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KP Govt's Delay in Filling RTI Commission Vacancies Hampers Access to Information

The commission's responsibility is to enforce the law on access to information for everyone.

by TNN Editor - 03 Aug, 2023 1557
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Laiba Husan

"Under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Right to Information Act, 2013, when the concerned institution does not provide information, a complaint can be submitted to the RTI Commission. However, the commission is also involved in not providing information," said Musarratullah Jan, a journalist from Peshawar.

Jan mentioned that he has been associated with journalism for the last 29 years. He has filed RTIs with the sports department at different times to obtain information about sports funds but has not received any response despite the required time durations passing. "I contacted the KP RTI Commission to file a complaint, but the Commission did not take any action," Jan added.

Musarratullah further emphasized, "The law has unfairly raised the public's hopes, making us feel that we can access information on the government's activities and that this process is a legal right under the Constitution."

Also Read: Opposition Unites to Reject Controversial Official Secrets Act Amendment

According to the data obtained from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Access to Information Commission, from January 2023 to May 2023, a total of 10,814 complaints were received by the commission. Among these, 9,037 complaints have been resolved, while 1,777 complaints are still in the process of being resolved. The commission has closed 84% of the complaints.

Ms. Farah Hamid, the chief information commissioner, stated that "The commission takes strict action on every complaint received, and the concerned institution is either summoned, or their salaries are stopped for not providing information." The commission's responsibility is to enforce the law on access to information for everyone.

"RTI commission is supposed to have two commissioners, but our quorum is not enough. The government has not yet appointed another RTI commissioner. I have been performing my duties as a commissioner for the last one and a half years. If strict action is to be taken against any institution or a fine is to be imposed, I must have another commissioner with me, which is the government's responsibility to appoint. The commission is facing a severe shortage of funds, and salaries are hardly covered by the funds provided by the government. If there is a lack of resources and funds, the commission cannot spread awareness or conduct training," Hamid added.

Regarding the Right to Information Act, Advocate Zafeer Gul said, "Section 25(4) of the KP RTI Act, 2013, states that 'While deciding a complaint, the Information Commission shall consist of at least two members or one member and the Chief Information Commissioner, and the decision of the Commission shall not be invalid on the ground of the existence of any vacancy.'" Gul further added that the RTI law has empowered the public, as no government official is authorized to ask why information is needed. "Every citizen of this country, regardless of social status, has the right to know about the affairs of public offices and where public funds are being used."

Ahmed Khan, another journalist from Bajaur, said, "Under the Right to Information Act when I made eight separate requests to different departments, I did not get a response to the requests. Then I again contacted the heads of these departments and visited the offices of some of them three or four times. When I was working on investigative stories for a fellowship, obtaining data was very difficult for me. I eventually obtained the data through RTI, but the process took about two to two and a half months. Even then, the agriculture department did not provide complete data, so I requested some friends in the agriculture department through my connections, and they helped me collect the relevant data."

Gathering timely and accurate information from the RTI commission, however, is not an obstacle restricted to journalists. Applicants from other professions face similar problems when contacting government officials and departments.

The KP government should ensure that all government departments proactively disclose information, as per the spirit of the law," he insists.

KP Information Minister Feroz Jamal KakaKhel said, "We are working on this issue and will take it up with the RTI Commission."

Journalists rely on access to information to report on events and issues. Without access to accurate information, they may not be able to report the truth, which can lead to misinformation being spread. This can have serious consequences for individuals and society as a whole.

If the government doesn't provide access to information to journalists, it could lead to a lack of transparency and accountability. This can lead to a breakdown in the trust between the government and the public. It can also hinder the ability of journalists to report on issues that are important to the public.

Note: This story is part of PPF's fellowship program. The views expressed herein may not necessarily reflect the organization's stand or viewpoint.