17 October, 2021

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First RTI Commission Of Sri Lanka Leaves Office, Recommends That Political Parties Be Included As “Public Authorities’ In The RTI Act

One of the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka’s final acts before leaving office was to recommend to the Government that Sri Lanka’s political parties be brought within the ambit of Public Authorities in the RTI Act, outgoing RTI Commissioner and senior attorney Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena said on the last day of the Commission’s term (30th September 2021).  She said this while speaking at an online forum on ‘Making the Political Establishment Accountable Through RTI’ hosted by the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) pointing out that this recommendation had been made in response to a request by the Government to the five-member Commission to submit amendments to the RTI Act as a ‘civil law reform committee’ was examining the matter.

It was further recommended that financial allocations be given to the Commission through the National Budget rather than through a Ministry in order for the Commission to function effectively. She said that, legal officers to the Commission had been able to be recruited only after four and a half years of the Commission’s term despite the huge amount of appeals that came to the body.

Addressing the same forum moderated by Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Javid Yusuf, Centre for Democracy and Law Canada Director Toby Mendel pointed to the Sri Lanka RTI Commission and RTI Act maintaining its high global ranking so far. Pakistan Information Commission Federal Information Commissioner Zahid Abdullah, detailing the strides made in RTI in Pakistan, mentioned several Orders of the Sri Lankan RTI Commission that were used by the Pakistan Commission in their own decisions, including the warning that an information requestor should not be asked to show identification or give reasons for filing a request.

Attorney-at-Law, Peoples Action for Free & Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi explained how they had made use of RTI in a successful legal challenge to a provincial politician using bribery to get votes for himself as a result of which he was unseated by the Moneragala High Court. Verité Research) Lead Researcher Anushan Kapilan and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, India Access to Information Program Coordinator Venkatesh Nayak also spoke at the discussions.

The Colombo Telegraph meanwhile learns that the Commissioners handed down close to ninety Orders prior to leaving office, including ordering the Ministry of Health to hand over a quality control report by the Government Analyst’s Department on imported milk powder in response to an appeal filed by a consumer rights activist. In an Order issued to the Centre for Environmental Justice and other activists agitating against the Colombo Port City project, the Commission had meanwhile disclosed guarantees in the Tripartite Agreement of 2016, by CHEC Port City (Pvt) Ltd to pay the Government of Sri Lanka, income support for distribution to fishermen who have suffered loss of income due to project activities. The Tripartite Agreement had earlier been handed over to the Commission for its examination after a directive was issued to the Ministry of Urban Development.

The Commission’s last regional public sitting was held by Commissioners Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and Justice Rohini Walgama in the District Secretariat, Kandy where Public Authorities including the University of Peradeniya were directed to release information relevant to transparent marking procedures of postgraduate students, disbursements of moneys by cooperative societies, transfers of teachers on political pressure in Hatton and the allocation/cancellation of permits for market stalls in Matale, according to provincial journalists who reported on the appeal hearings.

In a Statement issued to mark the completion of its five year term, the RTI Commission stated that it had handed down orders to disclose information in 84% of appeals during 2017-2019 and approximately 79% of appeals in 2020. It expressed the hope that the empowerment of the citizenry through the RTI regime will continue in the future.

Colombo Telegraph is informed that the Parliamentary Council has today, at a meeting headed by the Speaker, with the participation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, SJB parliamentarian Kabir Hashim and Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda decided to publish a call for nominations to fill the vacancies in the RTI Commission during the following days. In terms of Section 12 (1) of the RTI Act, nominations may be made by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, media organisations and civil society organisations. The Council has decided to specify a period of two weeks for the nominations to be made.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    15

    “Information” on anything is NOT a “right” in any country.
    It is only a ‘privilege’.
    Doctors, lawyers and other professionals have the right to withhold information they become aware of in the course of their work/duties.
    No government can function if information on members of the government and public servants can be accessed by members of the general public.
    Only “decisions” made may be divulged to the citizens, not WHY they were made.
    So far, no politician appears to have given information on their qualifications, wealth and their personal lives. They cannot be forced to do so.

