Progress seen on info rights bills in Punjab, KP

ISLAMABAD: In a heartening development on the political scene, PML-N and PTI have started competing with each other and the all-important Right to Information (RTI) laws are in the final stages both in Punjab and KP.

While Punjab has publicised the draft law in order to seek feedback from public, KP is set to unveil revised draft law within a week. “It is a good omen to see this healthy competition,” said Zahid Abdullah, coordinator of Coalition of RTI who has been consulted by provincial administration in finalising the draft.

The laws drafted by both the provincial governments are considered far better than their previous versions, though there is still room for improvement in both. KP government’s earlier draft passed by the cabinet came under criticism.

It was later revised after getting input from the international and national RTI activists. Zahid Abdullah who was part of consultation told The News that KP government was going to unveil it anytime soon as the suggested changes have been incorporated making it a comprehensive law.

Meanwhile, Punjab administration has tried to outsmart its counterpart in KP by advertising the draft law asking public at large to help in its further improvement before it is tabled in the Punjab Assembly.

Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif had assured while talking to The News before election that RTI legislation would be the first to be approved from the provincial assembly if the PML-N was voted to power. PTI leadership, on the other hand, has also been very determined that an effective RTI law could be a major step for eradicating corruption.

Like KP, Punjab’s previous draft law sparked criticism from the RTI activists as several lacunas existed. The draft advertised has been lauded in general, although more changes have been suggested.

Experts say that Punjab’s draft law has incorporated notable provisions relating pro-active disclosure policy, setting up of the powerful information commission and also the clauses related to the information exempted from disclosure are qualified and precisely defined.

However, they argue, draft should be improved further before passed into the law. Centers for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) and Consumer Watch Pakistan (CWP) issued a statement regarding this and identified the areas that need further improvement.

They have demanded the inclusion of provisions in relation to whistle-blowers and their protection; and that the Information Commission may be given the mandate to decide on any complaints. Laws related o whistle-blowers now exist in many countries and are considered crucial for combating corruption, the statement said.

As the draft law says that the chairman of information commission will be appointed by the chief minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition, CPDI fears this practice may result in a deadlock that has often been noted during appointments at federal level.

In order to avoid this situation, a 3-member committee has been proposed and third member should preferably be the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court or Chairman Punjab Public Service Commission. The final decision should be made with majority vote even if there is not overall consensus, CPDI argues.

It may also be added in the draft law, CPDI states, when chief information commissioner is on leave, has resigned or has been removed, the senior most among the remaining members shall serve as the acting chief information commissioner. In other words, it should be automatic and based on seniority, and not left to the discretion of government, the statement said.

It has also been proposed that a department officer assigned the task of providing information should be fined with confiscation of one-day salary in case of delaying the requested information beyond given time period.

The definition of “Information” should also include the categories of information like agreement, feasibility report, inquiry reports, budget and related documents, minutes of meetings, noting on the file, records of payments, records of procurements, quotations, bills, expense claims, vouchers, reimbursement records, inspection or visit reports and work sheets, CPDI said.

As the draft law has been named as Punjab Right to Information Act 2013, CPDI suggested its name as Right to Information Law as the title of Article 19-A of the Constitution is “Right to Information” and this law should have the same title, as it is meant give effect to Article 19A.

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