Acting upon the Freedom of Information Act

By Naeem Sadiq

In September 2009 I wrote to two  Sindh  government departments seeking harmless information on matters of education and pollution that should anyway be available to all citizens. I was confident that a formal request under the much trumpeted and much ‘seminar’ed  Freedom of Information Act will do the trick.  The law requires a response within 21 days.   When nothing happened for 4 months, in Jan 2010,  I approached the Sindh Ombudsman (as suggested in the law) to ask the concerned departments to do the needful.

After digesting my request for 3 months, the Sindh Ombudsman finally asked the concerned departments (Education and Environmental Protection Agency) to appear and explain why they did not provide the information that had been asked for.  I too was asked to appear.

So I spent the 1st of April (like a fool)  in the Ombudsman’s office, hoping that the real culprits would make an appearance.  Nobody turned up and the helpless  Ombudsman gave a new date of April 6, for all parties to appear again.

On 6th April I wasted  another day waiting in the Ombudsman’s office, but again neither department put in an appearance.

Clearly I was now being given a taste of my own medicine.  The Ombudsman could keep calling.  I could keep appearing.  The departments violating the freedom of information Act could keep not turning up.  Life could keep going on as normal.

The Education ministry  which  was asked questions about the “ghost schools” in Sindh, never turned up before the Ombudsman and never  bothered to send any reply.  That much about respect for law, the Ombudsman and the Freedom of Info Act.

The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency sent an inadequate response on 4th May 2010. Please see my letter (below) to the Ombudsman on the response of Sindh EPA.  The whole thing leaves one quite despondent and frustrated.  Here is a dysfunctional government firmly committed to not following any law. 

To:   Mohtasib-e-Ala Sindh                                             Dated: 04 May 2010
      Sindh Provincial Ombudsman Secretariat
      Shahra e Kamal Ataturk
      Karachi Sindh
       
From:  Naeem Sadiq (citizen)
       DHA, Karachi
       
Subject:

Your letter: POS/208/10-E/0848

Sindh Environmental Protection Agency not providing information under  the Sindh Freedom of Information Act , despite repeated reminders by Ombudsman

Dear Sir,

1.          Thank you for your efforts in asking Sindh EPA to provide information asked by a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act.

2.          I regret to say that while the SEPA has completed the formality of responding to your letter, it has sent completely unrelated ,  unasked and incomplete  information.  Information was asked for Karachi, but the response and the included appendices largely relate to Kotri.  Clearly it means that SEPA is not even interested to read the letter that is asking for information. I am reproducing the exact question asked and the exact response by SEPA below:

Questions asked and SEPA’s responses:

Q.4 Please give the number and names of  factories in Karachi  which are in full compliance of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS).

also

Q.5 Please give the number and names  of factories in Karachi  which are in NOT in  full compliance of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS). 

As per information provided by SITE Ltd Kotri that 288 industrial plots are allotted for industrial activities and 98 units are in production. But it has been observed physically after conducting monitoring exercise that only 68 industrial units are found functional. This is an example of one site area. Therefore EPA Sindh has prepared a plan PC-II to monitor all the industrial areas located in Karachi to collect physical status of each industry and available facilities to address the environmental issues at their end. Therefore the information pertaining to the queries would be complied at later stage.

Q.6 Please give the number and names of  factories that are not compliant with NEQS and have been served notices by your department.

There are 3 major environmental issues being faced by industrial sectors like effluent , solid waste and air emission. In routine activities (monitoring/complaint) of SEPA, if the industries are found violating the rules under PEP ACT 1997, the legal proceeding is initiated accordingly.

You are requested to ask SEPA to provide the information that has been asked for.   Where it does not have specific information, it may simply state so, without mixing it up with other cities and other plans. 

Naeem Sadiq

CC:  Director General
Environmental Protection Agency
Government of Sindh
EPA Complex,  Plot St-2/1, Sector 23
Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi

4 Comments

Filed under Citizens, civil service, Conservation, Democracy, Education, Environment, executive, Law, Pakistan, Rights, Sindh

4 responses to “Acting upon the Freedom of Information Act

  1. I was much fortunate and have received replies all four times from Rawalpindi Cantonment Board and Tehsil Municipal Administration, Rawalpindi.

    I never got a response from GHQ though. I had asked for a complete list of vehicles bought as staff cars and fate of the ones disposed off. I had suggested that they give me details over as long a time period as they have and I was willing to pay the necessary fee over the maximum that I’m allotted by the FoI legislation.

    Sadly, GHQ never replied. Why would they? I had asked details about the luxuries and perks of the khaki overlords. I had specifically asked about the fate of the white Suzuki Swifts that were used as staff cars for a long time.

    Will send my request again sometime later.

    Transparency is a vital factor in smooth governance. In our case, control of information is tantamount to exercising power. Even the pettiest of documents is labeled “confidential” or “secret”.

  2. Zainab Ali

    This kind of attitude by the concerned authorities compromises the efforts made by the government. It is important to check the individual performance of all the departments, so that the right to information can be practiced by every citizen.

  3. ali hamdani

    Transparency is a vital factor in smooth governance. This point must be noted and remember all the time. I am for the motion and this transparency will improve the situation of the country and the grants will then be utlised in the interest of citizens.

  4. Mustafa Shaban

    Nothing surprising, just another case of government incompetence.