Islamabad — A Jhang-based journalist, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department, and a school teacher from Lahore were recognised for using and supporting the Right to Information (RTI) laws in Pakistan on Friday, 28 September.
The annual RTI Champions Awards were presented at an event to celebrate the International Day for the Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) 2019. The event was organised by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) in collaboration with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Commission, the German international development organisation GIZ, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
Muhammad Akmal, a journalist from Punjab’s Jhang district, received the RTI Champions Award in the journalist category. Mr. Akmal, who is a Dawn TV reporter, said he has used the records requests under the Punjab Transparency and RTI Act to report on education and health. Some of his data-driven stories also appeared on the alternative news website Sujaag, which provides in-depth coverage of district-level issues in Punjab.
“Most journalists do not know about the RTI law,” Mr. Akmal said. “They need to be informed about it.”
He said the effective use of the law can help journalists improve their public-interest reporting and contribute to social improvement.
The award in the Best Public Information Officer (PIO) category went to Alamgir Akbar, a reader at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department’s legal branch.
Mr. Akbar said he was happy that his and his department’s services were recognised at the national forum. He said most of the public records requests received by the police department deal with human rights issues.
“Students are using the RTI law well for their research,” Mr. Akbar said.
Zahid Khan, a school teacher from Lahore, received the award in the citizen’s category for best use of the RTI law. Mr. Khan, who could not attend the awards ceremony, had filed an RTI request to find out why an educational institution he had started in Lahore was shut down by authorities.
The awards are presented under each year by the Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI), an alliance of over 50 civil society organisations working on access to information in Pakistan.
The event was attended by government officials, journalists, students, and civil society representatives. Toby Mendel, the Executive Director of Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy, was the chief guest at the ceremony.
In a panel discussion before the awards presentation, experts talked about challenges surrounding RTI implementation.
Riaz Khan Daudzai, a commissioner at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa RTI commission, said even public bodies are sometimes not aware about the work and mandate of his commission.
“We have developed a communication strategy to create awareness about the law in the province,” Mr. Daudzai said.
Muhammad Azam, the Chief Information Commissioner of the Pakistan Information Commission, said his commission was planning a training session for PIOs of federal ministries in October.
“There is lack of manpower and resources,” Mr. Azam said. “However we are trying our best to manage things.”
CPDI Executive Director Amer Ejaz said information belongs to the public. The government departments are only custodians of the information, he said.
“They need to share the information with the public,” Mr. Ejaz said. “Proactive disclosure of the information is the way forward as it will bring openness and transparency.”
CPDI also launched a report on the status of proactive and reactive disclosures under the various RTI laws in the country. The research showed that most federal and provincial government departments are not proactively sharing all the categories of information they are mandated by law to publish on their websites. The responsiveness to information requests was also disappointing with a 13-percent response rate. Only 71 responses from 20 government departments were received against 527 information requests sent by the CPDI for the study.