20 January, 2022

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A Right Royal Battle – Sri Lanka’s Independent RTI Commissioners Vs The Chair

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s appointment of new Commissioners to the five-member RTI Commission is a wildly mixed bag, analysts say, in the wake of a politically biased retired judge, Upali Abeyratne being put to head the body along with four other independent Commissioners.

Upali Abeyratne

The appointment of at least three Commissioners must specifically be on nominations submitted by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the organisations of publishers, editors and media persons and civil society groups. Only the BASL is named in Section 12 (1) (a) as an organisation which has a guaranteed single seat upon nomination of an ‘Attorney-at-Law of eminence or a legal academic.’

In 2021, BASL nominated senior attorney Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena for the seat. Ms Pinto-Jayawardena and the nominee of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, Justice Rohini Walgama, both of whom served on the first RTI Commission (2017-2021), have been appointed to the Commission following due recommendations made by the Parliamentary Council. Despite the Secretary General of Parliament calling for nominating organisations to send three names to the Council to choose from, the BASL and SLPI sent one name each.

Meanwhile the nominee of the Young Journalists Association (YJA) attorney-at-law and RTI activist Jagath Liyana Arachchi and the nominee of the National Movement for Social Justice, academic Athulasiri Samarakoon are the other two appointees to the Commission. All four appointments are widely hailed as merited, given the independent nature of the individuals in issue.

However, the appointment of the Chair of the Commission is the prerogative of the President according to Section 12 (5) of the RTI Act. The President may appoint a Chair from within the names recommended by the Parliamentary Council which replaced the Constitutional Council following the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

It is not immediately clear as to who nominated the Chair Upali Abeyratne or if there was any nomination at all. A controversy has also arisen as to whether his appointment is in accordance with the RTI Act as Abeyratne, to all intents and purposes, currently serves as the Chairman of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP). A clear condition of the appointment of Commissioners according to Section 12 (2)(a)(iii) is that they should not hold ‘public or judicial office or any other office of profit’ at the time of the appointment.

The Government must clarify this situation, a senior practitioner in Hulfsdorp said. “it must show that no disqualification attaches to the appointment as this is a mandatory statutory requirement,” he further said.

The new RTI Commissioners have been appointed with ‘immediate effect’ and will sit for a term of five years. Since the end of September 2021, when the term of the first Commission lapsed, the Commission office has been largely non-functional with hundreds of appeals piling up according to reports. During its first term, the Commission won national and global praise for pro-transparency decisions impacting on multiple areas of the functioning of the State and issuing orders against the Offices of the President, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and Parliament.

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Latest comments

  • 11
    0

    Sri Lankans are missing the forest for the trees by placing the abolition of the present constitution in the back-burner, as that is the core root of the predicament this country faces today.

    • 16
      3

      Dunno what RTI is ……… but from the photograph, Upali Abeyratne with that Lankan face only a mother could love with great difficulty …….. can only cause nothing but trouble to the country …….. and to anyone and everything in sight ……….

      Even women will run for cover!

      Talk about unexamined childhood emotional insecurities!

      Lanka would be a much better place ……. if God was kind enough to bless the inhabitants with a little allure ………… to put it mildly …………

      • 8
        0

        nimal fernando,
        However much I adore you ( no, no, not motherly adoration), no more of your cruelty (a motherly reaction!).

        • 8
          1

          Nathan,

          Killing Lasantha is cruel. Killing Thadudeen is cruel. Killing Eknalligoda is cruel. Stealing country’s money and starving the population is cruel. Stealing babies’ milk money is cruel. Appointing unsuitable people for important positions is cruel.

          I haven’t done any of that ……. only made people aware of their insecurities ………. and highlighted how their actions driven by their insecurities affect the rest of the society/us.

          No, I have been kind.


          But as usual, people will think I’m cruel and the Rajapakses are kind.

          That’s what “good” schools do to you … blinkers of proper manners ……. restricts cruelty to words ………. any deed is fine ………. :))

          • 2
            0

            nimal, Yours is a superficial outlook.
            Lasantha was killed. Thadudeen was killed. There was momentary suffering.
            How you kill is lifelong torture.
            I insist, no more of your cruelty!
            When I look at myself in the mirror, I have no choice but to hide my picture from you!

            • 6
              0

              Nathan,

              We all have insecurities ……. but some don’t go through life trying to get others to pay for them.

