By Humna Mehwish
Pakistan Steel Mill (PSM) serves as the backbone of industrialization in Pakistan and yet it has been underrated and exploited by both public and private entities. This humongous institution has been in the news often due to its corruption scandals and lack of resources, in such a scenario preventing right to information law from implementation and use is not just alarming but also thought-provoking as to why information is being kept behind locks?
Recently, a citizen inquired about the allocation of human resource in PSM Heat Treatment Shop since 2000. After lengthy inquiry procedures and hearings, he was told that the information requested will undermine personal integrity of individuals and therefore cannot be made public. It is surprising as to how qualifications of employees can actually harm their integrity and personal dimensions unless of course they are not aptly qualified for their designation.
It would be appropriate here, to remember the order given by the honorable Supreme Court in Memogate case on 30th December, 2011. It stated, “….it was clear from reading of Art. 19A of the Constitution and S.3 (1) of the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002 that the constitutional right was much broader and more assertive than the statutory right which by its own terms was restricted to disclosure of official record only…” and, “….All state functionaries have to understand that in a very sense, they are employed in the service of the People of Pakistan and are paid for by them. The loyalty, therefore, of these State functionaries has to be the Constitutional order established by the people.”
According to the report of the DG Ombudsman dealing with the case, the PSM Law Department enunciates that “‘information/data of the employees/details of the employees/operators working with Pakistan Steel’ are confidential information as the names etc. of the employees cannot be disclosed to an unconcerned person”.
First of all, how can a citizen be labelled as ‘unconcerned person’ when the constitution grants sovereignty to the people and allows them to hold public officers accountable as mentioned in the SC order of 2011? Secondly, why are the details confidential for the ‘Employers’ that is the people of Pakistan, again stated in the aforementioned order? The answer is simple, the Government Officers either do not understand the structure of a republic and the rights of people or are simply insistent to promote autocracy by the elected and state representatives, neither of which promotes a healthy image of Pakistan.
After all the legal channels were exhausted the sovereign citizen has decided to take up the matter with the Honorable President of Pakistan Mr. Mumnoon Hussain in his letter sent out on February 7, 2015 to report the plight of his right to information in the country owned by him. He still awaits his answers, and so do we. If his plea is once again rejected, it is better to repeal the law altogether since it assures no right whatsoever to the paymasters to know what they are paying for.
Dr. Raza Gardezi, RTI expert at Shehri-CBE elaborates the implications of the law, “The sovereignty rests with the citizens and they have the constitutional right to know how their tax-money is being spent. Unfortunately, the Sindh FOI and the appellate bodies under it refuse to recognize this sovereignty and continue to deny the citizen their right to information.”
He further revealed that, “Sindh FOI has a deplorable success rate of less than 25% and that too after pursuing the cases on an average of more than a year. This compares poorly with the success rate of 45% in Punjab and 58% in KP under their respective RTI acts.