No exemptions: Reservations resurface over amendments in RTI law

Published: July 25, 2015
Activists, international organisations object to exclusion of K-P Assembly, PHC. PHOTO: FILE

Activists, international organisations object to exclusion of K-P Assembly, PHC. PHOTO: FILE

PESHAWAR: The exemption of the provincial assembly, its members and Peshawar High Court from the Right to Information law has not gone down well as objections are being raised on the move.

At a news conference in Peshawar Press Club on Friday, Coalition for Right to Information (CRTI) Coordinator Zahid Abdullah raised reservations regarding the amendments made to the RTI law. CRTI is a network of 30 civil society organisations working to protect and promote citizens’ right to information in the country.

Abdullah also presented a charter of demands, asking the government to withdraw amendments in RTI Act 2013 and to bring the provincial assembly and PHC within the ambit of the act. He added PHC should be made a forum for appeal against the decisions of K-P Information Commission. Abdullah also asked for the immediate extension of the RTI law to Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata).

Centre for Governance and Public Accountability Executive Director Anwar Khan also lamented the fact that the K-P Assembly exempted itself from the purview of the law without seeking inputs from civil society groups. However, he added, the lower judiciary—the district and sessions court—as well as the K-P Assembly can reverse the amendment.

Letter of concern

An international organisation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), based in New Delhi, London and Accra, sent a letter to RTI Commission, calling the decision a breach of Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan. The article 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.

CHRI’s letter further read that the move to exempt the assembly members from being answerable to the public is an offence under Section 28(1) of the RTI act that says it is a criminal offence to wilfully block access to any record with a view to prevent the exercise of a right provided for in the law. This offence, added the letter, should be tried in constitutional courts.

“Unfortunately, the governor also agreed to these amendments without adequately reflecting on the grave implications of the changes,” CRHI stated in the letter.

The organisation has demanded the superior courts strike down the changes as they violate rights central to participatory democracy.

An official of the RTI commission who did not wish to be named said the government was apparently regretting its decision of forming the commission. “The government introduced changes hastily after information was sought regarding recruitments done by some ministers in violations of rules and regulations and without advertisements,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2015. 

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