Almost nine months after the Sindh assembly passed a new law on the right to information (RTI), the province is yet to see any implementation of the law.
The Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill 2016, passed in March, had set a 45-day deadline to appoint public information commissoners and a 100-day deadline to constitute an information commission. Both deadlines have expired without any action by the government.
The public information officers would be the first points-of-contact for citizens who wish to seek information from public bodies in Sindh, under the law. If the information requests go unanswered, citizens can lodge complaints with the information commission, according to the law.
The Sindh law states that the commission will be “an independent statutory body, which shall enjoy operational and administrative autonomy.” The commission can exercise the powers of a civil court, summon government officers, direct public bodies to disclose information, and penalise officials for violations of the RTI law.
The Sindh government’s inaction has effectively nullified the provincial RTI law.
Moonus Kayinat Zahra, the RTI project coordinator at the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), said the Sindh information commission does not exist and people have no access to their right of information in the province.
She said the Sindh RTI law cannot be implemented without the existence of an information commission.
“There is no existing appellate body (for RTI in Sindh),” Ms. Zahra said. “If people want to file complaints, then they cannot.”
She said the Punjab government originally appointed commissioners within a few weeks of the passage of their law in 2013. That hasn’t been the case with Sindh.
“It’s been almost six months since the bill was passed, but unfortunately there is no progress,” Ms. Zahra said.
She said the Sindh assembly is having debates on accountability law but it is not focusing on the RTI law and its implementation.
According to The Express Tribune, Sindh Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nisar Khuhro said in August that consultations on appointment of the head of the information commission had started and the government will set up the commission in a few days. However, four months have passed since the minister’s promise without any change in the implementation status.
Repeated attempts were made to contact the Sindh chief minister’s media specialist Abdul Rasheed Channa, but he did not respond.
The current RTI law is Sindh’s second attempt at providing access to information. Sindh’s first RTI law was passed in 2006 but it also suffered severe issues of implementation because the provincial government did not frame the rules for the law.