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Govt plans to amend RTI law to protect Senate, NA from sharing information with citizen

Islamabad: After citizens exercised their right to get information about affairs of the Senate and National Assembly, the federal government has decided to amend the Right of Access to Information (RTI) Act, 2017.

Under the proposed amendment, the Secretariat of both Upper and Lower houses will be excluded from the list of the public bodies which are bound to share information with citizens under the RTI law.

“In the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 (XXXIV of 2017), in section, sub-section (ix), paragraph (C), shall be omitted,” the proposed amendment states.

However, people from different walks of life have opposed the proposed amendment, saying that the proposed amendment will hamper the effectiveness of this pro-public law. Rights activists and individuals while voicing concerns over the development said they will take up the matter at different forums.

Meanwhile, former senator Farhatullah Babar has also confirmed about the proposed amendment in the RTI law. In a tweet on Friday, Babar revealed that “Five senators have submitted amendments to the right to information law to exempt the National Assembly, Senate and some other institutions from transparency and thus from accountability. It will be taken up on Monday [Oct, 19].” Babar further says everyone includes public, civil society, and political leaders should reject the proposed amendment and lodge their protest.

According to the proposed amendment document available with this correspondent, Secretariat of the Senate, National Assembly are constitutional bodies, like SC which is excluded from the Law, adding that work of the secretariat is not only extremely significant but also highly sensitive. In view of the Constitutional sanctity provided to the secretariat, Senate and the Parliament do not fall under the definition of Public bodies.

It further states that the sanctity granted to the Parliament and its procedure in Article 69 of the Constitution also needs to be taken into account in the matter.

The executive director of Centre for Peace and Development Initiative (CPDI) Mukhtar Ahmad said the proposed amendments are unreasonable, unconstitutional and against the democratic rights of citizens.

Under Article 19-A of the Constitution, only reasonable restrictions can be imposed by law. These are also against the requirements of transparent and accountable governance, which the current government claims to be working for, he said.

Mukhtar Ahmad further said it is a shame that parliamentarians who must be leading by example are trying to exclude themselves from the scope of this important right, which is considered ‘oxygen for democracy ‘.

It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) had recently directed the Senate Secretariat to provide the requested information to a citizen under the RTI law. Furthermore, the secretariat is also directed to take immediate steps to proactively share through the web site all categories of information mentioned in Section 5 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 and submit the compliance report to the commission within given time period.

 

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