Sindh governor approves Right to Information bill
Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair on Monday signed into law the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Law 2016 that was passed by the provincial assembly last month.
On March 13, the assembly had unanimously passed into law the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill-2016 that would build a proper mechanism with defined timelines for citizens to get information related to any public authority in the province. The law also proposes a system of penal action against an official withholding or obstructing due release of such information, barring it to become public property.
A number of concerned sections of society, including journalists, media organisations, civil society activists and NGOs, had been eagerly awaiting the introduction and passage of the right to information bill by the Sindh Assembly.
The legislature adopted the bill in the light of a report of a 14-member select committee of the house. The legislation was referred to the body on November 23 last year for considering it clause by clause as well as proposing amendments. After incorporating the amendments proposed by the select committee, the final draft introduces the proposed law “as a bill to provide for promoting transparency in the working of every public authority by setting out a practical regime for every citizen to secure access to information in a rapid and low-cost manner under the control of public authorities”. It also envisages forming a Sindh Information Commission to achieve the aims and objectives of the law.
The bill defines “information” as any datum held by a public body and includes any memo, book, design, contract, representation, pamphlet, brochure, order, notification, document, plan, letter, report, accounts statement, project proposal, photograph, audio, video, drawing, film, electronically prepared instrument, machine-readable document and other documentary material, regardless of its physical form or characteristics.
The legislation defines “public body” as a department, attached department, or autonomous or semi-autonomous body of the government, or a company of the government or a special institution created by the government. The local government, secretariats of the Sindh governor or chief minister, the Sindh Assembly, any court, tribunal, office, board, commission, council or any other body functioning in the province also comes under the definition.
The draft states that every public body should disseminate information as widely as possible and wherever possible, including on the internet, so that all the citizens could have easy access to them. “Every public body, within a period of 45 days from the commencement of this Act, should designate and notify any appropriate number of officers to act and serve as a designated officer(s) not below the grade of BPS-16 with whom the request for information under this Act many be lodged.”
The designated official will be bound to respond to each application as soon as possible, but not take more than 15 working days. In case the required information is not readily available, the designated official will intimate the applicant and take another 10 working days for responding to the application. However, information needed to protect the life or liberty of any individual should be provided within two working days. The section dealing with complaints reads: “Anyone who believes that his request has not been dealt in accordance with the provisions of this Act has the right to lodge a complaint with the [Information] Commission.” The commission will decide every complaint within 45 days.
A designated official or public body could refuse an application for access to information if they believe the disclosure could cause harm to sovereignty and national integrity, including national defence, security, public, order and international relations. Further sub-sections provide a number of other conditions, including affecting the private sector’s interests or fundamental rights of a citizen, or revealing the identity of a confidential source.
The bill says the government will, within a period of 100 days from the commencement of the Act, establish an information commission to be known as the Sindh Information Commission. The body will comprise three members appointed by the government and will be headed by the chief information commissioner, who should be a retired senior government servant not below the rank of grade 20.