              • 5
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                nimal fernando

                Athuraliye Rathana Thero (another public racist) now believes had Tamil learned Sinhala and Sinhalese learned Tamil 30 years of war could have been avoided.
                Why sudden change.
                This is another hardliner who also opposed 13A which guarantees equal status for both languages.
                Don’t you think he is up to something?
                Too little too late, too much blood has been spilled.

          • 4
            0

            Dear NF and Nathan,

            “But as usual, people will think I’m cruel and the Rajapakses are kind.

            That’s what “good” schools do to you … blinkers of proper manners ……. restricts cruelty to words ………. any deed is fine ………. :))”

            I think PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY are standing on their heads. Upside-down view is the reason.
            :
            Today, one another GAS-CYLINDER-BLAST victim was reported. What happened HIGH CHAPTER monks that supported GOTA to be the leader ?

            All other bitch s sons (Kalakarayo, All other experts) that unanimously thought GOTA will be the deliverer.
            .
            All it is not its crakek upto be. Gota cant even settle GAS-CYLINDER-BLAST issue today.. letalone how could he make miracle changes ?????`ß

            Aiyoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo? Please enjoy the video below
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAQ6mYiOYLQ

      • 2
        2

        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

        • 8
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          Sorry EE, if this Upali Abeyratne is your uncle and the looks run in the family ………. now all your problems are crystal clear.

          You can always have Native’s shoulder to cry on.

          He cant be that cruel.

          • 4
            0

            nimal fernando

            “You can always have Native’s shoulder to cry on.”

            Eagle Blind Eye is welcome only if he needs a shoulder to cry.
            Hope you are certain he is unarmed, nor he is carrying gas cylinder.

        • 5
          0

          Eagle ‘dimwit’ Eye, absolutely brilliant comment and very brief. I am always amazed how you can make such an amazing statement with such eloquence with only few words. Brilliant nutcase that you are.

      • 1
        0

        Nimal’ RTI in Lanka is govt’s right to intimidate the families of those disappeared and for victims, it is their right to be ignorant.

  • 3
    5

    I am still not clear where the “right-royal-battle” is?

  • 19
    0

    It would indeed be a surprise if the four Commissioners agree to serve under this corrupt Chairman. It would compromise their own integrity and moral standards.
    Victor Ivan exposed Abeyratna but shamelessly, he ploughs on.
    https://www.ft.lk/Columnists/Nudity-exposed/4-693743
    In a way, by appointing Gnanssara to head ‘one country, one law’ and this corrupt Chairman to head RTI Commission, is not the President treating the people of this country disdainfully.

    • 5
      0

      Thanks “MyView” for https://www.ft.lk/Columnists/Nudity-exposed/4-693743. Ivan actually traces the beginning of the rot begun by none other than Chandrika.K the President then. Later Mohan Peries was used in the same manner as Sarath.N. How can Abeyratne’s past be clinically ignored by H.E? Hope all CT readers read this and refresh.

      • 3
        0

        Bernard: Do you remember what happened to CJ Neville Samarakoon in 1984?

        • 1
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          Hari, I do, because he was a very close family friend of ours.

          • 1
            0

            Noted Thank you.

        • 8
          0

          Dear H.
          Yes but it was an absolutely great choice in a way, as CJ Neville S preserved the integrity of the judiciary and stood up to JRJ.
          Very unlike boot lickers like Sarath N De S & Mohan P who sold their souls for a pittance of being called a “discredited” CJ.
          And the shame is that these two still show their faces in public and it is indeed a reflection on our Sri Lankan society that they can as yet not be treated like the scum they are.

          • 8
            0

            You are spot on MyView! I have held that view too since the debacle of Neville JS was unveiled in 1989. NJS was a political appointee JRJ did quite shamelessly, but NJS was NOT bone rotten as the likes of Sarath Silva or Mohan P. NJS simply didn’t agree to all what JRJ wanted him to do and had a backbone to say ‘no’ and leave the position and the country. As I always hold the view, Sri Lanka’s judiciary system started rotting with Sirima’s 1970 UF government where Felix RDB overhauled the judiciary system and appointed his friend Shiva P. as the AG. That rot continues up until today. Sirima’s daughter Chandrika abused our legal system much more intensively than her mother which actually I consider even surpassing JRJ’s level of abuse! Needless to say, the rot started in 1970 is now grown to Mt Everest size over the past 50 years, particularly under the Rajapaksa tyranny.

          • 4
            0

            Agreed.

          • 2
            0

            My view: Noted and agree.

          • 3
            0

            MyView, I fully agree with you.

