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Only 3 public entities well-reputed in access to info law

Only 3 public entities well-reputed in access to info law

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Sep 27, 2017 - 19:58

KABUL (Pajhwok): Though a majority of people in Afghanistan consider the law on access to information as vital, yet more than half of them are unaware about the law while only three of government’s 27 departments have good reputation in this regard.

The Monitoring Commission on Access to Information, a body dealing with access to information related issues, says the law needs to be amended for the sake of people’s increased access to information. The body says it has prepared an amended draft as well.

Under the access to information law endorsed in 2014, government departments are bound to share information with people and the media without any delay.

Syed Akram Afzali, the Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) head, told reporters here on the occasion of International Day of Access to Information that his organization had conducted a survey on the subject.

The survey was conducted during a period of six months in nine provinces (Kabul, Balkh, Bamyan, Herat, Kandahar, Kapisa, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Paktika) of the country. Some 3,510 people, with women making 49 percent of them, were interviewed in the survey.

The survey shows among every 16 individuals, seven were aware about the access to information law, according to Afzali, also chairman of the monitoring commission. “The awareness level about the law is very low, more people should be made aware of the law.”

 “We’re celebrating the International Day of Access to Information at a time when three out of 27 government institutions have implemented the law in Afghanistan,” said Afzali.

The only three government institutions who have implemented the Access to Information law

 

Afzali said ministries of finance, rural rehabilitation and public health respected the law on access to information more than other departments.

The Monitoring Commission on Access to Information at the Tuesday’s ceremony gave away “golden keys” to the three ministries in recognition of their efforts at enforcing the law on access to information.

Ajmal Abdul Rahimzai, spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, on the occasion said his ministry emerged top-scorer in the survey because they disseminated needed information on the ministry’s website on time in three languages Pashto, Dari and English.

Commenting on his ministry’s first position in implementation of the law on access to information, he said: “It is a responsibility we should discharge, sharing information with people and journalists in-time is very important.”

Afzali said the remaining 24 government departments obtained marks with percentage below 31 and were thus declared as failed.

The survey shows the ministries of agriculture, commerce, telecommunications, mines and petroleum, foreign affairs, urban development, higher education, hajj and Islamic affairs, interior, information and culture, public welfare and Da Afghanistan Bareshna Shirkat, Attorney General Office, Election Commission, Independent Directorate of Local Governance,  Public Reform and Civil Service Commission, National Procurement Commission, the Supreme Court and the Wolesi Jirga have obtained numbers between 19 and 47 in implementation of the law on access to information.

Afzali also showed a big rusty lock to the participants, saying they had been planning to give away such locks to low scoring departments – the Office of Administrative Affairs, the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Labour ---but they did not do that.

However, in future, Afzali said, they would distribute rusty locks to departments refusing to share information with the people.

Pajhwok tried to seek comment from the Office of Administrative Affairs and the Ministry of Education, but no contact could be established with the two departments.

However, Labour and Social Affairs Ministry spokesman Abdul Fatah Ishrat Ahmadzai said their ministry had previously some problems in its website but reporters were timely provided information they sought.

He dubbed the Integrity Watch Afghanistan’s survey as faulty and said mostly personal connections had been considered in compiling the report.

He said they had also talked to Integrity Watch Afghanistan officials and had given them assurances.

Some people say they were forced to pay bribe for gaining access to information.

The survey finds three persons among every 10 have paid bribe in return for gaining access to information at government departments. Of every 10 persons who paid bribes, three paid bribe money, four paid cost of the form and three paid for photocopies. About seven percent of those interviewed in the survey said they paid bribe.

Problem and solution

Without giving any figure, Afzali said still the majority of people in Afghanistan lacked awareness about the access to information law.

He said the feeling of being deprived, people’s lack of knowledge about the access to information law and the complex procedure to gain information had further complicated the situation.

He said the monitoring commission had prepared a draft amendment bill which he said would help resolve the issue.

A majority of people consider the law on access to information as important.

Reporter with Khurshid TV, Ahad Faiz Azimi, also said the law on access to information played a crucial role in enabling people and journalist to access information they wanted.

However, he complained, most of the government departments refused to go by the law and instead created problems to journalists and people in finding access to information.

He said the Monitoring Commission on Access to Information should work seriously to ensure the law was enforced by all departments.

Pajhwok Afghan News director and member of the monitoring commission, Danish Karokhel, said so far many government departments had not been able to provide access to information to the level as needed by people, journalists and the civil society.

 “One of the motives behind celebrating the access to information day is to compel government departments to provide the people with access to information as required by the law,” Danish said.

The survey shows many people are satisfied with the monitoring commission’s performance and activities, but some criticize the body as well.

The commission has been able to maintain its prestige among the pubic and has done work for people.

Afzali complained many government officials, including the president and the chief executive officer, had made many promises of assistance with the monitoring commission, but nothing was done in practical.

He called the Information and Culture Ministry as ‘incompetent’ and hurdle in the way of access to information process, with the president and his CEO doing nothing to fix the ministry.

But Information and Culture Ministry spokesman Sabir Momand denied his ministry created hurdles to people seeking access to information.

According to the monitoring commission, Afghanistan is among the world’s 108 countries which have adopted the law on access to information. 

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