Whistleblowers get protection in new KP law

PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Ordinance (RTIO) was unveiled by the provincial government on Sunday.
The ordinance makes it binding upon the government to set up an independent information commission and makes obstruction in access to any record a penal offence punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
The ordinance, promulgated by the governor on Aug 13, was made public at a ceremony attended by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, ministers and MPAs.
For the first time in the country, the law provides protection to “whistleblowers”, stating that no one may be subject to any legal, administrative or employment-related sanction, regardless of any breach of a legal obligation, for releasing information on wrongdoings, or which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, as long as they acted in good faith.
Mr Khan said the RTIO was the most important component of the PTI’s election manifesto and through it the government intended to ensure transparency and accountability in its affairs.
He said other major items on the party’s agenda would also be implemented soon, including setting up of an independent accountability commission for which final touches were being given to a proposed law; introducing a genuine local government system aimed at empowering people at the grassroots level and bringing revolutionary changes in education and heath sectors.
Chief Minister Khattak and Information Secretary Azmat Haneef Orakzai explained the salient features of the ordinance, whose constitutional life was 90 days. After that it would be laid before the provincial assembly for making it an act.
The ordinance envisages establishment, within 120 days, of an information commission to be headed by a retired senior government servant as chief information commissioner and three other members, including a retired judge of the high court to be appointed by its chief justice; a advocate to be appointed by the bar council; and a representative of the civil society to be appointed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Anyone who believes that his request seeking information has not been dealt with in accordance with the law has a right to lodge a complaint with the commission, which shall take a decision within 60 days.
The commission shall have the power to order a public body to disclose information to a requester and to impose a fine of up to Rs250 per day, up to a maximum of Rs25,000 on any official acting willfully to obstruct any activity required to be undertaken under the ordinance.
The law makes it a penal offence if a person willfully obstructs access to any record with a view to preventing the exercise of a right provided for in the ordinance; obstructs the performance by a public body of a duty under this law; destroys a record without lawful authority; or interferes with the work of the information commission. Anyone committing any of these offences shall be liable to a fine of up to Rs5,000 or imprisonment for up to two years.
Although Sindh and Balochistan had introduced a similar law in 2006 and 2005 respectively, experts termed the KP law more progressive since it envisaged the setting up of an information commission. However, Ahmad Bilal Mahboob of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development (PILDAT) and Zahid Abdullah of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives, suggested that the role of the HRCP and the bar council in appointment of members of the commission should be done away with and a committee comprising members of the provincial assembly, from both the treasury and opposition benches, should select its head and other members.

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