In a landmark move, the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) has informed the defence ministry that information about income, income tax, assets, perks, privileges, post-retirement benefits and plots allotted to officers of the armed forces is public information and not sensitive information.
The commission issued these guidelines to the defence ministry on Monday while deciding 34 appeals filed by Women’s Action Forum (WAF) activists and some concerned citizens who had sought the afore-mentioned information from the defence ministry which refused to provide the data.
Those who had sent applicants for the information to the ministry included Anis Haroon, Hilda Saeed, Nighat Said Khan, Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar, Naila Naz, Uzma Noorani, Memoona Rauf Khan, Nasreen Azhar, Nasreen L. Siddiqui, Rubina Saigol, Maria Rashid, Naila Naz, Kausar S. Khan, Nazish Brohi and Farhatullah Babar.
Then the applicants filed the appeals in the office of the information commissioner to seek such information.
The PIC told the defence ministry that it was the responsibility of the designated “public information officer” to respond to the requests filed by the citizens under Rule 3 of the Right of Access to Information Rules, 2019.
The office of the information commission directed the defence ministry to provide information sought by the applicants within 10 working days, and warned that in case of non-compliance penalty would be imposed on the relevant officer.
“If the delay is caused or any other complaint occurs as a result of non-cooperation, faulty or delayed response on part of an officer whose assistance was sought by the designated officer, such officer shall be deemed to be designated officer after approval of the secretary concerned for purpose of imposition of penalties under the [Right of Access to Information] Act,” the PIC decision says.
The WAF in a statement has welcomed the PIC decision and said that earlier requests were sent to the defence ministry to seek the information about the chief of army staff, lieutenant generals, major generals and brigadiers of the army; air chief marshal, air marshals, air vice marshals and commodores of the air force; and admiral, vice admiral, rear admirals and commodores of the navy.
“When no [positive] response was received… from the defence ministry, the applicants approached the PIC,” the WAF said.
According to the WAF, the defence ministry responded that the information being sought was excluded from the public record under Section 7(e) of the Act which exempted “record relating to defence forces, defence installations or connected thereto and ancillary to defence and national security” from being made public.
However, the WAF said that the people’s interests lay in safeguarding the Constitution and fundamental and equal rights of all citizens and the separation of state powers.