The recently-appointed chief commissioner of the Punjab Information Commission Naseer Ahmad Bhutta has resigned from his post.
Mr. Bhutta’s resignation comes only two weeks after his appointment to the post, which had been vacant since April when the previous chief commissioner’s three-year term ended.
The chief commissioner and two commissioners lead the provincial information commission, which primarily serves as the appellate body for Punjab’s right to information law. Citizens who are not provided access to public records or unsatisfied with a government organisation’s response to their information requests can file complaints with the commission. The commission can summon government officials, conduct hearings, issue orders for information provision, and impose fines.
The Punjab government had notified Mr. Bhutta’s new position on October 18. According to Dawn, Mr. Bhutta was previously serving as the additional attorney general of Pakistan and had only quit the attorney general’s office two days before his appointment to the commission. More importantly, Mr. Bhutta is the head of the lawyers forum of the ruling political party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). He also successfully constested for a national assembly seat in the 2008 general elections on a PML-N ticket.
On October 23, Mr. Bhutta’s appointment was challenged in the Lahore High Court. The petitioner argued that Mr. Bhutta was a political appointee. Clause 5, section 7, of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 states that “A commissioner shall not… be connected with any political party….”
Mr. Bhutta resigned from the chief commissioner’s office on November 7, a week before the high court had summoned him to the case hearing.
Ahmad Naeem, the deputy director programs at the Punjab Information Commission, said the chief commissioner had tendered his resignation for “personal reasons.” Mr. Naeem said the commission was now back to its earlier status where it was receiving complaints and appeals from aggrieved citizens but was unable to conduct hearings and enforce its authority on non-compliant government agencies.