Report along with RTI draft bill submitted to Senate | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

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Report along with RTI draft bill submitted to Senate

ISLAMABAD: A report along with the draft of Right to Information (RTI) Bill 2016 was laid in the Senate on Thursday. The RTI Bill is aimed at enabling citizens to access information about federal government departments, Parliament, judiciary and government-funded NGOs as well.

Chairman Special Committee of the Senate on RTI Senator Farhatullah Babar submitted the report along with the draft of RTI law.

“A provision has been incorporated first time to end the practice of seeking blanket immunity from disclosing information in the name of national security,” he said.

Senator Babar said that the underlying principles of the RTI Bill were ensuring maximum disclosure, minimum exemptions, the right to appeal and applicability across the board to all state institutions including even those NGOs who receive government support in any form. He said willful destruction of official record with a view to withholding information from the public has been made a criminal offence carrying a jail term of two years, according to the bill that overrides all other laws and thus the outdated Official Secrets Act of 1923 is made redundant for purpose of withholding information.

“Under the law, reasons will have to be recorded in writing as to how considerations of security outweighed public good and even then it will be challengeable before the Information Commission,” he said, adding that the plea of national security will not apply if the information sought related to corruption or if the life of a citizen was in imminent and real danger.”

He said that information about defence planning, deployment of forces and defence installations and related defence and security matters however will be exempted from disclosure.

He said the Bill also provides for Information Commission for deciding appeals but rejects the notion that its members must be from the judiciary alone. Members of the Information Commission will be appointed by the Prime Minister but he will not be able to do it arbitrarily by picking from any single section of society but will have to select one member each from three distinct areas of society including former civil military bureaucracy, retired judges and civil society organizations. The Prime Minister will also have no powers to dismiss any Commission whose power rests with the Parliament.

He said that questions asked in the Senate during the Musharraf’s rule such as whether inquiry had been held in Kargil, whether defence officers declared their assets to their respective headquarters and whether there is a law under which ISI operated, were not replied on the ground that national security was at risk. “Now such questions cannot be swept under the carpet on the ground of endangering national security,” he said.

Meanwhile, the senate also adopted second interim report of the special committee regarding the overall performance of PIA. Senator Mushahidullah Khan presented the report in the House. In his statement to the House, the senator alleged that political interference, nepotism, bad governance, inefficiency and lack of interest by management were the causes of poor performance of PIA. He cited an example that PIA carrier was impounded by German Government but no efforts were made at any forum for its release or payment. It was parked in a museum of Germany, senator claimed. Rahman Malik recommended to the House to direct an inquiry into the matter as it was a criminal negligence and responsible should be taken to task.

Senator Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah presented the report of the special committee on 24 demands made by the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In his ruling on an adjournment motion, Chairman Senate directed the advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs to remain present in the House on Tuesday to answer questions on the “confession” of Hussain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the USA in his article published in Washington Post on March 10, 2017 regarding facilitating CIA with the approval of the leadership of the ruling party at that time.

Chairman Senate directed the Leader of the Upper House Raja Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq to ensure presence of a minister in the House to respond to the concerns showed by senators relating to ongoing census exercise.

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