Punjab commission for review of laws against right to information

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Information Commission (PIC) has asked the provincial government to review its laws that are in conflict with citizens’ right to information as guaranteed by Article 19-A of the Constitution.

In a recent order, the Punjab Information Commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali directed the provincial secretary Health and his subordinates to take immediate steps to fulfill their responsibilities under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information (RTI) Act 2013.

The government departments have also been directed to amend to review rules procedures, manuals to bring them in conformity with Article 19-A of the Constitution and provisions of the RTI Act.

The decision of the Information Commission was given on a complaint by this correspondent about non-provision of information under the new RTI Act 2013 by the executive district officer (EDO) Health, Khanewal.

The Commission was informed that the EDO had not responded to an application for access to information within the time period specified in the RTI law. The complainant had sought certified information about total number of applications submitted against illegal clinics and medical stores in the district from January 1, 2013 to September 1, 2014. The information request was made on September 2, 2014 but the EDO refused to provide the information citing the Punjab Drugs Rules, 2007, Rule 8 which bars any such information-sharing.

“The Respondent has taken this stance despite the fact that section 24 of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 explicitly and unambiguously states that the provisions of this Act ‘shall take precedence over the provisions of any other law,’” the commission said in its written order.

The Commission also took strong notice of the failure of the EDO in responding in specified time in accordance with Section 10 of the RTI Act 2013.

“The explanation of the Respondent in response to the Commission’s letter doesn’t suggest that the Respondent had made any serious effort to decide the application within 14 working days or to communicate his decision of rejecting the application to the complainant. Hence, the Respondent has acted in violation of explicit provisions, such as section 10, of the Act,” the order further states. “Such careless and negligent attitudes on the part of concerned officers and public bodies are in violation of the letter and spirit of the Act and are not acceptable,” said the commission.

The commission directed the public bodies to take effective and proactive steps to ensure that relevant officers were well-versed with the Act and process and decide the applications for access to information within the prescribed time limits.

“Therefore, the Commission is of the view that provisions in other laws and rules (e.g. Rule 8) that restrict citizens’ access to information cannot be relied upon to refuse disclosure of information sought under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013,” the verdict said.

In fact, the said Rule 8 of the Punjab Drugs Rules 2007, for being in direct contradiction of the explicit provisions of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, has become outdated and redundant, and should no longer be retained or allowed to guide the conduct of inspectors, analysts or other officers in the health department, it adds.

When contacted, the Punjab Information Commissioner Mukhtar Ahmad Ali told The News that currently there were several laws in Punjab which were impeding citizens’ access to information.“The previous legal system is biased against right to information, so we must change the laws to ensure that people have the access to information according to the provisions of the Constitution and RTI Act 2013,” he said.
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