In its first challenge under the RTI Act No 12 of 2016, the Colombo Telegraph (CT) filed a Right to Information (RTI) request to the Colombo based Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) asking for the full report of a 2014 inquiry held into alleged corrupt practices by CPA.
This was a report commissioned after repeated exposures made by CT in regard to alleged fraudulent practices of CPA but the full report dated December 1st 2014 was not released. Only a short executive summary was made public.
CT editor filed the request late last month stating that the CPA is a non-governmental organisation which is substantially funded by an international organisation or a foreign Government. Section 43(i) of RTI Act covers an NGO funded in that way and rendering a service to the public, to the extent of that public service.
The request was filed in the background of many Colombo based non-governmental organizations who advocate on RTI, including the CPA and Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) not appointing information officers in their organizations as required under the RTI Act. This is despite loudly criticizing failures of the government authorities. Even though TISL filed RTI requests on the very first day that the RTI Act was operationalised, claiming publicity by filing requests for assets declarations of the Prime Minister and the President, TISL has not itself conformed to the provisions of the RTI Act!
Where this information request was concerned and as no information officer had been appointed by CPA, CT filed the information request to the head of the CPA as permitted by Section 23 (b) of the Act. In response, the head of CPA Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu has written on March 2nd 2017 (Thursday) acknowledging the request under Section 24 (3) of the RTI Act, No 12 of 2016 and stating that ‘we will inform you of our decision on your request within 14 days (of 27 February 2017).
The RTI request was to provide CT with the full report of the special investigation assignment on identifying whether there had been any non compliances by the CPA with standard procedures, fraudulent transactions or any unethical practices committed causing a loss and damage to the organization or to its shareholders, in the process of carrying out specific identified projects during the period 1st April 2005 to 31st March 2007.
The title of the report requested for was the CENTRE FOR POLICY ALTERNATIVES (CPA) (GUARANTEE) LTD, REPORT ON SPECIAL INVESTIGATION ASSIGNMENT by Corporate Doctors (Private) Limited Corporate Consultants, dated December 1st 2014. Only a so-called executive summary was published despite repeated demands by CT.
However the question is whether the CPA can respond in this manner by saying that it will decide within 14 days when this is a report that is immediately available to the CPA itself. The RTI Act says that the decision to provide the information must be given ‘expeditiously’ or without undue delay under Section 25(1) of the RTI Act. This implies that if information is clearly and immediately available, it must be given. It is only if that is not the case that a maximum time of 14 days can be taken to give a decision. Otherwise the public authority is in violation of the RTI Act.