15 June, 2024

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Are Providers Of Information Under RTI Cognizant Of Their Obligations?

By Chandra Jayaratne

Chandra Jayaratne

The Constitution of Sri Lanka empowers every citizen with the right of access to any information as provided for by law, being information required for the exercise or protection of the citizen’s right held by the State, a Ministry or any Government Department or any statutory body established or created by or under any law. No restrictions can be placed, other than such restrictions prescribed by law as necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals and of the reputation or the rights of others, privacy, prevention of contempt of court, protection of parliamentary privilege, for preventing the disclosure of information communicated in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The preamble of the Right to Information Act states that the Constitution guarantees the right of access to information and there exists a need to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information; and thereby promote a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be able to participate in public life more fully, through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance.

Right to Information Act makes every person who deliberately obstructs the provision of information or intentionally provides incorrect, incomplete, or inaccurate information; destroys, invalidates, alters, or totally or partially conceal information under his or her custody, or to which he or she has access to or knowledge of due to the exercise of his or her employment in such public authority, an offense.

The above provisions of statutory law of the land, dealing with the citizens right to information must be understood by those entrusted with the responsibility and accountability to respond to such citizen’s requests, by further reference to the recent Supreme Court majority judgement in the Fundamental Rights case on the Economic Crisis. (SCFR/195/2022 and SCFR 202/2022)

An extract from the aforesaid judgement reads “The trust reposed in the respondents was not a higher principle or epithet unique to their offices. ‘Public trust’ is an inherent responsibility bestowed on all officers who exercise powers which emanate from the sovereignty of the People. Therefore, as public officers, the respondents were obliged, at all times, to act in a manner which honoured the trust reposed in them.” The judgement further stated that “the respondents had violated the Public Trust reposed in them and we hold that they were in breach of the fundamental right to equal protection of the law ordained by Article 12(1) of the Constitution.” These principles and indictments probably will apply not only those respondents in the said Fundamental Rights application: but equally to all Public Officers of the past, present, and future.

The public expectations are that all Public Officials engaged in responding to Right to information requests will consistently discharge their responsibilities in good faith, with professional commitment to standards of care, and integrity in line with best practice codes of conduct and ethics. Within such commitments there should be no attempts to provide any inaccurate information or any attempts to present information with the intent to avoid the truth/facts and misrepresent or mislead the citizens.

It is however regrettably noted that there are many responses to Right to Information requests which ignore both the letter of the law, as well as the spirit of the law and expected best practice obligations outlined above.

Information Officers and even Designated Officers appear to delay responses without justification, and at times knowingly provide convoluted responses that fail to respond to the real issues clearly noted in the requests. There have been instances where the excuse for not responding on a timely basis is stated as having been dispatched with a wrong address. It is not infrequent, where citizens are pushed into appeal processes and hearings before the Commission, merely because the parties responsible fail to live by the letter and the spirit of the law.

It is best that all Secretaries, Chief Accounting Officers, Heads of Public Institutions, Heads of Departments of the State, a Ministry or any Government Department or any statutory body established or created by or under any law, including any statutory body established or created by a statute of a Provincial Council; and local authority and any other person, who is in possession of such information relating to any institution and especially all Information Officers and Designated Officers take note of the their due responsibility and accountability and discharge their duty respecting public expectations and Public Trust accountability articulated above.

The Right to Information Commission could also take pro-active action steps by issuing a Public Circular reiterating the Responsibility and Accountability in responding to Right to Information requests.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    I nearly fell off my chair …… I always believed the Tamils were not favoured …….. they got into administrative jobs because they were well/better educated and were suitable for the positions ……. I wasn’t there to know firsthand …… but here from the mouth of someone I trust ….. 2:15 …… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABIU98dqIRE


    Progress begins when myths are dispelled ……… I know, the unknowing ultra-Sinhalese Native, Sinhala_Man won’t, so I’ll try ………..

    • 0
      3

      NF – Interesting clip. Assuming LKY’s view is legitimate what do you think that made Jaffna Tamils from the North better than their Sinhalese counterpart in the South?

    • 0
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      Nimal,
      You have upset some of the many admirers of LKY, who only knew the second-hand versions of his philosophy. I must admit up-front that I am also an admirer, and was ware all along that democracy and totally free expression don’t bring development. I have challenged many to show just one country that went from third world to First in one generation while remaining a full democracy. Not even Sinhala Man took it up.

    • 0
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      Dear NF,
      .
      Thanks for the link.
      .
      It really made my day – while recovering from a bout of flu at the moment. I have been to Singapore over 25 times or more. One of my best buddies (a german post doc in Microbiology) now work for NUS.

      I only see things during my vacations and weekends.
      .
      However, the Ruchira-virus appears to be more contagious than it appears.

      I did not understand why he made such racist comments creating a new kind of division between Sri Lankans of different ethical backgrounds.
      All this is done with our PEACE MAKER Sinhala_Man being kept in his silent mode. Ultimately he should be able to train his assistants in a profound way.
      May be he is now busy with struggling to know why AKD droped that ” 5th principle” which was against INDIA and its interference in lanken affairs.

  • 6
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    Mr. Jayaratne, very good article. Thank you. You bring up very valid points. Unfortunately, from the Speaker downwards, the entire 224 will not understand your views. In their mind, they live in a bubble of their own. They think we are all slaves of the “walawwe hamu”. It’s time to take an old broom and sweep them out of the Parliament, including the Attorney General, who has violated the constitution so many times by not adhering to the Supreme Court judgements.

    • 0
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      Chandra Jayaratne’s statement that” Information Officers and Designated Officers delay responses without justification” is correct. Even the inquiry officers find ways and means of delaying/ postponing/avoiding the inquiry under various pretexts even though there are no hard and fast rules as to how the inquiry should be conducted. In particular, retired judges adopt court procedures that delay the inquiry on flimsy grounds.

  • 1
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    The author Chandra Jayarathna always asks good questions but stop short of pointing out the problem being a systemic one. Is anyone cognizant of their obligations in Sri Lanka? From the bus conductor that purposely forgets to give you back your change money to the doctor who arrives hours late for the appointment keeping you awaiting, no one is concerned about any obligations they have. No one has the capacity to take anything seriously. Life is a joke and a farce. Doing your job properly is a sign of weakness knowing inflencial people is the strength.

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