Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) under the Citizens’ Voice Project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) organized provincial roundtable at a local hotel in Karachi. The event aimed at discussing the charter of demands reflecting the issues identified through community based interventions and suggestions on need of having laws and institutional mechanisms for effective implementation of RTI and Sindh Freedom of information Act 2006 in the Province of Sindh. The objectives of the provincial roundtable were to share charter of demands based on the identification of the issues through district roundtables and different project interventions, increase active Interaction of Government, Civil Society and Local Community on RTI/FOI and to address grievances of communities through better engagements of provincial standing committees.
The participants from key departments, government of Sindh as Education and literacy Department, Health, Social Welfare, Women Development, Local Government and Rural Development, Public Health Engineering Department, Information Department and Sindh Ombudsman Office participated in the event. The representatives of community based organizations, civil society members, media, social activists and political parties of PPP, PML-N and PML-F from districts of Malir, Thatta and Badin also attended the event. Dr. Sikandar Mandhro, Provincial Minister for Environment and CDA (former Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Law), Mr. Khusrshed Ahmed Junejo, Chairperson Public Standing Committee on School Education and Member of Standing Committee on Information, Mr. Naseer Jamali, Advisor to Provincial Ombudsmen, Sindh, Dr. Shereen Mustafa Narejo, Special Secretary to Health, Govt. of Sindh and Mr. Naseer Memon, CEO SPO were key guests of the event.
Ms. Raheema Panhwar, Program Specialist SPO Karachi shared the brief of the project. She shared that till to date 52 applications/ complaints were submitted by CBOs and political parties in targeted district related to schemes of Health, Education, Public Health Engineering Department and Local Govt. Department. Out of 52 complaints to regional ombudsman office, 09 cases have been successfully resolved while 15 are in progress. Inaddiotn, she shared that it was stated by CBOs and political parties that before this project they were totally unaware form ‘The Sindh Freedom of Information Act- 2006 (FOI)’. Even during district roundtables held on at district level all govt. departments, officials shared that they did not receive any copy of the act from their department. They requested SPO to build capacity of govt. officials on FoI so they can be able to implement it properly.
Later, based on the interventions of the CVP-project with thirty CBOs and mainstream political parties’ local leadership of Malir, Badin and Thatta districts, the charter of demands was developed that were shared at provincial level for effective legislation and better services delivery in education, health, social welfare, women development, local government and rural development departments of government of Sindh. Feedback and input was provided by key guests from government and civil society members. Mr. Younis Khaskhely, representative of CBO from district Malir presented the charter of demand in front of all participants.
Charter of demands that were endorsed by the participants recommended and demanded from provincial government of Sindh that the following steps to be taken to ensure the access of common citizen to information from public departments
The culture of information storage through E-record should be developed and promoted in public departments
Proactive information disclosure mechanism should be developed and promoted through maintaining and updating websites of public departments at district and provincial level
Awareness of government officials, communities at local level and relevant stakeholders on Sindh FOI—2006 should be increased through trainings and awareness raising events for better planning, transparent utilization of public funds and community led monitoring of local governance
There should be specific protection mechanism for applicants and complainants who challenge the influential peoples through FOI applications and complainants
Penalty process should be increased and implemented as per law against those who destroy and damage the public records
There should be consultation process of government, civil society and community members for planning and implementing the district budgets
Sindh government should amend and update Sindh –FOI ACT 2006 for better access of the common citizens to public information as KPK and Punjab provinces have legislated
While putting light on the freedom of information act 2006, Dr. Raza from Shehri shared that Sindh freedom of information act 2006 needs to improve like KPK and Punjab provinces in Pakistan for better accountability and transparency in service delivery pertaining to social sector services. Sindh has the modern and updated draft on right to information to pass for increased transparency and accountability but yet no measures has been taken in this regard Mr. Naseer Jamali, Advisor to Provincial Ombudsman Sindh, shared that in Punjab province there is information commissioner designed for districts as per law but in Sindh there is no legal requirement like that and in this regard law has to updated with regard to the freedom of information. We have 16 offices in 26 districts of Sindh that should be opened to let the common citizens’ access to their right to information.
Dr. Shereen Mustafa Narejo, Special Health Secretary Sindh shared that there is the shortage of doctors and facilities in hospitals in Sindh province and in this regard 3500 positions have been announced. 99% percent peoples related with the health department are just there for transfer and promotion rather than service delivery. There is mismanagement in health to provide the services and there isneed is to harness the human and physical resources for effective services delivery in health department.
Dr. Sikandar Mandhro, Minister for Environment and Coastal Development Authority (CDA) shared that Sindh province has legislated many bills that that have not been made even in Pakistan. With regard to the new bill on right to information it is to be believed that bill on right to information will be passed by removing the flaws in Sindh FOI—Act 2006. Government officials will not easily share information with common citizens but civil society and common man should pressurize them to provide them their requested information. We have signed MOUs with SPO on effective and innovative legislation on the laws that guarantee the fundamental rights.
Mr. Khusrshed Ahmed Junejo, chairperson standing committee of special education and information appreciated such kind of the programs and urged that common citizens have sovereign power to ask the information related with citizens. Sindh consist of five divisions, 26 districts, 131 tehsils and 1137 UCs; we have 47 departments and every citizen has right to ask information from any department as their basic right. Sindh Province is very far behind in education and is at sixth number in quality of education in Pakistan. Civil society may play their effective role in monitoring the progress of government departments to improve quality and quantity in education, health and other social sector services department. There is no E-record system in Sindh and we have no information storage system in Sindh and there is need at least in agriculture and irrigation departments to maintain the record through information technology requirements.
Mr. Naseer Memon, CEO SPO called 18th amendment as miracle and discussed that every law is one step to go forward and FOI law has to go long way to benefit the citizens for their development and welfare. On one hand true information is not disclosed to the public and on the other hand wrong information is disseminated. There is great need to get information not for the wrong use but for the local good governance.
Mr. Illahi Bakhsh Baloch, Regional Head SPO Karachi paid thanks to all guests and participants for their valuable input and participation.