FATA Secretariat a tough nut to crack for critical information

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PESHAWAR: Extracting information from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Secretariat, whose headquarters is situated in Peshawar, is an uphill task for the journalists and ordinary citizens, hence making the entire region an information dark area with regards to transparency in administration and development projects.

It is pertinent to note that the FATA region is governed directly by the federal government under the 114 years old black law, Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). This governance legal framework has been depriving the residents of the region from constitutional liberties.

“Essentially, the region is a black pit of information since ever, and the secretariat would not provide access to information pertaining to FATA affairs, says Ejaz Mohmand, a learned tribal lawyer.

“We often has to return empty hands from FATA Secretariat. Submitting a request for information with the institution is sheer wastage of time and resources”, Nabi Jan Orakzai, a Peshawar based reporter says.

Further talking to Apni Awaz, Orakzai tells that he sought data about landmines in one of the agencies, however, after wasting one week’s time, the secretariat staff denied the information, further directing him to visit political agent of the concerned agency. Orakzai says he followed the prescribed procedure already in place in the FATA Information Directorate who directed this scribe to ask the Line Department for the required information. After being kept in waiting for a long time, the Line Department denied to provide information. They rather referred to the political agent of the concerned agency. Orakzai says access to political agent is not an easy task.

Mohmand says that according to Article 19-A of the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, access to information is every citizen’s fundamental right. Nonetheless, the constitution is not applicable in FATA region, rather FCR is the only legal framework available to deal the administration and development activities, therefore FATA people have been deprived of their fundamental rights, including access to information.

Before 2002, the development projects in FATA region were looked after by the Planning and Development Department, however, it was converted into FATA Secretariat in General Pervaiz Musharraf regime.

Similar to Nabi Jan Orakzai, Abdul Haq Afridi from FR Kohat also complains about FATA Secretariat. Afridi was working on a health story and needed access to annual health report of FATA region.

“I was astonished to receive the secretariat’s response, as they categorically mentioned the poor performance of the health department and therefore denied to pass on information for the story”.

While expressing his anger, Afridi says since FATA Secretariat’s performance is zero, therefore they do not have any information to share.

Seconding Afridi’s point of view, Mohmand claims that majority of FATA Secretariat’s employees are inducted on nepotism basis, therefore they are incompetent. He also refers to the Peshawar High Court’s remarks about FATA secretariat where it said that the institution is the most corrupt. However, he expresses his hope that soon FATA reforms package will be approved by the Federal government and FATA people would get rid of this corrupt institution.

On the other hand, Information Director of FATA Eecretariat, Abdul Salam Wazir admits the fact that behavior of some of its staff towards journalists and ordinary citizens seeking information is inappropriate. He, however, defends the reputation of the secretariat and says that all employees are not the same. He also complaints that in several cases, the requesters do not follow the prescribed procedure for obtaining a piece of information, rather they directly would approach the concerned authorities. He says in such cases, it is highly likely that the requester will not be given access to the required information. Wazir says the secretariat has its own standing operating procedures (SOPs) and according to them, every request for the information has to be routed through Information Directorate. No department is bound to provide information directly.

Talking about changing the attitudes of FATA Secretariat vis-à-vis right to access information, Mohmand hints about one of the likelihoods that after expansion in the higher judiciary’s jurisdiction to the FATA region, journalists and ordinary citizens would be able to hold the concerned authorities accountable before the court who would have denied the access. He says this will hopefully improve the situation.

Civil Society Activist Kashaf Majeed says, “FATA Secretariat staff would never allow journalists and activities the access to critical information, no matter whatever procedure they followed”. She adds that the only duty their staff does efficiently is to block the public interest information.

Wazir tells in cases where all SOPs are followed and options exhausted, and still the relevant authority denies the access to information, a complaints against him or her can be registered with the governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Additional Chief Secretary. He says, once the allegations against the authority or officer are proven correct, a strict disciplinary action is ensured.

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