Redraft: RTI Commission seeks to bring PHC under its remit | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

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Redraft: RTI Commission seeks to bring PHC under its remit

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: In a bid to expand the jurisdiction of the K-P Right to Information Act, 2013, the RTI Commission has proposed amendments to the law.

A draft of the proposed amendments, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, has been sent to the law department for feedback, RTI Commissioner Professor Kalimullah told The Express Tribune.

“We have sent it to the law department and are awaiting its response,” he added. Though he fears bureaucratic hurdles may delay the passage of the amendments, he said the commission has the full support of the government.

The draft broadens the definition of the “requester” who seeks information from any government body, which may now include the Peshawar High Court.

In the proposed draft of the amendments, subsection V in Section 2 is to be replaced with the words, “Any court financed by the government,” which means the high court has been included in the definition of public body.

The requester will have the right to information from the high court by submitting an application under the RTI Act.

The definition of “requester” has been changed, enabling any legal organisation, registered or incorporated, in Pakistan to seek information under the law. Previously, only a citizen could ask for information under the law, not organisations.

It also proposed amendments to Section 6 of the law that makes a public body liable to designate someone for the post of Public Information Officer (PIO), to whom requests under RTI could be submitted.

The draft now increases the powers of the PIO through addition of subsection IV, where the PIO will be helped to ensure requested information is disbursed efficiently.

At the same time, it provides cover to subsection IV with subsection V, which says the violation of subsection IV will be deemed as willful obstruction under Section 26(3)(b) of the act which empowers the commission to impose a fine of Rs250 per day or a maximum of Rs25,000. These steps are aimed to ensure other officials of the public body cooperate with the PIOs.

The draft suggested a timeframe after which the requester can lodge a complaint if he or she does not receive requested information.

Under Section 11 of the act, the public body has to provide information within 10 working days. In case the information is to be collected from more offices, then the public body can take 10 more working days to answer the queries. If the information is not supplied in the stipulated time, the requester can lodge a complaint with the commission within 30 days.

The draft also proposes mechanism for appointments of commissioners and the chief of information commission in case they retire, stating at no time shall the commission comprise less than two commissioners. In case of expected retirement of any of the two commissioners or the chief of information commission, the commission has to initiate a case to fill the seat within 120 days before the expected vacancy and notify the government.

The government has to fill the vacant seat within 30 days, according to the proposed amendment.

If a seat becomes vacant by chance, the commission shall initiate a case for the filling of the slot within 15 days while the government has to fill it within 120 days.

However, the process is not defined in the existing law so slots can remain vacant and the commission can become dysfunctional for an indefinite period.

The amendments propose if a PIO is fined and the information still remains outstanding, the commission can direct the head of the public body to deliver the information within 20 days of the issuance of the order.

In case the person in charge fails to provide the information, it will be considered an offence under the Section 28 of the act where a person can be fined Rs50,000 or be imprisoned for two years. The amendments also define mechanism for the recovery of the fines, saying they shall be recovered in accordance with the Government Dues Recovery Ordinance, 1962.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly should support amendments proposed by the Right to Information Commission to its law, stated Minister for Local Government Inayatullah Khan. He complained the K-P Ehtesab Commission failed to provide information under the RTI legislation.

Inayatullah was speaking at a seminar titled ‘Implementation of the KP RTI Law; Progress Challenges and The Way Forward’ on Monday.

The amendments are related to the inclusion of the Peshawar High Court in the ambit of the RTI Act, penalties on provision of false information by public bodies and empowerment of public information officers (PIO). The minister stated repeated notices were sent to the federal government by the K-P government, but the RTI law has still not extended to the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata).

K-P Chief Information Commissioner Sahibzada Khalid told participants three generations of public servants served under the Official Secrets Act. “Suddenly, the things took a turn and disclosure of information is now considered mandatory,” he said.

He said K-P Ehtesab Commission refused to provide information on a notice sent by the information commission and the complaint is still pending.

K-P Information Commissioner Justice (retd) Abdul Mateen shared if the K-P Assembly approved the amendments, senior officials would not be able to compel PIOs to withhold information.

RTI Commissioner Kalimullah said the main challenge in implementation was maintenance and indexing of records by public bodies. In many cases, the record was so poorly maintained PIOs could not provide information even if they wanted to.

CGPA Executive Director Muhammad Anwar presented a brief analysis of complaints received by the information commission. He stated out of 1,595 complaints, 373 (23%) were related to the education sector.

Express Tribune

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