PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court has directed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to complete within 30 days the appointment process of two information commissioners under the right to information law.

A bench consisting of Justice Syed Mohammad Attique Shah and Justice Shakeel Ahmad directed assistant advocate general Bilal Khan and a deputy secretary of the information department, Sajid Nawaz, to submit a report to the court after completion of the appointment process.

The bench directed the AAG to appear in person on next date, to be fixed later, to assist the court on the matter.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by former information commissioner of Punjab Mukhtar Ahmad Ali for speeding up the process to fill the two vacancies of members/information commissioners of the right to information commission.

Asks assistant advocate general to assist court on the matter

The petitioner, who is the executive director of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives(CPDI), has sought the court’s orders for the government to expedite the appointment of those information commissioners in accordance with Section 24(4) of the KP Right to Information Act, 2013.

He requested the bench to declare the failure to appoint the information commissioners and the resulting incomplete status of the KP Information Commission a breach of the statutory duty on part of authorities and a violation of the KPRTI Act and Article 19-A of the Constitution.

The lone respondent in the petition is the KP government through its chief secretary.

During hearing on April 24, the court had directed AAG Bilal Khan to get information from the chief secretary about the appointment of the members/information commissioner of the Right to Information Commission and produce it on the next hearing.

The deputy secretary information department, Sajid Nawaz, sought time for completion of the process of appointment of two members/ information commissioners.

The bench directed him to complete the process within 30 days.

The petitioner said that for over 20 years, he had been actively advocating for people’s right to information.

He contended that the right to information had been people’s fundamental right since 2010 when Article 19-A was inserted in the Constitution, providing every citizen with the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

The petitioner said the KP RTI Act was notified on Nov 5, 2013, while the KP Information Commission was established in 2013. He said the provincial government had appointed Farah Hamid Khan as the chief information commissioner on July 15, 2022.

Mr Mukhtar said that the posts of two information commissioners had been lying vacant since Nov 18, 2019, and July 14, 2022.

Referring to different provisions of the law, the petitioner said that the right to information commission was designated as the key entity responsible for adjudicating on matters related to people’s right to access information held by public bodies.

He pointed out that through multiple letters and public statements, he had repeatedly urged the KP government and other senior office holders to appoint two information commissioners, but in vain.

The petitioner contended that the failure of authorities to appoint two members led to an incomplete information commission in the province.

He added that deficiency had led to the backlog of 1,567 complaints filed by people against public bodies, as per the data that was available on the website of the commission on Feb 19, 2024.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2024

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