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KP govt plans amend to RTI

By Riaz Khan Daudzai
February 27, 2018

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has decided to amend its much-appreciated Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013 which is feared to render the law stingless besides hampering its ineffectiveness.

The bill seeking amendments to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act 2013 has been approved by Minister in-charge, Shah Farman. It has been submitted to the forum concerned and the provincial assembly is likely to adopt it.

The bill, (the copy available with The News), which would then be called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information (amendment) Act 2018, has proposed eight amendments and insertions to the existing RTI law.

The amendments to Section 7 will substitute sub-section 5 that will bound the citizen seeking information to give a “cogent and sufficient reasons with his request for information supporting his request which should prominently show that the information requested for is one of public importance.” Under Sub-section 5 of the Section 7 of the present Act ‘a requestor in no case is required to provide reasons for his request.”

Similarly, under Section 2 after clause (a) a new clause “(a- 1) will be inserted under which a “citizen” will mean a citizen as defined in the Pakistan Citizenship Act. 1951 (Act No. II of 1951).

After clause (b) of the Section a new clause (f1) is inserted to further define the “malafide” which will now mean “bad faith or a dishonest intention with the object to mislead someone and includes the intention of malicious use of information obtained under this Act”:

Under section 28 of the existing law malafide use of information “with ulterior motives with facile, frivolous design” is already a criminal offence and any one commits this offence is liable to a fine of Rs50,000 and imprisonment of a period not exceeding two years.

The requester will now show that the information he seeks is of “public importance” means and includes anything which directly concerns the public at large or which is in any way of importance to the public.”

Amendment is also proposed to Section 6 and new sub-section is added which will authorise the “Public Information Officer (PIO) to supply all the information held by the public body and the public body shall act in aid to the PIO to ensure in time supply of information under this Act; Provided that the PIO shall obtain prior approval of the in-charge of the public body regarding the supply of information.”

Insertion of new section (18A) after section 18 will empower “A public body to refuse a request for information which pertains to the internal communication of such public body such as note sheets of a case file containing personal views of an officer, routine orders of the competent authority of a public body relating to assignment of a work or distribution of business, etc. if such an information is not of public importance or otherwise serves a public purpose.”.

Similarly, Amendment to section 23 will empower the public body to respond within thirty days on any request while in the section 11 of the existing Act the public information officer has to respond within ten day on any such request.

Muhammad Anwar, Executive Director, Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA), told The News that the proposed amendments are clearly defying the best practices regarding the RTI law, like restraining information based on ‘malafide’ or malicious use of information, or putting the burden on the information requester to prove that the information requested are of ‘public importance’. Furthermore, the information requester now has to show ‘reasons’ for requesting the information. Such bars were put on the information requester under the Federal Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, which were highly criticised for deterring information requesters.

Anwar termed these proposed amendment as serious blow to the KP government’s open and transparent governance, for which the KP government has taken much credit.

However, he added, this is serious blow to the citizens right to access information held by public bodies as well, as per Article 19-A of Constitution of Pakistan.

He demanded that the KP government should approve the KP RTI commission proposed amendment only, without adding restrictions on citizens to access information under the law.