Bill for Public Access to Information moved in Senate

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ISLAMABAD, May 15 (APP): The government on Monday presented the
Right of Access to Information Bill 2017 in the Senate to promote the
right of access to information, and facilitate and encourage prompt
disclosure of information at the lowest and reasonable cost.
Once the bill becomes an act of the Parliament, it would facilitate
every Pakistani to have access to information on working of the federal government’s ministries, divisions and subordinate offices, including autonomous bodies, subject only to reasonable restrictions imposed by
the law.
Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani referred the bill moved by Minister
of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Marriyum Aurengzeb to the committee concerned for deliberation and bringing back
to the House.
Under the bill, the principle officer of each public body shall
ensure that the record held by that body is properly maintained to
comply with the obligations under this act and each body shall bring
its record management practices in line with Secretariat Instructions
2014 or any other instructions of the federal government.
The principle officer of each public body shall ensure that within
six months of commencement of this act, relevant record is duly published, including uploading over the Internet in a manner which best ensures that these are accessible subject to reasonable restrictions based on limited resources.
In this regard, the bill mentions to categories like description of
the public body’s organizations and functions, duties, powers and
services it provides to public, including a directory of its officers; statutes, statutory rules, regulation, by-laws, orders and notifications; substantive and procedural rules and regulations evolved or adopted by
the public body; relevant facts and background information relating to important policies and decisions which have been adopted, along with a statement of policies adopted by the public body and the criteria,
standards or guidelines upon which discretionary powers are exercised; description of its decisions making process as defined in the federal government instructions 2004 and any instructions for the time being; detailed budget of the public body, including proposed and actual expenditures, original or revised revenue targets, actual revenue
receipts, revision in the approved budget and supplementary budget;
the methods whereby information in the possession or control of the
public body may be obtained and the prescribed fee required along the
name, title and contact details of the designated officials; reports, including performance reports, audit reports, evaluation reports,
inquiry or investigation reports and other reports finalized; and
camera footages at public places, wherever available which have a
bearing on a crime provided that if the information or record
pertains to a period prior to 2008, the same shall be published
within reasonable time.
According to the bill, the record that would be made public shall
include the policies and guidelines; transactions involving acquisition
and disposal of property and expenditure undertaken by a public body
in the performance of its duties and functions; information regarding
grant of licenses, allotments and other benefits, privileges, contracts
and agreements made by public body; final orders and decisions,
including decisions relating to members of public; and any other
record, which may be notified by the minister-in-charge of the federal government as public record for the purpose of this act.
Mentioning to exclusion of certain record, the bill states that
nothing contained in the above mentioned section shall apply to noting
on files, subject to final decision by the body; minutes of meetings, subject to final decision of the body; any intermediary opinion or recommendations subject to final decision; record of the banking
companies and financial institutions relating to accounts of their customers; record relating to defence forces, defence installations
or connected therewith and ancillary to defence and national security excluding all commercial and welfare activities; record declared as classified by minister-in-charge of the federal government provided
that the minister shall have to record reasons as to why the harm
from disclosure of information outweighs public interest, and further
that information pertaining to allegation of corruption and violation
of human rights shall not be excluded; record relating to personal
privacy of any individual; and record of private documents furnished
to a public body either on an express or implied condition that
information contained in any such docuemtns shall not be disclosed
to a third party.
The bill further states that every public body within 30 days of
the commencement of this act, shall notify one or more designated
officials not less than ranks of BPS-19 or equivalent and where no designated official has been notified the principle officer shall
be treated as the designated official.
The designated official shall be responsible for ensuring that
requests are dealt with promoting full compliance by the public body
of its obligations under this act while the request by any citizen
shall be moved through the designated official as the designated
official shall be responsible for assisting the applicant in removal
of difficulties.
If the required information had not been available with the
public body, the applicant shall be informed within ten days of the application while the public bodies shall also be bound to proceed on applications as early as possible but not later than ten working days. Moreover, the information needed to protect the life and liberty of
any individual shall be provided within three working days.
The proposed law also provides that a public body shall not be
required to disclose exempt information provided that where only part
of record or the information falls within the scope of the exceptions provided for in this act; that part shall be severed and the residual
record or information shall be provided to the applicant.
The bill states that an applicant who is not satisfied by decision
of the designated officer or where he is not communicated decision within stipulated time shall have the provision to appeal before the
Information Commission within 30 days. Any such appeal shall be free
of cost and the Commission shall decide the appeal within 60 days
and public body shall bear the burden of proof.
Furthermore, within six months of the commencement of this act, the
Prime Minister shall establish Pakistan Commission on Access to
Information to be known as Information Commission who will enjoy
operational and administrative autonomy except as specifically provided
by this act.
The Commission shall comprise three Commissioners to be appointed
by the Prime Minister with one qualified to be a judge of High Court;
one in the service of Pakistan in BS-22 and one from civil society
having 16 years of education from a recognized institution and 15 years experience in the field of social sciences.
The Information Commissioners shall be less than 65 years of age
while the Prime Minister will also appoint Chief Information Commissioner among the Commission members who will hold the office for four years.
During this period they shall not be eligible to hold any other
public office or to be connected to any political party and work on full time basis. He or a member may be removed from office on serious
complaints of mental and physical incapacity and misconduct against them. Such a complaint shall be lodged before a five-member parliamentary committee comprising two Senators nominated by the Chairman Senate and
three MNAs nominated by Speaker National Assembly.
The Information Commission shall have powers to receive and decide
on appeals and all powers direct or incidental, as necessary to perform
its functions as provided for in this act and the powers to acquire,
hold and dispose of property while the federal government shall make
annual budgetary allocations to Information Commission.
The bill also provides that any person who acts willfully to obstruct
the implementation of this act, obstructing access to information, interfering with the work of Information Commissioner or destroying
record without lawful authority shall be committing an offence that
shall be punishable with a fine not exceeding Rs 50,000.
The federal government shall make rules for carrying out purposes of
this act while the Information Commissioner may make regulations not inconsistent with the provisions made by the federal government. However,
if any difficulty arises in giving effect to this act, the federal government may make such orders, not inconsistent with the provisions of this act.