Govt plans to dilute RTI law

Updated 27 Feb 2018

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PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will table an amendment bill in the provincial assembly today (Tuesday) with an aim to dilute the right to information law and make the process of getting information from public bodies more difficult.

The KP Right to Information (amendment) Bill, 2018, was recently approved by the provincial cabinet.

The amendment bill has proposed some radical changes to the law, including increase in exemptions, to give more powers to government functionaries to deny information request.

Thought an amendment to Section 6 of the RTI law, which deals with the public information officer (PIO) at each public body and responsible for sharing information with applicants, prior consent of the head of the public body will be made mandatory for the purpose.

Bill to be tabled in PA today will give govt bodies more powers to deny information to people

“The PIO shall obtain prior approval of the in-charge public body regarding the supply of information,” it said.

The law’s Section 7(5), which provides that an applicant would not be asked to record reasons for making for information request, will be substituted with one asking for ‘cogent and sufficient reasons’ along with the request.

“A requester while applying for information shall provide cogent and sufficient reasons with his request for information under section sub-section (l) supporting his request which should prominently show that the information requested for is one of the public importance,” it reads.

A new section, 18(A), has been added to the law after Section 18, including the public bodies’ internal communication in category of exempted information.

“A public body may refuse a request for information which pertains to internal communication of public body such as note sheets of a case file containing personal views of an officer, routine orders of competent authority of a public body relating to assignment of work or distribution of business etc, if such an information is not of public importance or otherwise serves a public purpose,” it reads.

On the other hand, the KP RTI Commission in a letter issued on Feb 12, 2015, had directed all departments to provide note sheets to the people seeking information.

In the letter, it noted that since the documents were part of part of public record and therefore, the public bodies are bound to provide access to a requester to the said record.

An amendment to section 23 of the act makes it binding on an applicant to file within 30 days. Previously there was no such restriction.

A draft bill to amend the KP RTI Act 2013 had been pending with the law department since Feb 2016. It was meant to further empower the RTI Commission by making the divisional bench of the high court as the appeal court against the decision of the commission, bringing the Peshawar High Court into the ambit of the law, empowering the PIO and specifying the mode of fine’s recovery from government officers denying information.

However, once the bill was cleared by the relevant departments and that, too, after a delay of two years, the government withdrew all provisions meant to empower the RTI Commission and introduced more curbs on the easy access of the people to information.

Mohammad Anwar, executive director for the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability, told Dawn that the proposed amendments would seriously hamper the effectiveness of the law.

He said the proposed amendments exempted the people’s access to internal communications of the government organisations, including note sheets, files containing personal views of an officer, routine orders and documents about the assignment of work or distribution of business.

“The proposed amendments to the RTI law depict the typical colonial mindset, which bars the people from knowing the personal views of an officer about official assignments,” he said, adding that it will make almost every document inaccessible to the people as the government will deny such records by just declaring that ‘the file has personal views of an officer’.

Mr Anwar termed the proposed amendments a serious blow to the transparency of matters on governance as well as to the people’s right to access to information of public bodies as well in line with Article 19-A of the Constitution.

Information minister Shah Farman was not available for comments.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2018