By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Dear Prime Minister
Thank you for sending me today the draft of the proposed Freedom of Information Act. It is generally good, and I am glad that Section 8 makes it clear that basic information should be readily available. I would suggest the following changes
a) Add to 8 (2) b (vii) the Declarations of Assets of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Secretaries of Ministries, Chairs of Public Authorities and all officials responsible for contracts or expenditure over the value of Rs 1 million. Such Declarations should be posted electronically. Gifts over the value of Rs 500,000 received by such individuals should also be recorded.
Also add in 8 (2) b (i) the word ‘qualifications and job descriptions’
Making this mandatory with regard to all employees may be excessive and may defeat the purpose, and it may be more useful to specify a level above which such information should be made public. Otherwise the report, and the electronic version, may be too bulky to be useful.
b) Section 8 should make it clear Non-Governmental Organizations as described in Section 46 should also make public information as specified, and conform to the provisions of the Act. This cannot be left implicit, and in terms of public authorities coming under a particular Ministry. It may also be desirable to ensure that all Ministries make public the names of those NGOs for which they are responsible.
c) In Section 25, the decision should be communicated within fourteen days. The information (not the access to such information) should be provided within a week of arriving at the decision. Any extension should be notified, with a deadline should be not more than two weeks more.
d) The Act should come into force the day after it has been certified. There is no reason to delay six months (Section 1)
e) Information otherwise classified should be made available after five years, not ten (Section 5 (2))
f) The CEO should be the designated officer too until such an officer is appointed (Section 23)
g) There should be specification of a date whereby information is supplied if an appeal succeeds (Sections 32 and 33)
h) What is the need for Section 10 and then Section 40? They could be combined.
i) Also, is 8 (3) necessary if 8 (1) is observed?
I hope other Members of Parliament also respond. However it would be best, to ensure adherence to the norms of Parliament, that this draft be submitted to the relevant Consultative Committee of Parliament. It is sad that only a couple of Consultative Committees have thus far met, even though the Cabinet was constituted three months ago.
Also I trust your Party will not exercise undue pressure with regard to immediate dissolution of Parliament, since it is important that this Act and the Act on strengthening accountability are passed.
Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
*Letter posted to the Prime Minister, as a response to the draft Freedom of Information Act