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KARACHI: The provincial assembly on Monday carried The Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill, 2016, as amended by a select committee comprising 10 lawmakers belonging to all parliamentary parties in the house, providing transparency and access to information to every citizen in matters of public importance.

The assembly also constituted a body to monitor the performance of K-Electric and question its management about ‘fleecing’ people by not installing ‘Time of Usage’ (ToU) meters for billing and similar other complaints.

The report of the Sindh Transparency and Right to Information Bill, 2016, was presented in the house by chairman of the 10-member committee, Senior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Nisar Ahmad Khuhro.

The bill — which will become an act with its assent by the governor — will repeal The Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006. The act will provide every citizen transparency and access to information under Article 19-A of the Constitution in all matters of public importance, which are essential principles of democracy. This will not only enable the populace to hold the government and its institutions accountable but also help in improving the system of governance.

Speaking on the general principles before its consideration clause by clause, Mr Khuhro termed it a historic measure by the assembly that, besides providing access to information to a common man, will also contribute towards good governance and elimination of corruption. According to the bill, if any officer fails to provide information in a given period, he or she could be given punishment of imprisonment and fine.

He said the committee, before finalising the bill, had held a number of meetings and gone through similar laws as prepared by other provinces. The government — which is often accused of bad governance, corruption and violation of laws — after the adoption of the law would be accountable to every citizen.

MQM parliamentary leader Syed Sardar Ahmad and PTI lawmaker Samar Ali Khan praised the senior minister for accommodating all positive suggestions to make the law effective, as well as the contribution of Dr Hasan Raza Gardezi of NGO Shehri.

Under the law, if the officer failed to respond to the applicant within 15 days and after informing the applicant of the delay could take another 10 days for providing information. But refusing information with mala fide intention or providing misleading information could lead to a fine of up to 10 per cent of the officer in question’s basic pay.

After the commencement of the act, the government would establish a Sindh Information Commission within 100 days.

KE monitoring body

Meanwhile, Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, who called the house to order at 11.10am, constituted the Coordination Committee to Monitor and Implement K-Electric issues, comprising representatives of every parliamentary party in the house.

The step was taken on the motion by Senior Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Nisar Khuhro who recalled that a few days back one of the members had complained against KE for violating Nepra’s directive by not installing ToU meters across the metropolis for billing as per ToU tariff. KE was charging peak hours’ rate and thus ‘fleecing’ people, the lawmaker said.

Mr Khuhro said the house represented the people and as such if lawmakers could monitor performance of schools, prisons and hospitals, why could they not inspect KE’s performance. It is the privilege of lawmakers to question the KE management regarding public complaints and its performance.

The minister suggested that the names of Javed Nagori, Sajid Jokhio and Shaheena of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Saifuddin Khalid and Nishat Mohammad Zia of the MQM, Shaharyar Mahar Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional and Sorath Thebo of PML-N, and Khurram Sherzaman of the PTI for the proposed committee. The terms of reference of the committee could be framed by the committee itself in consultation with the speaker of the assembly. The suggestion was approved and the committee was formed by the chair.

After formation of the committee, the chair entertained points of order from Minister for Minorities Affairs Khattumal Jeewan, Deewan Chand Chawla of the MQM and Pessumal of the PPP who greeted the people of Pakistan in general and the Hindu community living in Sindh in particular on the Holi festival.

The assembly session, which was summoned on March 6 after eight-day proceedings, was prorogued on Monday by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani who, after conclusion of the agenda at 1.45pm, read out the order from Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair to prorogue the house sine die on the completion of business.

Earlier, in response to the call attention notice of MQM lawmaker Kamran Akhtar about allotment of 100-acre land to Haji Adam Jokhio on the basis of a ‘fake’ ledger causing a loss of Rs60 billion to Rs70 billion to the government, Mr Khuhro said the land had been in the possession of Haji Adam Jokhio since 1914-15 inherited from his ancestors, which was cancelled by the Malir deputy commissioner without any legal basis and without any powers, which lay only with a civil court or a member of land utilisation of the Board of Revenue.

Responding to the call attention notice of MQM lawmaker Naheed Begum pertaining to the shortage of lady medico-legal officers in Ghotki, causing fear of loss of evidence in sexual harassment cases, Sindh Health Minister Dr Sikander Mandhro admitted that there was a shortage of doctors at government hospitals and claimed that the government was making all-out efforts to meet the shortfall of 6,000 to 7,000 doctors. But he added that a lady doctor be available at every tehsil headquarters hospital to be able to discharge MLOs’ responsibility in their absence.

Sindh Local Government Minister Jam Khan Shoro in response to the call attention notice of MQM lawmaker Deewan Chand Chawla about sanitation issues of Sukkur informed the house that a foreign-funded programme was being executed by Nespak in Sukkur to lift garbage and his department had no concern with the sanitation problem in that district.

In response to the call attention notice of MQM legislator Syed Nadeem Razi, the local government minister suggested to him to get the number of ADP schemes corrected as ADP No 144 of 2015-16 did not pertain to road construction but to a school, as such the education department could answer his notice.

Ameer Haider Shirazi of the PML-N through his call attention notice drew attention of the house to the closure of over 350 schools in Thatta. Mr Khuhro said it was surprising that the people who had been district nazim for years in Thatta failed to open hundreds of closed schools. However, as far as one school, namely Ibrahim Pitafi school, was concerned, it would be opened soon after filling vacancies of teachers.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2017