          • 2
            0

            MyView,
            I agree with your sentiments of Neville S.
            He had an extensive and remunerative private practice – you may dare say that it overshadowed the CJ’s emoluments.
            He was down to earth and make a call irrespective, who the person was; Not that he was abundant with such comments, but whenever he thought it fit to do so, or the situation demanded, but soft spoken.
            He would be watching rugby matches at Havelocks S C as Patron of the club.
            Most of the time standing near the club entrance to the ground behind the north end goal post (until the western end pavilion was constructed with seating) and enjoying it and infrequently whenever the occasion arose buys his own drink and pays for it and never accepts a drink, on such brief sojourns whilst he was CJ.
            That was his Maxim.

        • 3
          0

          Didnt he fall foul of JR? In a public speech or something? Did he criticise him or the new Constitution?
          I dont think I can agree with V.I. about “the rot” starting with C., but reading his account in the FT column certainly shocks me. Not that I was totally unaware earlier, but Victor’s excavation of details …. well… what more can I say?
          ___
          I did have at least one personal experience of rottenness under JR. With lawyer S. Nadesan, I was “observing” polling on Referendum day (as CRM members). Photographing the violations. I was suddenly aware that I had aroused hostility & told Mr N that we shd leave quickly. I rushed up to the main road &, to cut a long story short, ended up with a gun pointing thru a car (belonging to a passer-by who stopped when he saw what was happening) window at me. Blocked by a vehicle in front & another behind. And police in a third on the opposite side of the narrow road, gazing at the scene.

          • 3
            0

            Continuation

            The gunman was Anura Bastian, MP for Colombo West. And this was not the only “hold-up” he carried out that day.
            How did JR reward him for his referendum work? Promoted him to a Deputy Minister — in charge of Home Guards!
            Well done! You good and faithful servant!

          • 3
            0

            Must disentangle my confused description of what happened.. Nadesan (great lawyer) & I were hurrying along the road, yruomgbto escape, when a car drew up & a young man in it offered us a lift. He had realised something was going on. But I ws v nervous by then & didnt want to accept. Then he said, “I know who u r, Mr Nadesan, & my father knows you, he is/was Clerk to the House.”
            Immediately Nadesan pushed me into the back of the car & sat beside me. As we were driving off, cars stopped in front of & behind us. Someone thrust a gun into the car & demanded, “Who is the woman with the camera?”
            Then the young man got out if the car to confront the gunman & the driver was told to drive off — leaving the poor young man (M, incidentally) in the arms of thugs, with their “commander” still brandishing his weapon.

            • 3
              0

              Continuation– just in case — cant calculate words on mobile

              As we were driving off, cars stopped in front of & behind us. Someone thrust a gun into the car & demanded, “Who is the woman with the camera?”
              Then the young man got out of the car to confront the gunman & the driver was told to drive off — leaving the poor young man (M, incidentally) in the arms of thugs, with their “commander” still brandishing his weapon.

              This was in Kollupitiya! Off Deal Place, I think.

      • 2
        2

        Victor Ivan’s personal bitterness towards CBK blinds his memory to the one that who abused the judicial system with his executive powers.

    • 2
      0

      MyView,
      “In a way, by appointing Gnanasara to head ‘one country, one law’ and this corrupt Chairman to head RTI Commission, is not the President treating the people of this country disdainfully.”.
      I fully respect and agree with your view on the matter as expressed.
      We will soon find out how these 2 controversial committees and Commissions carryout their work?!
      The outcomes would be both stunning and revealing too.
      Character of individuals would be tested!!
      However, on the other hand is he not providing the wherewithal as determined by the electorate?
      Whilst it agreed that he may be treating some or most pert of SL people disdainfully, which I hasten to agree.
      He is also conscious of those who elected him, (he was elaborate on that matter at his oath taking ceremony at Ruwanwelisaya – no bars held speech) whom he has selected to ’serve’ with a special ‘Stirling’ Silver spoon – his electors!
      He owes it to the 6.9 million and so he is beholden.
      To solve Sri Lankas’ problem with governance, the prime need of the hour is educating and enabling the electorate knowledgeable – for voters to make judicious and knowledgeable decision at voting time and elections!!
      POLITRICS

  • 7
    1

    Rot starts at the head. What else can you expect other than the stink?

