Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) gave a decision declaring that information about pension, perks, privileges, and post-retirement benefits, including plots allotted in government schemes, falls in the category of public information and should be provided to the public under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The decision has been welcomed by Pakistan Peoples Party secretary-general Farhatullah Babar.
Information commissioner Zahid Abdullah authored the PIC order of June 2, available on the commission’s website, on a petition moved by over 30 activists of the Women Action Forum from all over the country who had earlier been denied it.
“The PIC order is a giant step forward in ensuring transparency and accountability in all institutions without favor or fear.”Mr Babar said in a statement on Sunday.
The order said the exercise of the constitutional right of citizens to seek information under the RTI law did not amount to curtailing the independence of the judiciary nor it amounted to executive oversight of the judiciary.
Referring to some letter from the office of the Supreme Court registrar, the order said it was administrative in nature and not a judicial verdict.
Mr Babar said that in the absence of clear-cut judicial orders, the PIC had made a correct and courageous determination that would always stand out as first-line in any backgrounder about the commission. He reminded that under the RTI Act parliament and courts were also public bodies and required to provide specific information under it when demanded.
He said the judiciary had upheld the rule of law and expressed the hope that it would also accept the PIC decision.
“The glory of the judiciary lies in interpreting the law and the Constitution in a manner that strengthened all democratic institutions and not merely that of the judiciary. The PIC order of June 2 will also send right signals to the defense establishment which has been denying information sought from it under the RTI Act.”He said.
The categories of information to be proactively disclosed under the Act are not in conflict with the independence of the judiciary, the PIC order said.
The PIC held that if citizens’ right of access to information in matters of public importance pertaining to the superior judiciary is restricted on the grounds that it would impact its independence and core functions, the same grounds would be relevant in the case of all public institutions.
About the declaration of assets of judges and their family members, the PIC order said it was for parliament to enact legislation and not for the commission.
The PIC order also said the information sought should have been available with the law and justice ministry in the form of official notifications and should have been placed on its website as required under Section 5 of the Act.
It also held that the voluntary provision of information by Justice Qazi Faez Isa recently cannot be equated with legally binding requirements for all justices under the Act.