Lagging behind: RTI law yet to be extended to PATA

PESHAWAR: A year has passed since the Right to Information Act (RTI) was passed by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Assembly, but it is yet to be extended to the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) due to ‘legislative hurdles’, officials told The Express Tribune.

These hurdles exist despite several efforts by the RTI Commission to have the legislation implemented in Pata.

According to Clause 246(b) of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, in the districts of Malakand Division, Chitral, Dir, Swat, Malakand protected area and the tribal areas of Kohistan under Pata, no act passed by the provincial assembly can be implemented unless directions are received from the governor with the approval of the president.

The RTI commission was set up with the objective of enabling access to information to citizens and ensuring transparency in the decisions of the government, said a senior member of the commission.

He added a letter was written to the K-P government on March 10, 2014, asking for the formalisation of procedures to extend the RTI Act to Pata. As per regulations, the letter was forwarded to the governor.

However, several subsequent meetings have been held and little has been done to implement the law in the areas concerned. “We received information in September that the letter has been forwarded to the president’s office, but have not heard back since,” claims the commission’s member.

RTI advocates are skeptical of the delay in extending the act to Pata, pointing out that the Right to Public Services Act 2013 has been extended to these areas.

Article 19-A of the constitution states: “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”

“Not extending the law to Pata is tantamount to violating the fundamental constitutional rights of citizens,” Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA) Executive Director Muhammad Anwar told The Express Tribune. He has been keeping a close eye on developments related to the RTI law.

He argued that Malakand Division, a part of Pata, has passed through a rough phase due to militancy and a massive military operation. “The government was expected to find ways to strengthen the trust of citizens in state institutions.” He pointed out there are other legal lacunae surrounding the legislation that has been stuck with the K-P law department for almost a year and the rules are yet to be notified.

“The governor was unaware that the law had not been extended to Pata,” sources in his secretariat said, requesting anonymity.

“Efforts are underway to speed up the process,” one of them said, adding the governor is taking a keen interest in the law himself.