  • 5
    0

    The RTI Commission is a complete farce. What is the point of maintaining this commission, if it is unable to make agreements that are of public interest, public?
    The best example is the secret sale agreement (Yugadanavi Agreement) signed between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the US-based New Fortress Energy (NFE).
    As MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake revealed in Parliament, the agreement is between the GoSL and the NFE Sri Lanka Power Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of the NFE.
    This link provides a complete list of subsidiary companies of the NFE.
    https://sec.report/Document/0001140361-21-008724/brhc10021589_ex21-1.htm
    .
    The Press Release issued by the NFE on their agreement with the GoSL to establish an LNG terminal, the majority ownership of Yugadanavi Power Plant and gas supply to SL power plants, warrants extreme caution.
    This is the link to NFE’s Press Release.
    https://ir.newfortressenergy.com/news-releases/news-release-details/new-fortress-energy-finalizes-contract-government-sri-lanka-lng
    .
    The Yugadanavi Agreement is now before the Supreme Court (SC) for a determination. Judicial scrutiny is utmost important to make a decision, as in the above-mentioned Press Release, the NFE has specifically mentioned that their document contains ‘forward-looking statements’, implying that the agreement is vague, unclear and subject to change.
    Contd’…..

    • 4
      1

      I reproduce an extract from NFE’s Press Release under the subtitle ‘Cautionary Language Regarding Forward-Looking Statements’:
      .
      Quote:
      “Specific factors that could cause actual results to differ from those in the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to: the development, construction or commissioning schedule may be longer than we expect; the funding of the project may not be possible on the terms we expect; we will be unable to operationalize our plans for the rights and key permits to develop the LNG terminal; and that we will not be able to provide electricity and natural gas to customers as we currently expect. These factors are not necessarily all of the important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed in any of NFE’s forward-looking statements. Other known or unpredictable factors could also have material adverse effects on future results.
      We undertake no duty to update these forward-looking statements, even though our situation may change in the future.”Unquote.
      .
      I hope the SC will take due note on the above.
      Moreover, transferring full authority of supplying electricity/gasoline/natural gas/renewable energy to foreign companies will pose a security threat, high rate of dependency & unprecedented power & economic crises.

      • 4
        0

        One might say, forward-looking statements are to avoid litigation. However, a secret international agreement between the GoSL and a foreign company to supply gas to all power plants in Sri Lanka, that cannot even be made available to the public by the RTI Commission, warrants extreme caution.
        A President who violated the Election Law that prohibits dual citizens from contesting for Presidency shouldn’t be in his position. Can the RTI Commission reveal the truth?
        Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, another dual citizen, who cannot even properly read and write in Sinhala, has agreed to sell three islands situated in the close proximity to India, to India’s Adani Group which would eventually lead to a serious security threat.
        Fake patriots who filed a court case against the Yugadanavi agreement involving one Rajapaksa, deliberately disregarded another Rajapaksa’s agreements with the Adani Group. One might wonder, whether there is a secret motive to annul the Yugadanavi agreement, presumably supported by one Rajapaksa, so that the other Rajapaksa can award the same to the Adani Group. I hope the Supreme Court decision on the Yugadanavi agreement will protect Sri Lanka’s energy sector (renewable and non-renewable) from being sold to any foreign companies.

        • 3
          0

          The NFE Agreement will require Sri Lanka to introduce a special legal framework compromising Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, similar to that of the Chinese Port City deal. Fortunately, the Supreme Court intervened to drastically change the Port City deal. As proved, the Rajapaksas have no regard for the country when it comes to bribes and commissions.

  • 8
    0

    Dear Champa,
    …The RTI Commission is a complete farce. What is the point of maintaining this commission, if it is unable to make agreements that are of public interest, public?…
    Not quite tenable if it is the NFE deal, as the RTI Comm was defunct since Sept ’21 ( during the NFE fiasco) and it is only now that the new Commissioners are in place, so no one could appeal till now.
    Other points are very valid.

    • 2
      0

      MyView
      Thank you. However, New Fortress Energy has apparently secured a contract to supply gas to Sri Lanka’s power plants in July, 2021, when the RTI Commission was in full operation.

      I reproduce an extract from NFE’s announcement dated July 9, 2021.
      .
      Quote:
      “On the other hand, on July 8, the company announced it signed a Framework Agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka; to construct a new offshore LNG receiving, storage and regasification terminal.

      Furthermore, the Sri Lanka terminal would be located off the coast of Colombo; to supply gas to the country’s power plants, primarily located in the Kerawalapitiya Power Complex. This power complex will consist of 300 MW currently in operation; with plans to expand its capacity to 1000 MW by 2025.

      Finally, as part of the agreement, New Fortress will supply natural gas to the existing 300 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant; and is also negotiating the purchase of the Government’s 40% stake in the company that owns the power plant. It is, in fact, a General Electric combined cycle power plant. Such an introduction would be the first natural gas contract for the country.” Unquote.

