Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude

Dilemma of an Executive Engineer PIO

You are an executive engineer in a government department who is in charge of the construction of a national highway. You are an upright officer and have never followed any corrupt practice in your life. However, you have always been an obedient subordinate who follows the directions of your superiors.
In one case, you are asked by your chief engineer to award the tender of road construction to the son of a minister who has been putting a lot of pressure on him. You awarded the tender without following the rules and procedures because you could not say no to your boss.
You have recently been appointed as the Public Information Officer (PIO) of your department. One day, you receive an application from an RTI activist, who is seeking information relating to all the tender approvals made by you in the last five years. You know that if the RTI activist gets this information, you may be in serious trouble.
What should you do in this case?
1. Refuse to supply any information under RTI.
2. Supply all details except the information of the file of the wrong tender.
3. Discuss the issue with your chief engineer and seek his advice and approval.
4. Any other option. Please justify the action.
There are well-laid procedures for awarding tenders in every government department. Any violation of the procedure while awarding the tender is irregular, which may invite vigilance proceedings and action under Prevention of Corruption Act.
While a government officer is expected to follow his superior’s order, he is not obliged to follow the illegal orders of his superiors, particularly if they are oral. It is also provided in the ‘conduct rules’ that all oral orders should be reproduced in writing as soon as possible. All decisions taken by the government officers should be recorded in files which remain with the department even when the officer is transferred or retired. Hence, the illegal actions of government officials follow them for several years after the work is done.
Let us now discuss various options in this case.
1. A PIO is duty-bound to supply correct information according to law. Supply of information about the tenders is not covered under any exclusion clause provided in the RTI Act. Hence, non-supply of information may invite personal penalty under RTI and departmental action against the officer. Therefore, this is not the right option.
2. It is the duty of the PIO to supply full and correct information. Deliberate exclusion on a specific tender may prove his mala fide and invite corruption proceedings besides penalty under RTI Act. Such a deliberate omission can be used as an evidence against him. Moreover, the RTI activist may file a fresh petition or approach the Appellate authority to force the PIO to supply the specific document. Hence, this is also not the right option.
3. A PIO may discuss the matter with anyone, but he is solely responsible for supplying the information. Government procedures often provide discretionary powers to the head of a department—like a chief engineer—to award the tender to other bidders in special circumstances on merit. If the tender was valid on merit and violation was only in procedures, it can be regularised by the Chief Engineer. This option may be explored.
4. The officer must supply full and correct information. If an enquiry is ordered based on the RTI and the matter is investigated, he must give a true statement during enquiry. As the officer has always been an upright officer, a minor penalty—including a warning—may be issued against him for the violation of the procedures, which may have no long-term implications. This is the best option.
Dilemma of an Executive Engineer PIO
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