The Punjab chief minister’s office has claimed ‘legitimate privacy’ for withholding details of the vehicles under the use of chief executive of the province Usman Buzdar.
“The information cannot be shared in light of rule 13 (1) (b) of Punjab Transparency & Right to Information Act 2013 being a legitimate privacy interest,” says the CM’s office responding to a query about the total number of vehicles, along with mark and model, being used by Mr Buzdar.
The section 13 (i)(b) of the Act reads: “A public information officer may refuse an application for access to information where disclosure of the information shall or is likely to cause harm to a legitimate privacy interest, unless the person concerned has consented to disclosure of the information.”
Abdullah Malik, a lawyer, had sent the query to the CM office in January this year, invoking the rights to the citizens under the transparency and right to information law.
The chief minister’s office took nine months to answer the query asked by the lawyer through the Punjab Information Commission. The office also refused to share copies of the log books, which contained details of the official vehicles’ use.
In response to another query, the chief minister’s office disclosed that funds to the tune of Rs348.92 million had been utilised by the Buzdar government till December 2020. However, the office refused to disclose the rules being exercised by the chief minister for the use of discretionary funds and the limit of the funds.
Citing a ‘legitimate private interest’ under the transparency law, the office said this information could not be shared with the applicant.
The CM office did not answer another query about the rules of the finance department for the allocation of further/supplementary funds for the chief minister house, terming the query ambiguous.
Following the reply, Mr Malik decided to approach a court of law against the non-provision of the required details by the chief minister’s office.
Talking to Dawn, Advocate Usama Khawar Ghumman said the chief minister was using vehicles that were funded by the taxes. He said the CM’s office could not claim legitimate privacy under the exceptions enumerated in the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013.
He pointed out that the information commissions in both Pakistan and India had held that non-provision of logbook of vehicles under the use of public officials on the assumption or apprehension of possible harm to the life or safety of a person was not enough to claim an exception under right to information laws.
He said the logbooks could reveal misuse (if any) of the official vehicles by the families of government officers. These books could also reveal if the vehicles used by the officials fall within their entitlement or not, he said and added that the denial of information about the vehicles under CM’s use was plainly illegal and unconstitutional.
Ghumman said for effective accountability of the elected representatives, the public had a right to know how their taxes were being spent by their elected representatives.