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Civil society reacts to PTI govt’s move to amend KP RTI law

By Our Correspondent
February 28, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Civil society on Tuesday reacted strongly to the amendments proposed in KP Right to Information Act 2013 by ruling Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) claiming that proposed amendments are regressive and will seriously undermine the efficiency of the law. Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI), a group of 55 civil society organisations working towards the enactment and implementation of right to information laws in Pakistan, strongly opposes the amendments proposed in KP RTI Act 2013.

In a statement issued on Monday, CRTI maintains that KP RTI Act 2013, in its current shape, is one of the effective and well implemented RTI laws in Pakistan but the PTI led provincial government is bringing back old colonial mindset again into play by making the process of getting information from public bodies more difficult.

While condemning the proposed amendment in Section 7 (5) of existing act where citizens would now be required to establish a clear link of requested information with public importance, Amer Ejaz, Executive Director, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), opined that a requester must be able to access information without providing any reason because the information held by public departments belongs to the public- the taxpayers and public departments are only custodians of this information. It is the fundamental right of the citizens to access all the information held by public departments. This will also discourage the citizens to use RTI as a tool for solving their service delivery issues. They are making KP RTI Act 2013 dubious like Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 that is against the earlier commitments of PTI.

He added, putting internal communication into category of exemptions (section 18A) merely denounces the essence of transparency, openness and citizen participation in government affairs. Moreover the timeline of responding information request has also been increased from 10 days to 30 days where Public Information Officer will first seek permission from in-charge of Public body before providing information to a requester.

This specific amendment will altogether kill the concept of designation of Public Information Officer and will make every information request as a routine official correspondence where files takes days to travel from one step to other. The amendment bill, if passed, will weaken the KP RTI Act 2013 and curtail the public path to access information and decrease its overall ranking among RTI legislation in Pakistan and worldwide.

Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director IRADA said the concept of RTI is intrinsic to a transparent and responsive government. Any attempt to dilute the citizens' right to information by watering down some provisions of the law, as is being done by the KP government, is tantamount to curbing the undiluted fundamental right to information as enshrined in Article 19-A of the Constitution of Pakistan.

Arshad Rizvi, Manager Operations Society for Alternative Media and Research (SAMAR) while criticising the ruling party in KP said that with such restrictive and regressive proposed amendments, we can only dream of open and transparent Pakistan. Amendments are disappointing and purely undemocratic which abduct the people right to access information.

Ms. Nighat Dad, Executive Director Digital Rights Foundation, also joined the condemning voices and added the proposed amendments are set-back for right to information in Pakistan. While reviewing the legal framework of the amendment bill, she remarked that proposed insertions will only serve to weaken the ambit of the existing KP RTI Act and rig the field against the public's right to information.