16 May, 2022

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Cabinet Must Release Information Without Directing To Ministries, Sri Lanka’s RTIC Rules

Directing an immediate change to the practice of the Cabinet Secretary sending Right to Information applicants from one Ministry to another, to obtain information relevant to each Ministry even though the details are in the hands of the Cabinet Office, the Right to Information Commission (RTIC) has informed the Cabinet of Ministers that relevant information must be released by the Office itself, an Order handed down last month states.

RTI Commission in Sri Lanka

This was in response to an appeal filed by a trade union representing administrative officials which had complained that it had been trying to get details of salary schemes and details of payments to state officials in seven branches of government, including Customs, Surveys, Sports and Nursing for more than two years and that the Cabinet had been sending them from pillar to post. The Commission ordered the release of all the information.

The Order can be accessed here.

The Cabinet had justified its position before the Commission on the basis that the Ministries from which the information originated, knew more about the information asked for than the Cabinet and was better placed to make the decision to release the information or not. But dismissing this explanation, the Commission observed that the Cabinet must only be guided by the question as to whether the information was in its ‘custody, control or possession’ under Section 3(1) of the RTI Act.

That power cannot be delegated to others contrary to the RTI Act, the Commission said. It was also stated that the mere fact that the Cabinet had, by circular dated 2019.03.06, decided to transfer all requests for information originating from Ministries to that relevant Ministry did not amount to an amendment of the RTI Act and as such, cannot override Section 3(1).

It was further ruled that the Cabinet had accepted that it was a Public Authority under the RTI Act and was obliged to respond to the requests of citizens under the Act. The Office of the Cabinet was the guardian of all decisions including memoranda and ancillary material attached to the decisions of the Cabinet and had responsibilities under the Act that it was legally bound to discharge.

It has been further decided that, if the Cabinet fails to adhere by the Commission Order on or before March 7th 2022 (today), the RTIC would proceed to file a criminal prosecution in the Magistrate’s Court against the Public Authority and the Information Officer under Section 39 of the Act.

The Colombo Telegraph (CT) learns that the Commission has identified more than twenty Public Authorities (PAs) who are evading obeying Commission orders and that. instructions have been given to its legal officers to commence taking steps to prosecute such PAs in Court. Upon a prosecution under the Act against ‘any person’, the punishment can extend to two years rigorous imprisonment and/or fine of fifty thousand rupees.

Trade unions and media activists who had found it increasingly difficult to get information from the Cabinet previously, welcomed this decision stating that it made the process of getting information much easier.

The Commission comprises Commissioners, attorney and legal columnist Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, independent nominee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, retired Justice Rohini Walgama independent nominee of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and attorney-activist Jagath Liyana Arachchi while its Chair is former Supreme Court judge Upali Abeyratne (nominee of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa). The fifth member of the Commission has yet not been appointed by the Government following the resignation of academic Athulasiri Samarakoon (nominee of the opposition backed National Movement for Social Justice) in December 2021 after serving for three days in his post. Samarakoon could not get leave from the Open University and have his academic salary continued while serving as an RTI Commissioner.

On Friday (4th March) the Commission circulated a press release announcing that it will hold a Public Inquiry under Section 14 (a) and Section 15 (a) of the RTI Act on 14th of March 2022 from 9 am to 4pm at the Urban Council, Bandarawela, to inquire into problems faced by citizens in using the RTI Act. All PAs in the area have been summoned for the inquiry. The release warns that any person who fails or refuse to appear before the Commission for such inquiries, fail or refuse to provide information in his possession or under his authority, provide false information intentionally under oath or affirmation commits an offence under Section 39(1) (d) of the RTI Act and that action will be taken against the violators.

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Latest comments

  • 13
    1

    In a starkly duplicitous society with hypocrisy and deceit at every turn, is it surprising that bureaucratic red tape will be used to cover illegitimacy and corruption? If convicted murderers and drug kingpins can be pardoned by executive order; if ministers playing havoc in prisons assaulting inmates can still hold portfolios rather than spend prison time; if arms smugglers and extortionists get top govt jobs; if evidence of massive crimes can be destroyed with complicity at the highest levels; if sincere dedicated criminal investigators can be stifled and incarcerated on trumped up charges; if truth tellers are imprisoned, what right to information is there?

    • 1
      1

      LP,
      Absolute truth. Well stated.
      No governments in my lifetime in SL has been completely truthful.
      Well that may be the nature of Politics??!!
      We find the grade of truthfulness has diminished witht he progress of years since independence!!
      Bless Sri Lankan!!!

    • 1
      1

      Improvment of awareness of the average can open doors to the future of the motherland which is being destroyed by a family.
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fyclhZYw4Lg

      Now it is becoming clear, all those born licking low lives being thrown away, some truths of Rajapakshes come to light. That Gonthadipila has made it clear that protaganist of film ” KAPUTAS” – Basil BP has the lowest IQ.
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gc9on913Tk

    • 0
      1

      Ugly leftist of the nation shameless VASIDEWA is back to his usual mode.
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4lA3lz5dng

      This man or the like have no right to shed the last breath out of a prison cell.
      :
      Galle people will hate this bugger forever. A man whose family ties could resolve sustainable solution for the long standing ethnic problems fo the country, just because his selfish gains, to my eye, this man is the most abusive of all leftists.
      :
      COVID did not punish him, but let him alive further, however, that may have other reasons going by karmic restribution.

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