The Right to Information Laws of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were created as a step in the right direction towards better transparency and citizen control. However, a new report suggests that all is not well and the laws may not be functioning as best as they can.
On Thursday, the Digital Rights Foundation and the Coalition of Right to Information released their fourth report, “The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies.”
The report analysed the official websites of the public bodies from the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from July 2015 to December 2015 in order to evaluate their compliance with Right to Information laws and provide constructive feedback to support these public bodies in increasing pre-emptive sharing of information with the public.
This report is the fourth in a series aimed at assessing the proactive disclosure of information by public bodies. It is a joint-effort initiated by the Coalition of Right to Information (CRTI) and Digital Rights Foundation, with a broader aim to measure how public bodies have been using the web. It is crucial for government bodies to use their web presence effectively and responsibly in order to promote good governance and reduce corruption. This research used the RTI laws of both provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – to evaluate the extent to which the laws are being followed.
The report found that while there have been small improvements in how these websites provide information, there has been a general reluctance in complying with laws that pertain specifically to sharing the categories of information held by public bodies a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body information about particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorisations granted by the public bodies
“It is important for the public to know what information is being held by each public body,” said Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation.
“With the exception of the KP RTI Commission, none of the websites provide a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body. Due to this, the public has no idea of where to go for their required information. When public body websites do not explain how a person can contact them to request information or even what information is available, this adds to the confusion and creates suspicion in the minds of the public,” she said.
“It is a direct violation of their own RTI laws which can be resolved by simply putting up a couple of web pages,” she added.
Many of the analysed websites show that there is a general misunderstanding about what “Web Accessibility” means.
When the report evaluated public body websites according to W3C standards, it found that there are a number of barriers that prevent interaction and access to people with disabilities. Correctly designed, developed and edited websites will give all users equal access to information and functionality. This is one of the major problems with all public bodies websites.
In previous versions of the report, the research had identified the areas in which these websites were lacking and had presented clear recommendations for improvement. The recent report has found that almost none of the websites acted upon those suggestions therefore, their scores have remained largely unchanged.