Islamabad: Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians secretary general Senator Farhatullah Babar has welcomed the decision of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) declaring that information about pension, perks, privileges and post-retirement benefits including plots allotted in government schemes to Judges falls in the category of public information and should be provided to the public under the RTI Act.
The PIC order on June 2 available on the Commission’s website is authored by Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah on a petition moved by over thirty activists of 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”, he said in a statement.
The PIC order said that the exercise of constitutional right of citizens to seek information under RTI law did not amount to curtailing independence of judiciary nor it amounted to executive oversight of the judiciary.
Referring to some letter from the Office of Registrar Supreme Court of Pakistan the order said that it was administrative in nature and not a judicial verdict.
Farhatullah Babar said that in the absence of clear cut judicial orders the PIC has made a correct and courageous determination that will 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 that the judiciary has upheld the rule of law and expressed the hope that it will also accept the decision of the PIC.
“The glory of the judiciary lies in interpreting law and the constitution in a manner that strengthened all democratic institutions and not merely that of the judiciary”, he said.
“The PIC order of June 2 will also send right signals to the defence 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 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.
This is a stern reminder that every information sought from the defence establishment under RTI Act cannot be withheld in the name of national security, the PPPP secretary general said.
About the declaration of assets of judges and their family members the PIC order said that it was for the Parliament to enact legislation and not for the Commission.
The PIC order also said that 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.