KP Assembly becomes a ‘sacred cow’

Published June 25, 2015
Asad Qaisar defended the amendment saying the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly had very limited role after delegation of powers to the districts. ─ AFP/File
Asad Qaisar defended the amendment saying the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly had very limited role after delegation of powers to the districts. ─ AFP/File

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly has excluded itself from the purview of the law on right to information, which it had passed in 2013 to ensure transparency and good governance, raising concerns.

Some members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said the amendment moved by the information minister verbally in the house on Tuesday was ostensibly sponsored by Speaker Asad Qaisar.

Sources said the controversial amendment was passed despite opposition by members of the ruling party.

Asad Qaisar defended the amendment saying the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly had very limited role after delegation of powers to the districts.

“The assembly does not get funds for development work and receives budget for running expenditure and therefore, there is no need to keep it within the purview of the RTI act,” he said.

The Right to Information Commission said the amendment was done arbitrarily and that it had not been consulted.

Chief Information Commissioner Sahibzada Mohammad Khalid said three amendments were proposed to the law and that the body didn’t ask for exemption of the assembly.

He said the commission was also against the exclusion of the assembly.

Khalid said a candidate for a vacant position in the provincial assembly had sought some information under the RTI Act but despite being given several notices, the assembly secretariat was reluctant to provide the information to the commission.

Exempts itself from the purview of law on right to information

Official sources said members of the cabinet, including Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, was not in favour of excluding the provincial assembly from the purview of the commission though the treasury came under pressure to include the clause to exempt the assembly from RTI.

“Frankly the government was not in favour of this amendment but the speaker’s chamber had been insisting to do so,” said a member of the cabinet on condition of anonymity.

He said amendment related with the assembly would be withdrawn sooner or later.

“Let Khan sahib (Imran Khan) come from abroad. He will take a final decision in this regard,” he said, adding that the chief minister was not happy with the amendment.

Asad Qaisar however dispelled the impression that he had personal desire to exclude the assembly from the RTI law saying the government had introduced the amendment.

Information minister Mushtaq Ghani had introduced the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act (Amendment), Act 2015 in the assembly on Wednesday to make three slight amendments to the relevant law.

Under Section 24 (4) of the original law, the information commission shall comprise three other members to be known as commissioners.

Through the new amendment, the number of the commissioners was reduced from three to two.

Similarly, the government had suggested amendments to sections 26 and 28 of the law.

However, the information minister verbally included fourth additional amendment in the said bill at the eleventh hour through which the provincial assembly was excluded from the purview of the RTI.

Before its introduction in the assembly, the said amendment bill was presented to the cabinet for approval. Under the RTI Act, except Peshawar High Court, all departments of the provincial government, chief minister secretariat, directorates and subordinate judiciary are bound to provide the sought-after information to ordinary citizens.

The act was introduced to ensure transparency in the affairs of the government.

The sources said the treasury was not supporting the ‘controversial’ amendment but the speaker’s chamber insisted for its inclusion in the bill.

“Even the speaker’s chamber refused to put the bill on the agenda unless the government included the clause about exemption of the assembly in the document,” said another source.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) has deplored the exemption of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly from the purview of the law on right to information.

In a statement, CGPA executive director Mohammad Anwar said not only the exemption of the assembly from the RTI ambit was condemnable but the way the amendment bill was introduced also violated the acceptable norms of lawmaking.

The final version of the bill put for voting has not been provided to anybody, and last minute addition was made to grant exemption to the provincial assembly from RTI law.

He said lawmakers should be questioned on such legislation.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2015

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