PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has decided to extend the three-year tenure of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief information commissioner and information commissioners by one year through legislation.

The proposed amendments to the law for the purpose, which were endorsed by the cabinet lately, will be placed before the provincial assembly for approval.

The documents available with Dawn show that the cabinet was informed that the amendment to the KP Right to Information Commission Act, 2013, was vital for the proper functioning of the RTI.

According to them, the move isin line with the term of the service of the information commissioners as enshrined in the federal RTI law and the provincial whistleblower law, wherein the tenure of the office of information commissioners and their boss was four years.

Draft amendments to law okayed by cabinet

Similarly, the provincial assembly’s standing committee on information, in its meeting in March 2021, had also recommended the extension of the tenure of the chief and members of the RTI commission from the existing three years to four years.

Through another amendment to the law, the commission also allowed companies, organisations and firms to seek information from the government entities. The document said that in a company, organisation, firms’ requests for information, the proposed amendment in Section 2(1) of the act will give legal cover to firms/organisations other than the citizens, because the citizen, defined under the Pakistan Citizenship Act does not covers a company or organisation.

Sub-section 4 has also been added to Section 6 of the act declaring, “The head of public body shall facilitate the public information officer in the discharge of his/her function under the act.”

The documents showed that normally, the autonomous bodies/semi autonomous bodies like universities, statutory bodies and their heads are actually involved in non-dissemination of information. Besides, in these bodies, the PIO was also forbidden to share the information.

In Section 26 of the law, sub-sections (5) and (6) have been inserted to provide for appellate forum against the RTI commission’s decision and for providing for filing a review petition with the commission.

According to the documents, in the existing form of the law, neither an appellate forum is available against RTI decisions nor is any power given to the commission to review the relevant sections of the act.

Besides, the courts of sessions judge, additional sessions judge or senior civil judge is also a public body, so it will be proper either the commission may review its orders or the high court may decide an appeal against the decision of the commission.

The document said the provincial assembly’s standing committee on information department, in a meeting on March 9, 2021, had also recommended the assigning the high court as appellate forum against the decisions of the commission.

Through insertion of two new sub-sections A and B in Section 32, the government will allow the information commission to make regulations and bar of jurisdiction.

Following the insertion of section 32-A in the RTI law, the commission will make procedure for the disposal of the appeals and issue schedule of fees for requests and implementation of relevant sections of the law.

When contacted,executive director of the Centre for Governance and Public Accountability Mohammad Anwar declared most of the RTI law amendments ‘positive’.

He said the tenure of the Pakistan Information Commission’s commissioners was four years and the KP Information Commission had a point to follow it.

Mr Anwar said declaring the high court the appellate forum regarding the decisions of the RTI commission was also a positive step.

He, however, complained about the poor enforcement of the law due to the government’s disinterest.

“One commissioner’s post has been lying vacant for two years,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022

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