Monday June 17, 2024

Citizens in merged districts get right to access data held by depts

By Riaz Khan Daudzai
April 17, 2019

PESHAWAR: The people of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have got the right to access information, documents and records held by the government departments and public bodies operating in the merged districts.

The provincial government has started enforcement of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013 in the former tribal areas previously administered by both the federal and provincial governments.

It has directed all the commissioners and deputy commissioners in the merged districts through the Information Department to ensure measures for the implementation of the RTI law in these areas.

Earlier, the people of both the ex-Fata, consisted of seven tribal agencies and six Frontier Regions (FRs) and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) in Malakand division, along with other undeniable basic human rights, were not entitled to the right to access information as envisaged in the RTI Act.

However, the tribal people were bestowed with the right to know by the 25th Constitutional Amendment, which has not only changed the status of these areas, but also changed the rights and civil liberties landscape of the tribal areas that were once universally-known for being governed under a "draconian legal tool" of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

After the enactment of the 25th Amendment, the jurisdiction of the RTI Act has been extended to the former Fata and Pata that authorized the people of these area to access information, documents and records held by the government department, autonomous bodies, commissions and civil society organizations receiving government funds or grants in the former tribal areas.

The Information Department through a letter directed the authorities in the merged and ex-Pata districts that consequent to the enactment of the Constitutional 25th Amendment all laws immediately enforced in the province stand extended to erstwhile Fata and Pata as well.

It said that being a policy matter the chief minister has approved a summary to ensure implementation of the RTI Act in the merged districts and as the first step towards its implementation the nomination of Public Information Officers (PIOs) by public bodies under section 6 of Khyber RTI Act 2013 to should be ensured.

It directed all heads of the public bodies in the concerned districts to nominate and notify officers to act as PIOs with whom requests for information would be filed by citizens. And in case, no such official is nominated by a public body the head of that public body will be presumed to be its PIO.

Niaz Mohmand, a businessman from Mohmand district, viewed that the implementation of RTI in the ex-Fata and Pata would change the mindset of both tribal people as well as the government officials. It would altogether change the governance model in the merged districts, he exclaimed.

"Asking questions and seeking information from the bureaucracy and officials of the autonomous bodies and even government-funded non-governmental organizations was considered biggest of the crimes in our agency (former tribal agency), under the Colonial-era FCR, but now we will exercise our right to know and access the information we need," he said.

The RTI implementation would bring transparency to the functioning of the public bodies in the ex-tribal areas, which is pivotal to the mainstreaming of these areas, an official of the Local Government Department, who wished not to be named, said.

He said that it might also ensure the transparent utilization of Rs100 billion annual development expenditures during the course of the implementation of the 10-year development plan devised for these districts.