Lahore: The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) strongly condemns the unlawful removal of Chief Information Commissioner Mehboob Qadir Shah and Information Commissioners Dr. Arif Mushtaq and Chaudhary Shaukat Ali from their positions within the Punjab Information Commission. The removal, executed under section 5(8) of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, through a notification by Punjab Information and Culture department is a matter of grave concern for the promotion of transparency and citizens’ right to access information.
In a press statement, Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director of CPDI, emphasized that the removal of commissioners without providing a reasonable opportunity to explain any alleged misconduct is a direct violation of the provisions outlined in section 8 (sub-sections 9, 10, and 11) of the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. These sections clearly stipulate that the government must provide commissioners the chance to present their positions, and if unsatisfied, may refer the case to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab for an open inquiry by a Special Committee. As the Punjab Assembly is dissolved, in case of such matter the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly shall constitute a special committee and such special committee may exercise the powers of special committee of the Provincial Assembly until the election of the new Provincial Assembly, as mentioned in Section 8 (12) of the Act, he further added.
The Punjab Information Commission plays a crucial role as a statutory and independent body responsible for implementing the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. The removal of information commissioners without adhering to the prescribed procedures poses a significant threat to citizens’ fundamental right of access to information within the province.
Instead of unlawfully removing commissioners, the Punjab Government should initiate the process of appointing new Chief Information Commissioners, as the tenure of the unlawfully removed Chief Information Commissioner is scheduled to be completed in May 2024. This can be achieved by forming a research committee.
CPDI urges the government of Punjab to reconsider its decision, reinstate the commissioners, and adhere to due process in accordance with the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2013. The CPDI calls for the protection of the independence and effectiveness of the Punjab Information Commission in fulfilling its mandate to ensure transparency and uphold citizens’ right to information as guaranteed in Article 19-A of the Constitution.