      • 2
        0

        Dear Champa,
        Yes true but any evidence that between July to September anyone filed an application for that document? That is why I said that RTI Commission should not be faulted straightaway, because during their tenure they did take on many who refused to comply and obtained the information.

        • 1
          0

          RTIC is not an ‘enforcer’ but an ‘enabler’. Someone must appeal to them first.

  • 4
    0

    U.A! Head! Good god!

  • 5
    3

    It’s the height of stupidity to only appoint Sinhalese to the RTI Commission. By appointing only Sinhalese to the commission it appears that every other community should get the approval of the Sinhalese to obtain required information under the RTI act. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-language community. All Government appointments, including to armed forces, ministries, commissions, judiciary, and all other public connected bodies selection/appointment should be strictly based on the percentage of the ethnic mix in the country and not bias towards one community namely Sinhalese, that too Sinhala Buddhists.

    • 3
      2

      Buddhist1,
      No solution should be based on the percentage of the ethnic mix.
      (That will keep minorities as minorities, for ever.)
      The formula should be based on,
      Merit,
      Or
      Representation by merit, of each community in equal numbers.
      (Jumping queues is not permitted.)

      • 3
        1

        Nathan,

        It’s nice to dream but not to the extent you are dreaming. After 20A when a super-powered President has been created there is no way there will be appointments on merit. If an ethnic percentage basis is used at least there will be representation from all communities.

        • 2
          1

          Buddhist1
          Who cares? Let’s do it! Let’s start from the Northern Province.
          The Northern Province is over-populated and over-represented by Tamil speaking people. As per your proposal, this injustice should be corrected by resettling the Sinhalese in the Northern Province based on ethnic ratio. (I suggest the same for the city of Colombo).
          Currently, 93.9% of the population in the Northern Province are Tamil speaking people which should be reduced to 22% while the Sinhalese population should be increased to 76%.
          The Northern Province is 100% represented by Tamil speaking MPs which is not fair as per your proposal. The solution is to resettle the Sinhalese as per the ethnic ratio, so that the Northern Province will be represented in Parliament by the majority Sinhalese.
          Moreover, the number of students in the Jaffna University should be Sinhalese 76% and Tamil speaking students 22%. Also, in order to implement your proposal, all Tamil and Muslim exclusively race-based schools should be abolished.
          The Sinhalese are discriminated against in their own country. The only way to resolve discrimination against the 17 million Sinhalese by 4.6 million Tamil Speaking people is to introduce a system that is based on ethnic ratio. Bravo, Buddhist1!!!!

          • 0
            0

            Buddhist1
            Continuation ……..
            Recruitment to the public service should remain as merit-based which is open for suitable candidates of all ethnicities.
            One-language policy in the Northern Province which discriminates against the Sinhalese should be abolished.
            Exclusively race-based Tamil and Muslim schools that promote racism and extremism should also be abolished.

        • 1
          1

          Buddhist1,
          It is not not having representation of the minority communities the problem. The absence of a WILL and the PLAN to get the country on track is the problem.

  • 3
    1

    Buddhist1, don’t you think all Government appointments should be based on merit alone? That is the only way to ensure fairness.

    • 4
      0

      Paul

      “don’t you think all Government appointments should be based on merit alone? “

      I am sorry are you talking about Sri Lanka?

  • 3
    1

    Vedda,
    .
    ‘I am sorry are you talking about Sri Lanka?’
    .
    Alas no. I’m talking about Buddhist1’s opinion.

    • 1
      1

      Paul

      Then alright.

  • 2
    0

    I think before we talk of the present composition of this Right To Information Commission, we must know and assess who its Chairman is. By the name, he is Upali Abeyratne and in “Public” known as “PISSU POOSA”(the MAD CAT) This Upali Abyeratna alias “Pissu Poosa” is a “Kokatah Taile”(panacea) of President Gotabaya Rajapakse, who is in the back and call of “Rajapakses Co. Inc”. Instead of tracing his history, I would rather give the following link for you to know all about him.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwgaSOqZzGs

    Isn’t this President already a “Despotic” President and shouldn’t the World Community class him as that?

  • 1
    1

    Nathan, Native Vedda, Paul,
    If Sri Lankan Governments can bring a “Sinhala Only” policy to help the Sinhala community when it found Tamils were having a better grip on the land due to their education and the status given by the British, why not now base all selections on the ethnic basis as we all know very well that the non-majority community is now the disadvantaged lot?

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