Greater transparency : Civil society demands removal of offence section from RTI Act

PESHAWAR: The Coalition on Right to Information (CRTI) has expressed reservations over the inclusion of a section about criminal offence in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Right to Information Act 2013.

According to a press release issued by the CRTI on Friday, the organisation welcomed the enacting of the RTI law which acknowledges citizens’ right to access information held by public bodies.

“While it is an effective law which gives easy and cost-effective access to information held by provincial public bodies, K-P lawmakers have unnecessarily included a provision pertaining to punishment for the misuse of information acquired under this law,” stated the press release. Section 28 (2) of the K-P RTI Act 2013 states: “Anyone who commits an offence under sub-section (1), shall be liable to a fine not exceeding Rs50,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.”

The press release further stated, “The CRTI, a coalition of 22 civil society organisations working on RTI, takes strong exception to the insertion of this section on the recommendation of the select committee.”

Right to information laws are essentially about facilitating access to information and do not contain implied threats for the possible misuse of information acquired through the laws, it reads.

Furthermore, the statement adds, the K-P RTI Act 2013 does not include the Peshawar High Court (PHC) within the definition of a public body. This needs to be changed. The PHC chief justice also acts as the administrative head of PHC. In this capacity, he is involved in signing contracts and procuring from public funds, thus citizens have a right to know how these funds are being utilised.

Notwithstanding these two anomalies, the law envisages a strong implementation mechanism in the shape of the K-P Information Commission.

The list of exempted information is narrow and clearly drawn and the provision of harm test will ensure even exempted information will have to be disclosed if its revelation is in the public’s interest, the CRTI stated. “Citizens have a great opportunity to make use of this law as there is no fee required for filing information requests and public bodies are now bound to provide the requested information within 10 working days,” it explained. The CRTI demanded the PHC be brought within the RTI law’s purview and the removal of Section 28 (2) as it might deter citizens from availing it.

“The CRTI also demands the provincial government take steps for the establishment of the K-P Information Commission and to launch awareness campaigns for citizens,” concluded the press release.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2013.

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