PESHAWAR: A draft of amendments aimed at further empowering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission (RTIC) has been lying in law department for the last several months.

The draft proposes several changes to address the existing lacunas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013.

However, officials of the law department as well as RTIC are tightlipped about the reason behind the delay in clearing the draft. The draft was sent by RTIC to law department in February this year.

Changes aimed at empowering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Commission

An official at RTIC told Dawn that the draft was sent to law department for vetting and the officials concerned were busy in harping on their views.

He said that RTI Act was aimed at ensuring transparency in the affairs of the government; however, changing mindset of functionaries was an uphill task. He said that the amendments would further empower the commission.

“An important element of the draft is to empower public information officer (PIO) at departmental level; however, administrative secretaries are unlikely to accept it,” said the official.

Another official said that government employees considered RTI Act in conflict with Official Secret Act and Efficiency and Discipline Rules, which shaped the government functionaries mindset during the past many decades. That’s the main reason behind stalling the amendments, he added.

The draft proposes several changes to eight sections of RTI Act. The draft proposes to substitute section 2(V) with “any court financed by government,” from the existing form, where it only covers subordinate judiciary.

It also proposes insertion of new sub-sections 4 and 5 in section 6 to empower the PIO. Sub-section 4 reads, “a PIO, designated under sub-section (1), shall have the authority to supply all the information held by the public body and officials/officers shall act in aid to PIO to ensure in-time supply of information under the Act.” The sub-section 5 says that any violation of sub-section 4, if reported to the RTIC, shall be deemed as willful obstruction under section 26(3) of the Act.

The draft proposes insertion of new sub-sections to the section 24 of the Act to provide mechanism for keeping commission alive in case both of its commissioners complete their tenure and bind the government to fill the vacancies within 120 days.

The sub-section 10 says that RTIC shall initiate a case for filling the expected vacancy due to retirement of an information commissioner, as the case may be, 120 days before the due date and send it to the government, which shall fill the vacancy within 30 days of its occurrence.

While sub-section 11 reads that in case of occurrence of any vacancy otherwise than by retirement, the RTIC shall initiate a case for filling the vacancy within 15 days and the government shall fill the vacancy in 120 days.

As the law does not provide any mechanism for recovery of fines imposed by the RTIC, the draft proposes insertion of sub-section 5 and 6 in its section 26.

The section 6 reads that the fine imposed under sub-section 3(b) shall be recoverable at source from the civil servants and employees of statutory bodies and as recoverable as government dues.

However, a source said that long delay in clearing of the amendments showed that the PTI government was no longer interested in the law. The source said that proposed empowering of PIO and other issues stalled the legislation.

A law department official, when approached for comments, said that they cleared the amendments and it was being reviewed by the high-ups. Provincial government spokesperson Mushtaq Ghani was not available for comments.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2016