RTI law to remain toothless as KP Assembly yet to reverse amendments
PESHAWAR: Caring two hoots for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Chairman Imran Khan’s directives, the provincial assembly was adjourned sine die on Thursday without bringing the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013 back to its original position by including the provincial assembly in the ambit of the RTI law.
It is to be mentioned that a private members bill seeking exemption of provincial assembly as public body in the RTI Act was introduced by a PTI member of the provincial assembly Shaukat Ali Yousafzai.
The bill was passed by the provincial legislature on June 23 and became an Act of law on June 30 after the governor returned it with his assent. It put the provincial assembly out of the definition of the public body and no more binding to provide any information or public record to citizens.
The amendments were taken as a deliberate effort to make the law less effective in ensuring good governance in the province as it turned criminal offences of concealing, destroying information and record under the Act as non-cognizable. The major amendments that stunned many in the prov0ince were made to Section 28 of the Act.
Under the Section 28 (1), obstructing access to any record with a view to preventing the exercise of a right under the law and obstructing the performance by a public body of a duty or interfering with the work of the Information Commission or destroying a record without lawful authority were criminal offences.
However, after the insertion of new clause (3) all the offences mentioned in sub-section (1) shall be bailable, non-cognizable and triable by the District and Sessions Judge of the district concerned, on the complaint filed by the Information Commission. It turned around the operation of the RTI law in the province.
Al least one of the amendments, as put in by an official of the RTI Commission on condition of anonymity, regrettably forwarded to the Law Department by the Commission, itself seeks the inclusion of lower judiciary (district and sessions court) as appealing body against its own decisions. “How can a body that comes under the RTI Act be an appealing body as well,” he posed a question.
The official added that the other amendment to the section that exempted the provincial assembly from the definition of the public body has not only perturbed Imran Khan, who directed the provincial government to reverse the amendment, but also emboldened some other public bodies in the province to break off the ambit of the RTI Act.
It even put the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa RTI law behind the Punjab RTI Act where provincial assembly and judiciary are included in its ambit. Even the British parliament is under the domain of the RTI law of that country, the officer said.
He said at least two universities have so far moved the Peshawar High Court (PHC) to seek exemption of the definition of the public body. A provincial anti-corruption watchdog has even turned down the directives of the RTI Commission to name public information officer (PIO) on the plea that the accountability entity is not a public body under the law.
After the well-expressed exasperation of the PTI chief, the matter was put on the agenda of the assembly session that ended on Thursday, but it could not be taken up due the absence of the mover of the bill, MPA Shaukat Yousafzai, who is abroad.
An officer of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Secretariat even doubted the sincerity of the government in bringing the RTI law back to its old position by including provincial assembly as public body. He argued that it (government) should have brought amendments bill as government bill instead of a private member bill if it was serious in reversing the amendments to the law.