respective provincial RTI laws.
Section 4 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 calls upon government departments to proactively disclose at least 12 types of specific information, including functions of its employees, description of decision-making processes, proposed and actual expenditures in departmental budgets, and details of permits and concessions given by the departments.
Similarly, the KP Right to Information Act 2013 lists down 12 categories of information that need to be “duly published by public bodies in an up-to-date fashion and in a manner which best ensures that they are accessible to those for whom they are relevant.”
The KP law’s proactive disclosure categories are almost identical to the Punjab RTI law’s list.
The CPDI assigned 10 points to each category of information and ranked the government departments for availability and quality of the required details. The 10 points were further broken down into three compliance ranges (0-3, 4-7, and 8-10) to make a distinction between updated or comprehensive and outdated or limited information. The aggregate score for each department was converted to a percentage for final reporting.
The Best and the Worst of Proactive Disclosure
According to the reports, the KP Information Commission — the appellate body for access to information requests — led by example and got the highest score (96%) in the province while, in Punjab, the provincial legislative assembly took top honours with 80% out of the total.
The KP Tourism Department (9%) and the Punjab Public Prosecution Department (15%) had the lowest proactive disclosure scores in their respective provinces.
The study found that the descriptions of remunerations, perks, and privileges of the government officers and employees, which are required to be disclosed under the laws, were missing on most websites. The only exception was the Lahore High Court’s website.
One of the departments that did not reveal the perks and privileges of its employees is the KP Department of Information and Public Relations. It scored well otherwise, with an 85% score on the proactive disclosure scale. Its Punjab counterpart — the Punjab Information and Culture Department — scored only 30% because it failed to meet six requirements and only partially fulfilled the rest.
The reports also claimed that the public service delivery departments of both provinces lagged behind in disclosing information. The Punjab specialised healthcare department had a low score of 29%. Its website is missing contact details and the department’s functions.
In KP, the now-dissolved Ehtesab Commission, the Public Service Commission, and Mineral Development Department were among the poorest in terms of proactive disclosures.
The Punjab Public Service Commission, Industries department, and the Women Development Department all failed to get more than 25% points in the ranking.
The Punjab Energy Department’s website was not rated because it was not functional when the research was conducted. The website can be accessed now and has added important information such as contact numbers, and an RTI section.
Some important departments of Punjab, the CPDI report found, do not even maintain websites. These include the Department of Communication & Works and the Home Department.
“Absence of these websites deprives citizens to have easy access to the activities of government departments,” the report on Punjab proactive disclosures stated.
Some positive trends were also detected. For example, most KP government websites have listed the contact details of designated Public Information Officers who deal with RTI requests. The KP Agriculture Department has also shared online the details of the number of RTI requests it received and processed, according to the CPDI report.