Rights activists criticise proposed amendments to RTI law
ISLAMABAD – Rights activists have criticised proposed amendments to the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 that has been moved yet again as a private member’s bill in the Senate which elapsed a couple of times earlier. They say the amendment would limit the scope of the right to information law by excluding Parliament from the definition of public bodies, which are bound to provide information to citizens.
According to the notice issued by the Secretary, Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, the Right of Access to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has been moved by Senator Walid Iqbal, (PTI) and Senator Manzoor Ahmed, (BAP) will is included in the agenda for the committee meeting to be held on February 06, 2023 at 11:30 am. The bill, which has been included in the agenda for the Senate session scheduled for the coming week, suggests that the public would not be able to seek information from the National Assembly and Senate, including their secretariats, committees and members.
Former Chief Information Commissioner, Pakistan Information Commission, Mohammad Azam said, “It is highly unfortunate that instead of implementing earlier orders of the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) issued against Secretary, Senate Secretariat to disclose information about the recruitments in the Senate of Pakistan, this Private Member Bill is being moved again to take Senate of Pakistan out of the purview of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. This will turn earlier gains of Pakistan Information Commission with regard to ensuring greater participation of citizens in the affairs of governance into irreversible loss.”
The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) Executive Director Mukhtar Ahmad said, “the proposed amendment is discriminatory and is tantamount to blatant violation of Article 19A of the Constitution, which clearly states that only ‘reasonable restrictions’ can be imposed by law on citizens’ constitutional right of access to information in matters of public importance.” He said that it is ironical that parliament which represents the people is being made unanswerable and unaccountable to citizens of Pakistan through the proposed amendment. Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) Executive Director Aftab Alam said that this Private Member Bill must be revoked and scrapped for good. The Senate of Pakistan should set an example for other institutions to follow with regard to disclosure of public information to citizens, both on-demand as well as sharing information in a proactive manner. He said that if parliament is excluded from the right to information (RTI) law, all the constitutional bodies — including the Presidency, Prime Minister’s Office and divisions — will demand blanket exemption under the information law.
The Executive Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability Mohammad Anwar said: “This is a highly retrogressive step as the sanctity of parliament improves, not diminishes, with more openness and transparency.”
Source: The Nation