Controversy has arisen in Punjab University over the recruitment procedures, criteria set for staff and compliance of the university to its rules and regulations point towards shady recruitments of the visiting professors. It has been found that the Additional Registrar, Doctor Kamran Abid who is also a designated Public Information Officer does not hold any information on how the visiting professors are appointed to teach at the university. Under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, the enquirer, Sarmad Ali had previously asked the Registrar in writing about the number of professors teaching at the University’s Law College; the criteria for hiring professors, and when the advertisements for hiring new professors is published. After the failure of the university to provide this information, the case has now reached Punjab Information Commission to take action against the university. Also, if the university is not able to provide an answer for nondisclosure, the entire university’s professors’ seats become questionable and uncertain. If this major issue in the university remains untouched, it will have far reaching effects that can put the entire institution in question of its credibility.
The newly formed Punjab Information Commission is making its presence heard by using its authority to compel the public bodies to provide the information as requested by concerned citizens. In fact, it is doing great service for those seeking information in public interest. Enabling access to Information for people in Pakistan is a commendable effort on part of the state. The right to information has had a long journey beginning in 1990 to finally becoming a law. Inserted in the Clause as 19 A of the constitution under the 18th Amendment in 2010, the law clearly asserts the right to information as a constitutional right of the citizens. This has taken the precedence of keeping a check on the government offices in order to detect any embezzlement of funds, inefficiency, nepotism or absence of merit.
The Punjab province is paying heed to address the issues of transparency since the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 was approved by the Provincial Assembly under the 18th Amendment. Under this Act, the Punjab Information Commission was established with an agenda to introduce and enhance information accessibility to the citizens and also to resolve their grievances where the public offices have declined to share the information. According to the Act, the public bodies are obliged to appoint Public Information Officers, under the authority of the Punjab Information Commission. The Commission has been given the authority to levy penalties on those appointed officers for failing to disclose the information when sought by the citizens.
On asking him what motivated him to highlight this issue, Sarmad Ali asserted that he has taken up the issue because he believes that this can break the status quo and nepotism which is prevalent in the University. Ali has taken the initiative to hold the university accountable to the public, and in particular to the grieving parties who have been robbed of their merit by favoring others. The inability of the University’s Additional Registrar to furnish the information on selection criterion in itself shows that either bad management of the university’s administration in archiving documents or committing corruption by informally reserving the seats for the favored candidates. The hideousness of the university in this particular case shows foul play in the university’s conduct and this is what needs to be implored further by the concerned authorities, and also look into all public universities to detect any irregularities.
What little is known by the people the the Right to Information Act 2013 provides them with the right to seek information which the public bodies are bound to provide under this law. Under this Act, the Punjab Information Commission can dispense justice under their permissible authority. However, this transformation of making public institutions transparent will take time to change the general practice of maintaining secrecy of information. Many public offices are still hesitant in providing the information to public for the fear of detection of any irregularities. The rigid attitudes of some officials and the bureaucrats sometimes come as a hurdle for information seekers. However, for them to fully anticipate action by the authorities of Transparency and Right to Information Commission, the rules need to be rationalized. The penalties levied by the Commission to the public bodies may not be enough to counter the suspected mega corruption which may be the reason why all information are not provided by the concerned offices. The unsatisfied disclosure of information by the Punjab University may just be a tip of iceberg of the major issues of corruption and nepotism.
Access to information is universally accepted as a fundamental right of people. Not only is it about bringing transparency in the system, it is also about the public institutions to be held accountable to the tax payers. Unless a citizen is equipped with the information they obtain, democracy in any country remains weak if the people are denied the right to know and learn about the issues that are directly or subliminally affecting them. A check on the system to run on merit and transparency can help building confidence of the public in the Commission. Further, with true information shared any irregularity in service delivery can be addressed before further damage is done to public interest.