Right to Information Bill, 2016: Parliamentary panel decides to drop clause for ‘whistle-blowers’
ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel on Tuesday revisited ‘The Right to Information Bill, 2016’ and decided unanimously to drop the clause for “whistle-blowers” from the bill.
The meeting of Senate Select Committee on ‘The Right to Information Bill, 2016’ was chaired by Senator Farhatullah Babar. The meeting discussed the advantages and disadvantages of such a clause and reached the conclusion there was no need to include it in the bill.
The Senate committee earlier passed the Bill on 14th February last.
Though it was one of the agendas in different meetings of Senate committee, the final draft of bill excluded the whistleblower clause.
The issue was pointed out by Chairman of the committee, Senator Farhatullah Babar who wanted to include the whistleblower clauses but after getting the input from the members and State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb, it was decided not to include whistleblower clause in the bill.
According to the bill: the government documents will be automatically declassified after 25 years; Information Commission having three members will be established and members will be a retired judge, a retired bureaucrat and a representative of civil society; though the prime minister will nominate the members, he/she can not remove them; the tenure of members will be four years; letters carrying title of ‘secret’ will also be made public; information regarding missing persons will have to be given within three days; and even a person can get footage of CCTV cameras of public places.
Moreover to get information from armed forces, Johannesburg Principle will be applied. The Johannesburg Principle says the information related to national security can be restricted but it can not be stopped if issues of corruption and human rights are involved.
However the chairman also distributed draft containing recommendations of committee which contained the word “whistleblower”.
Babar sought opinion if a passed bill can be discussed and he was informed that as the bill was not tabled in the House, so it can be discussed again.
“The whistleblower, who can only be from the department, should be protected as if someone tries to discard the information, only people from within the departments can inform about it. We have a number of examples in which information was discarded willingly. A whistleblower should be protected because otherwise he will not be able to expose that information is destroyed,” he said.
He said that as Information Commission will be authorised to punish the person involved in wilful distraction of information, it can be included if whistleblower fails to prove his/her allegation, action can be taken against him/her.
Aurangzeb said that whistleblower clause should not be included in the draft because any person in the organisation can allege that information is destroyed and the officer, responsible for protection of information, will be responsible to prove that allegation was wrong.
Senator Rubina Khalid said that she believes that in case of any incident, people will start litigation against one another.
“I think we have history of creating troubles for one another so the whistleblower clause should not be included,” she said.
An official from Law Division also said that there is no need for the whistleblower as there is already a law under which action can be taken against the person who discards the information.
Former Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that the inclusion of whistleblower clause will push the committee far from achieving the goals.
“Bill is about getting information and it should remain limited to it. If information is discarded, the Information Commission can take action. It will start new litigations,” he said.
After getting input from the members, Senator Babar said that Aurangzab has done magic and as all the members are against the inclusion of whistleblower, so it will not be included.
The bill will be submitted in the Parliament for the voting.