Saturday May 18, 2024

KP Assembly speaker has to cut a sorry figure

Amendment to RTI law

By Umar Cheema
June 28, 2015
ISLAMABAD: As Imran Khan has vetoed the controversial amendments in the RTI Act haphazardly voted into law by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, the architect of this failed game plan has now run short of excuses for justifying his ‘tinkering’ with the legislation.
KP Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar was the man behind this move to exempt his domain, the assembly secretariat, from the purview of the RTI Act and would have been the ultimate beneficiary had there been no intervention of the party leadership.
When the PTI chairman rang him for calling into question his act of forcing the government to introduce his dream amendment, Imran not only rebuked Qaiser but also reminded him that it was not his business to dictate to the executive branch about the type of legislation.
Distraught and dejected, Qaiser has since been offering different sets of justifications. In a clarification circulated through the social media, he tried to put ‘things in context’ describing what triggered this amendment. He, however, admitted his mistake while talking to ‘The News’.
“That was a mistake. We are going to rectify it,” he said, also conceding that he was reprimanded by Imran Khan. “We welcome it even if he expresses anger.” Asad tried to establish his credentials by enlisting his good work that includes donating his monthly salary to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. Whether the chief minister and his cabinet also donate their salaries to the SKMCH or not was not in his knowledge. As far as the Asad-sponsored amendment passed on June 23 is concerned, it will be repealed next month when the KP Assembly session starts from July 28.
The PTI chairman’s calling on his provincial government to reverse the legislative amendments designed to exempt the KP Assembly Secretariat from being called into question through the RTI law did not surprise anybody in official circles. “We knew this would happen,” a top functionary told ‘The News’ and explained the reason.
Sources privy to the development say that the controversial amendments regarding the exemption of the Assembly Secretariat was the brainchild of Speaker Asad Qaiser. The Assembly Secretariat had blocked the agenda item relating to some amendments to the RTI Act designed to improve it unless the wish-list of the speaker was incorporated, it has been learnt on good authority.
The lawmakers’ role is also questionable in this regard as the amendments were approved unopposed.
It all started when some draft amendments to RTI Act were included in the agenda after their approval from the cabinet. The changes were aimed at removing the ambiguity about the composition of the information commission, the definition of the commission and to determine the appropriate forum for sentencing the officials defying the directives of the commission. They were vetted by the law ministry and approved by the chief minister and the provincial cabinet.
Since putting on agenda some item is the prerogative of the speaker, efforts were initiated to pressure the government for incorporating amendments proposed by the speaker. Information minister Mushtaq Ghani introduced the proposed amendments that were already routed through proper procedure.
Initially they were put on the agenda while background debate went on regarding the amendments proposed by the Assembly Secretariat. The information minister argued that they could not be incorporated unless wetted by the law ministry and approved by the cabinet.
The Assembly Secretariat countered this proposal by pending the agenda item regarding the already proposed amendments to the RTI Act, saying it could be done once differences over the exemption status of the Assembly Secretariat were ironed out, causing frustration among the officials of the information ministry who thought that further delay in the proposed amendments would hamper the performance of the information commission.
Finally, the information minister approached the chief minister who allowed him to incorporate the amendments proposed by the Assembly Secretariat but felt they would be short-lived given Imran Khan’s commitment to transparency.
The information minister refused to comment when contacted for his version.Asad Qaisar while admitting that he took up the matter with the information minister conceded that proper procedure was not followed that included vetting from the law ministry and approval from the cabinet. He also acknowledged that the amendments proposed by the Assembly Secretariat were incorporated at the eleventh hour. Asad said he had clarified his position to Imran Khan.