For the first time since its formation, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission has fined someone. Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan’s (AWKUM) registrar has been penalised for refusing to provide information about hirings within the varsity and for failing to reply to a show-cause notice.
According to a notification available on the official website of the commission, a fine of Rs25,000 was imposed on Registrar Sher Alam Khan, who is also the public information officer of the varsity, on Wednesday. He was fined for refusing to provide material to Professor Miraj Khan. The latter had asked him about appointments in the varsity.
The notification added the fine was imposed under clause b of sub-section 3 under Section 26 of K-P RTI Act 2013 which states the commission has the power to impose a daily fine of up to Rs250 per day up to a maximum of Rs25,000 on any official who hinders any activity required to be undertaken by the RTI act, including prevention or delay in the disclosure of information to a requester.
Miraj had asked Sher for data on appointments at AWKUM by sending an application to the commission on May 11 but the latter kept silent. Although the commission sent him reminders, he did not respond.
Since the registrar neglected to reply, he was issued a show-cause notice on June 17, to which he also did not respond.
When contacted, Chief Information Commissioner Sahibzada Khalid Khan said, “If the registrar does not pay the fine and refuses to provide the required information, he would be summoned by the court of law and may be imprisoned for a period of up to two years.”
Another member of the commission told The Express Tribune the registrar was deliberately trying to withhold the information and the university even tried to replace him. However, it was after almost three show-cause notices that the commission had to take a practical step to show it had the authority to exercise its power.
The member said there were a few more cases that had a similar problem, adding if the people involved do not provide the required information to the public, cases will remain unresolved.
Varsity under scrutiny
The records of AWKUM are being scrutinised by National Accountability Bureau K-P which is looking into alleged illegal appointments on all ranks in the institute.
On Tuesday, NAB raided the university’s accounts office and seized the data after the administration refused to allow the audit of its expenditures and projects. In addition, the Ehtesab Commission had issued several notices to the university on various dates, asking the administration to provide information regarding hiring done between 2010 and 2014.
Hailing the move
Nevertheless, the decision of the commission was welcomed by social activists who had previously decried the commission of being lenient with0 those who have not been providing the required data.
Centre for Governance and Public Accountability welcomed the decision. In a statement issued, CGPA said Sher “wilfully prevented and delayed the disclosure of information, violating fundamental rights of the public under Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan”.
Article 19-A says every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law. Lauding the move, the NGO added, “This will also send a strong message to public bodies to comply with the provisions of law.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2015.