PESHAWAR: The changes proposed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013 – aimed at removing its shortcomings – have been bouncing back and forth between the law department and the commission concerned for the past two years.
In February last year, the changes proposed in the act were sent to the provincial law department for vetting, which returned it to the commission, asking it to redraft the amendments. Since then, the draft has been rebounding between the two, while both blame each another for the delay.
Chief RTI commissioner Azmat Hanif Orakzai accused the K-P law department of raising unnecessary objections to the draft, while officials of the law department contended that the commission itself was responsible for the delay.
“We asked them to redraft the amendments and they sent the draft back after seven months without any change at all,” said a law department official requesting anonymity.
Last week, two meetings were held in which officials of the law department, the RTI commission, the K-P information department and other departments concerned took part.
The commission insists that it cannot formulate regulations until proposed amendments are incorporated in the law because the existing law is silent on the commission’s powers regarding regulating itself.
“Without self-regulating powers, we cannot make the service structure governing our staff,” said RTI Commissioner Mah Talat.
At present, the law also lacks a mechanism for extracting information from a public body. Under the law, whenever an individual is denied information by the Public Information Officer (PIO), the commission fines the PIO for this act.
Similarly, the act does not specify the appellate jurisdiction to which a person aggrieved by the RTI commission can approach.
Currently, the commission imposed fines on 10 PIOs, in separate cases, who approached various courts against its decisions.
In the proposed draft, the appellate jurisdiction was given to the Peshawar High Court. But last week, officials of the law department suggested establishing a services tribunal as the appellate authority whose decision will be final.
Talat said that the mechanism for establishing the services tribunal was yet to be determined. “The law department says that the high court is already overburdened and this is why they suggested an independent services tribunal,” she said.
The act also lacked mechanism for imposing fines. The proposed draft stated that fines “shall be deducted from salaries of PIOs in accordance with the Government Dues Recovery Ordinance of 1962”.
According to Talat, the law department is against the at-source deduction of Rs25,000 fine imposed on the employees and suggested that it should be deducted in instalments since the PIOs and their families are dependent on salaries.
An official present in the meetings told The Express Tribune that the law department officials also suggested adding the Note Part to the exemption section.
“Note Part should not be allowed to be sought under the law as it includes the internal deliberations between officials and they are not final, so they should not be allowed,” said the official, adding that the law department also suggested adding the expression “public interest,” to the section under which the information seeker asked for the information.
They said that the information should be asked in public interest not for any mala fide intentions, according to the official. The law department also suggested adding the disclosure of the reasons by the information seeker in the application for which he/she is taking the information; and participants of the meetings, including the commission representatives, agreed to that.
Talat, however, said they would take their decision on the suggestions of the law department on getting the draft back from the law department after changes. “We will examine the changes and will then send our reply,” she said.