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Most state organs violate access to information law

Most state organs violate access to information law

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Jan 27, 2019 - 15:50

KABUL (Pajhwok): Journalists in the three eastern provinces of the country are mostly unsatisfied with security organs on the issue of access to information, finds a Pajhwok Afghan News survey.

While 71 percent say it takes them two months to get the required details from government departments, seven of every nine journalists from Nangarhar, Laghman and Kunar allege certain organisations do not give them accurate information.

The survey shows journalists in the three provinces are three times more satisfied with government organisations than other entities in terms of access to information.

Pajhwok distributed survey forms to 89 journalists from 49 government and private media outlets to record their views on access to information in the three provinces. The survey began on December 22 and concluded on January 11.

As many as 50 journalists were interviewed from Nangarhar, 20 from Laghman and 19 from Kunar.

Information not shared in time

Seven of 10 journalists complain that they do not have access to information in time -- something emphasized by the relevant law. Three others say they have access to information in time and according to the access to information law.

Niaz Mohammad Khaksar, a worker of the Enikas Television channel in Nangarhar, said many of government organs and NGOs in the province do not cooperate enough on providing information to journalists.

“Collecting information for an investigative report takes several days -- even two months in some instances. The reason behind this delay is that they (officials) fear the their failures and involvement in corruption being exposed,”

Without going into details, he said he was working on a land-grab report in the recent past. He submitted a request on a form to the relevant department, but he was still unable to get what he needed.

Article 8 of the Access to Information Law says state organs are responsible for providing requested information (newsworthy) to journalists in time or at least with one working day.

SiddiqullahTawhidi, head of the Journalists Safety Committee, told Pajhwok that although the access to information law existed, getting information was still a challenging job for the media.

“I think there are two main problems. One, most of government workers still do not know much about the law. Two, some officials involved in corruption fear they would be exposed if they provide information,” he continued.

Inaccurate information

Provision of wrong information to journalists is another problem in the mentioned provinces.

ParwizSargand, a radio journalist based in Kunar province, claimed many government organs -- particularly security organs -- provided wrong information to media people.

Providing wrongdetails,a refusal to share information without citing legal bars anda failure to provide information requested in the specified time isa violation of the access to information law under Article 35.

Tawhidi listed the lack of capacity, negligence, the absence of a viable information system and mismanagement as the reasons for journalists receiving flawed information.

He suggested all organs should publish information regarding their achievements, performances and revenue on their websites under the access to information law. But this has not been done or done in an incomplete way.

According to Article 13 of the law, the media section of an organisation is responsible for publishing its information on the website or other social media platforms.

Most of complaints are against NGOs

Of every nine respondents, four expressed satisfactionwith government institutions in the area of access to information. One voiced satisfaction with NGOsand one each with both government institutions and NGOs. Two of every nine interviewees were dissatisfiedwith both governmental and NGOs.

Under the constitutions, all government entities and NGOs are bound to provide information in line with the law. Article 5, Clause 2, of the Access to the Information Law requires all institutions to provide access to information according to the principles embodied in the law.

Tawhidi said journalists’ satisfaction with governmental entities and NGOs varied at the centre and in the provinces. He added the level of satisfactionwith governmentinstitutionswas low in some provinces. In other provinces, the level of satisfaction with NGOs was very low.

Tawhidielaborated NGOs had special rules and regulations and their main offices were located in Kabul. Their provincial branches could not offer information without permission from main offices. Hence the higher level of complaints against NGOs in three eastern provinces.

Disappointment with security organs

In Kabul, most respondents expressed disappointment over the level of access to information from security institutions, public health, governor’s house, women’s affairs, martyrs and disabled and custom departments. Three interviewees said they were disappointedwith all the institutions mentioned above.

Average level of disapproval varies from province to province.

Most of respondents did not answer this question but one of them expressed disappointment with customs, revenue, refugee and public works departments, as well as BreshnaShirkat, Afghanistan Cricket Board and district heads.

Abdul Qayyum, a National Radio Television journalist in Laghman, blamed security forces for refusing to cooperate on sharing information and answeringqueries from media professionals.

The Journalist Safety Network (JJSN) acknowledged challenges, saying security institutions offered little cooperation. They believe that under the rules, they should not share information with the media.

He, however, said according to the Access to Information Law, dissemination of unclassified information was not against the national interest. On the other hand, he explained, concealing such information was a clear violation of the law.

Article 16 of the Access to Information Law bars access to details in the following circumstances:

When it puts in danger the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and law and order;

When the provision of information may damage political, economic and cultural relationships with other countries;

When it puts in danger live and wealth of individuals;

When it hampers investigations into a crime or crime prevention efforts;

When it disturbs investigation of an accused or prevents necessary arrangements in this regard; and

Information regarding trade issues, personal properties or private bank accounts.

Solution

Journalist Justice and Safety Network (JJSN)’s head urged the government to take serious steps with regard to implementing the law on access to information and also seriously inform the institution’semployees about articles of the law.

According to him, media persons should use the information request form for obtaining information and in case of no cooperation, they could complain to the Commission on Access to Information for investigation.

He also urged the Commission on Access to Information to perform a stern oversight and address the complaints of media outlets.

According to Article 30 clause two of the access to information law, an applicant could register his/her compliant with the compliant commission if their request for information is not executed in accordance with the same law or did not satisfywith the administration.

The article adds the applicant shall refer to the relevant institution and fill out the information request form and institutions are responsible to respond in written to the information requested.

NajibaMuram, deputy head of the commission on access to information law, said, “Unfortunately despite having the access to information law, we still lack access to information and media also face the same problem and most of the government institutions and NGOs do not follow the law and the issue is a matter of concern for all of us.”

According to Muram, dozens of information request forms were filled and submitted to government institutions by media persons, but a few were answered.

She further added so far 200 complaints in capital Kabul and province had arrived in their commission and most of them had been addressed.

She did not provide further details but said the commission had dispatched written warnings to offending institutions and salaries of some officials were deducted as fine.

She believed the low level of awareness about the access to information law had caused government institutions not to share information with the media and therefore their commission was conducting awareness programs in this regard.

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