LAHORE: The Punjab Information Commission (PIC) has denied the immunity to the Punjab Assembly (PA) from the law on right to information and ordered it to make the details relating to the performance and the funds allocated to the MPAs available on its website for easy access to the common citizens.

The commission passed the order dismissing an application by the public information officer (PIO) of the assembly claiming immunity against the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013.

“We are concerned with a growing trend for quite some time that public bodies established under the Constitution have started claiming immunity from RTI law on the ground that they are constitutional bodies and their rules are also framed in exercise of powers conferred under the Constitution,” observes the PIC comprising Chief Information Commissioner Mahboob Qadir Shah and two information commissioners Shaukat Ali and Dr Arif Mushtaq Chaudhry.

Originally, a journalist from Sahiwal, Sadia Mazhar, had invoked the provisions of the RTI law and sought details about the seven MPAs of her district including their performance in the assembly, funds allocated to them, reimbursements and other allowances claimed by them since 2019.

On her application, the PIC had on Jan 23 ordered the provincial assembly to improve its website making the information regarding the MPAs easily accessible for the citizens.

However, the PIO of the assembly filed an application before the commission claiming immunity from the RTI law. The application argued that since the rules of procedure of the Punjab Assembly 1997 were framed in exercise of powers conferred under the Constitution, therefore, the said rules were supreme and shall take precedence over the right to information law.

Rejecting the argument cited in the application, the commission observes that it is unfortunate that the PIO twisted the constitutional provisions in sharp contradiction to the plain interpretation of the Constitution at the risk of causing damage to the prestige of the Punjab Assembly for the historic legislation to implement fundamental right to information.

The commission also expresses its concern over a private member bill recently introduced in the Senate seeking amendments to the Pakistan Information Act 2017 to exclude the parliament from the definition of public body, thus, immune from the operation of the RTI law.

“In our view, a constitutional body incurs greater responsibility to protect the sanctity of the Constitution than an ordinary public body,” the PIC observes in its order and also adds that the grounds taken to claim “constitutional immunity” amount to subversion of the Constitution and not sustainable in the eye of law.

Dismissing the application of the PA information officer, the commission reiterates its order directing the assembly to improve its website making the information easily accessible.The PIC notes that it shall be appreciated if the task is completed before the next election of the assembly to enable the citizens to reap the fruits of transparency by knowing the performance of their chosen representatives.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2023

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