LAHORE  - A circular issued by S&GAD that warns the provincial officers not to share information with public may bury the newly enacted law ‘The Right to Information Law’ and thwart the Punjab government’s efforts to make information public, it has been learnt.

The circular by the S&GAD on October 9, 2014 says that confidentiality of official record is not being observed by certain officers as per government laws and minutes of the confidential and important nature meetings are circulated without due caution.

It stressed that the official record should be dealt with in accordance with instructions of government, issued from time to time regarding confidentiality. In case of any laxity, it warns, disciplinary action may be taken against the responsible officer.

It is to be recalled that the Punjab Assembly had passed the RTI Act in December 2013 to ensure access to information and signed by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar.

The bureaucracy wanted the state secrets not to be shared with public, said a senior officer of the S&GAD requesting anonymity. He said that the media outlets specially published confidential documents that were violation of the RTI 2013. He said that the purpose of the letter circulated among all the additional secretaries, deputy secretaries and section officers was to warn the officers not to share such information that falls under confidential documents. The officer refused to indicate any of such reports that went against the state or national interest. However, he agreed that the newspapers highlighted corruption, violation of law, privileges availed by the mighty politicians, misuse of powers and state resources for personal interests, rigging and many more things.

An additional secretary requesting secrecy said that the purpose of the circular was to ensure confidentiality of such information that was under consideration like postings of officers on important slots like Secretaries, Commissioners, and DCOs, CCPOs, RPOs, DPOs  etc or of inquiries against officials yet to be finalised.

“Why the notifications were being kept secret which were subject to public access and why the information commission was not yet given funds to function independently,” the officer could not respond but agreed that the issue was still debatable.

Soon after this law was enacted the citizens started filing requests to the state institutions under this law but in majority of the cases the public bodies failed to provide requested information to civil society groups and journalists. On which the journalists had lashed out at the non-implementation of right to information (RTI) law in Punjab despite the enactment of the Punjab Transparency and the appointment of information commissioners in April. He coincided that the implementation of law was resisted by some circles including the bureaucracy.

A segment of the Punjab bureaucracy, at the first stage of implementation of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act (2013) had also thwarted the efforts of the government to provide information to citizenry to have transparency in the system.

The departments interpreted the act on their own and denied information. The citizens and journalists a couple of months ago had filed applications in the S&GAD and the C&W departments and others, but majority of them met the same fate. They had sought information from the S&GAD about dual nationality holding senior bureaucrats and their assets in the country and abroad. But the department ha not bothered to share any information with them.  The C&W Department refused to share information of those officers who were found involved in embezzlement of public funds. But this was turned down by the authorities after a month or so, saying the information could not be shared under the relevant clause of RTI 2013.

A petitioner while expressing disappointment over such responses had said that the image of the law he developed in his mind was badly tattered and he thought the mighty bureaucracy that ran administration would never allow implementation of the law in its true spirit. He questioned if the law failed at initial stage of its implementation, how it would materialise the dreams of transparency in the public funds and boost democracy.

After the promulgation of Right to Information Act, it was expected that corruption-oriented public bodies would be brought to justice, but the denial of the basic right to share fundamental information by the S&GAD and the C&W Department gave a different picture altogether, the applicant lamented. The departments are not only found guilty of overlooking law, but also misguiding the sister organisations by giving wrong information as done in the case of C&W officers promoted to BS-19. The C&W concealed the facts that the officers faced FIRs and corruption inquiries. When the CM office took notice of it, the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team (CMIT) confirmed fraud in the process of promotion of the officers. The inspection team in its inquiry found several officials of ACE and the Communication Department responsible for sending the names of eight executive engineers to the provincial selection board for their promotions despite the fact they were not eligible for it due to the cases they were facing.

Punjab government spokesman Zaeem Qadri was not available for comments.