ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly continued to suffer lawmakers’ apathy for a second consecutive day on Wednesday, forcing adjournment of the proceedings for lack of quorum.
Lawmaker Sajid Nawaz pointed out the quorum as the main opposition parties – the PPP and PTI – staged a walkout from the National Assembly for not being allowed a debate on ‘The Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017’.
Both parties raised objections to some clauses of the bill before staging a protest against the ‘attitude’ of the deputy speaker. They did not return to the House until the sitting was adjourned.
Earlier, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said that the adoption of the bill should be delayed for at least a day, enabling lawmakers to express their views.
However, federal Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid said that the Senate had already passed the bill and the National Assembly’s Standing Committee had also unanimously approved it.
PTI’s chief whip in the National Assembly Dr Shireen Mazari objected to Clause 7 of the bill and said that a discussion should again be held on the bill. Mazari believed information should be available on defence budget, and National Security Council meetings should also be accessible “to some extent”.
PPP’s Shazia Marri raised objection to Clause 222(d) of the bill and said that the proposed fine of just Rs50,000 in case of destruction of record of any public department was insignificant.
Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Marriyum Aurangzeb informed the House that the bill also dealt with the issue of destruction of record of public institutions after some legislators raised the issue of destruction of record during the Awami Markaz fire in Islamabad.
She said that the bill had been drafted after going through similar legislations done by Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Under the ‘Right of Access to Information Bill, 2017’, official record of armed forces, defence installations, details of individuals’ bank accounts and minutes of meetings will not be accessible till a final decision by the public body. But information regarding defence-related commercial and welfare activities can be accessed.
Any citizen can seek information regarding public offices by paying a minimal amount. The principal officer in these departments will have to provide the applicant with relevant information within three to 10 days.
The time limit may be extended by a maximum of 10 working days when the request required a search through a huge number of records or records located in different offices, or consultation was required with third parties or other public bodies.
In case of non-availability of information, the officer will have to justify his act in writing, clearly stating how national security considerations outweighed public interest. The applicant will still have the right of appeal.
An applicant, who is not satisfied by the decision of designated officer, can file an appeal within 30 days. Information commissioners will then be appointed in all public bodies to address these appeals.
During the sitting, the House passed ‘The National Commission on the Rights of the Child Bill, 2017’.
Members of the PPP and the PTI also raised objections, but the House passed the bill with a majority vote.