While for the last 50 years, the Punjab Assembly could not pass a law on defining 18 years as the minimum age for marriage of girls, it made no such mistake in hastily passing a needless and destructive amendment to the Punjab Right to Information Law. The amendment enables the Information Commissioners to receive an extension of 3 years after completion of their original three years term.
The amendment provides a huge opportunity to Information Commissioners to adopt a compromising and obsequious approach, soft peddle their decisions and please the government departments by not insisting on provision of information.
To rephrase poet Ahmed Fraz’s famous verse, the ‘extension’ amendment reduces the Honorable Information Commissioners to be perceived as :
معززین کمیشن حلف اٹھانے کو مثال سائل مبرم نشستہ راہ میں ہیں
For a 3 year term, an Information Commissioner costs about 18 million Rupees to the tax payer. Sadly in some provinces, in their entire 3 year term, they have not made a penny’s contribution towards the cause of RTI. They would soon join the ‘extension’ rat race, only to become a still grater burden. All that is needed is a law passed by each assembly that dangles a carrot (potential extension) in exchange for mutual favours. RTI and the people of Pakistan would be the only losers.
We urge upon all Information Ministries to please introduce laws to hold Information Commissions more accountable, to introduce a selection (rather than nomination) process for appointment of Commissioners and to ensure that this honourable institution is not destroyed by a tradition of ‘extensions’.