PESHAWAR: A draft proposing amendments to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act (RTI) 2013 has yet to be cleared even though it has been with the law department for three months.
Amendments aimed at making the law more result-oriented, expanding its jurisdiction and empowering the commission were sent in February to the law department. However, it has yet to clear the draft to be tabled at K-P Assembly and legislated.
“The amendments empower the public information officer (PIO), but they are being delayed despite getting a nod of approval from Special Assistant to Chief Minister on Information Mushtaq Ghani,” an RTI commissioner, Abdul Mateen, told The Express Tribune.
However, the law department defended the lackadaisical pace, saying its officials had certain objections over the proposed draft which needed to be discussed.
Chief Information Commissioner, KP RTI Commission, Maj (R) Sahibzada Muhammad Khalid Participating in RTI Conference held in Karachi
The draft, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, suggested some changes to the law. These involved including the high court into the remit of the law and broadening the definition of the ‘requester’ who seeks information from any government body.
String of objections
Sub-clause V in Section-2 of the act is to be replaced with the words “any court financed by the government”. This will bring the high court under the ambit of the RTI act. As a result, any citizen of Pakistan can seek information from the entity under this law.
“We have objections over the phrase ‘any court financed by the government’. It can be replaced clearly with the words high court and subordinate judiciary,” said an official of the law department, requesting anonymity.
For Section 6, which makes a public body liable to designate a public information officer (PIO), the draft adds subsections 4 and 5.
“A PIO, designated under Subsection 1, shall have the authority to supply all information held by the public body and other officers shall act in aid to the PIO to ensure in-time supply of information under the act,” states Subsection 4.
It clearly increases the powers of the PIO, who is currently toothless, and can only send reminders to the sections of a public body that has withheld information or deliberately tries to delay provision.
The PIO will not need the approval of his department head to provide the information as he or she will be authorised directly.
The law department, meanwhile, had objections over Section 4.
“You are enabling the PIO to provide information without taking approval from the head of the department which will create problems,” the law department official said. “Certain information is restricted or privileged. This subsection will distort relations between the PIO and the head of his department.”
In case of the expected retirement of any of the two commissioners or chief information commissioner, the body has to start a case to fill the vacant seat 120 days before the expected exit and send it to the government. In turn, the latter must fill the vacant seat within 30 days.
The law department also had objections over Subsection 8 of Section 24. It deals with the removal of a commissioner and his right to appeal such a decision. Currently, Section 8 states the word “courts” where a removed commissioner may appeal. However, the law department wants the word to be replaced with “a division bench” to further specify.
“We also have a suggestion that a commissioner, even after completion of his three-year tenure, shall stay until a successor replaces him.”
By Sohail Khattak Published in The Express Tribune