December 12, 2019

Minister Takes Back KP RTI Amendents Bill; Commission Calls For Review

Islamabad — The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Minister of Information Shah Farman, who signed the controversial bill seeking amendments in the provincial Right to Information (RTI) law, has said he will not introduce the bill to the provincial assembly.

The amendment bill was put on the assembly’s legislative agenda for Tuesday but was not introduced for debate and voting. It has since been taken off the current business list, according to the assembly website.

The bill contained amendments that would allow government officials broad powers to deny information requests. The amendments, approved by the KP cabinet in January, would also put the burden on citizens to prove their information requests are not malafide.

According to a Daily Express news report, Mr. Farman said he was unaware of some of the changes proposed in the amendments bill. The draft bill, available on the KP provincial assembly website, clearly carries Mr. Farman’s signature.

The news report quoted Mr. Farman as saying he will not introduce the amendment bill to the assembly. Instead, Mr. Farman said, he would raise the issue of the amendments in the cabinet so it can be identified who is responsible for pushing through these amendments in the RTI law.

The minister also issued the same statement on a talk show on Royal News.

The KP RTI Commission, the statutory appellate body tasked with ensuring effective implementation of the RTI law, has also asked for a review of the amendment bill, according to a news report.

The commission, which appeared to have been sidelined by the provincial information department and the law department in drafting the amendments, informed the information minister and the chief secretary of its reservations in a letter.

The news report stated that the letter, written by Chief Information Commissioner, told the minister and chief secretary that the proposed amendments are against the spirit of the RTI law and will weaken the law.

The Coalition on Right to Information, a collective of over 50 civil society organisations, strongly opposed the amendments on Tuesday when information surfaced that the provincial government might swiftly move ahead with passing the regressive amendments to the law.

The KP RTI law, enacted in 2013, is considered one of the strongest access to information legislations in the world and currently does not require requesters to disclose why they are requesting certain public records from the government departments. It also does not exempt currently government officials from providing file notings, personal views and case files on routine matters except where such disclosure could limit ongoing policy discussions.


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