    • 11
      0

      justice,
      _

      That’s then, not now. Since 2017(?), great strides seem to have been done by RTI. Pity, as so much of money left the country before that, through especially political patronage for pet projects. Good job of this RTI commission! Politicians will think twice. As per doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, country does not need them to divulge essential monetary information. Information can be accessed through bankers, auditors and accountants…..or plain sailing public noticeability and worry that something is not quite right with all kinds of private fancy personal things coming up with no accountability. Of course there is the money-laundering processes, but no worry – the RTI is quite sophisticated in its enquiries.

      • 2
        0

        ramona therese fernando: Some of these “Justices” still live in the “By-Gone” days. So need not worry about them so much.

        I have been very vocal on obtaining “Declarations of Assets” from all candidates filing Nominations for elections with their Nomination Papers. If not, those Nominations must be “REJECTED” forthwith. No time must be allowed. The PEOPLE must know their “Assets” before elections and after winnings. It must be made LAW of the country. All winning candidates must be COMPELLED to file their “Income Returns” annually and if failed they must be prosecuted and the punishment should be loss of their Parliamentary seat. This is a WAY to make these “ROGUES” accountable and responsible and CLEAN the POLITICAL CULTURE of the country.

        • 0
          0

          Simon,
          Yes, It MUST be done! That’s the only way out of the stalemate we are continually in. Hope and pray that the people are given wisdom.

  • 10
    0

    J
    Right to information is in general a privilege, but it is a right when a matter affects an individual or a community.
    Decision by a committee is collective and the responsibility is collective. If information is available on demand on ‘who said what’ that will affect proper functioning of a committee. Leaked information is often partly factual. A person who dissents with a group decision should express dissent within the framework of the terms of the group, and place the disagreement on record for future reference if need arises. However, the public has the right to know the basis of any ruling.
    As for ‘qualifications, wealth and personal lives’ of politicians, the first two are required to be revealed by any candidate for election to public office.
    Personal life should remain personal except for records of criminal offence and conviction.
    Only a snooper state seeks information on the personal life of citizens. Modern communication technology has helped such snooping very much.

    • 1
      0

      Correction:
      Access to information is in general a privilege…

  • 5
    1

    What about religious institutions, temples, churches and mosques ?

    How about companies affecting our daily life, Dialog, SLT, Food City, Keells , can we find out their inner workings, their margins, what is in their stores ?

  • 4
    0

    Will Lankan RTI help to unearth ” PANDORA PAPERS”. I remember having a discussion about Shell companies used by the corrupt in hiding money and possibilities of our PC turning into one. It,s no surprise to see the names of Putin, King Abdullah of Jordan, Presidents of Kenya, Cyprus, Ukraine, Ecuador who all have one thing in common Just like our Rajapaksas are kleptocrats in power by illegal means.

  • 0
    0

    “Justice”, you have exhibited your ignorance by stating that information is not a right but it is a privilege. This is far from the truth. I give below some relevant information for the benefit of ignoramus’ like you and others.
    Right to Information Act No. 12 of 1916 has conferred this right to the citizens of this country in no uncertain terms. In terms of Section 3 of the Act every citizen shall have a right of access to information which is in the possession, custody or control of a public authority. Section 5 provides instances in which the information can be refused such as if it is harmful to defence of the state, relates to personal information, unwarranted invasion into privacy of individuals, country’s relationship with any other state, prejudice to country’s economy, commercial confidence, trade secrets, intellectual property, medical records of individuals, preventing detection of crime, injurious to the itegrity of public exams etc.
    State and public institutions are maintained by tax monies of the people. Thus the people have a right to seek and to obtain information they wish to have from any institution that runs on public funds. The RTI Commission with Justice Rohini Walgama(Rtd), Dr. Selvi Thiruchandran, S.G.Punchihewa and Kishali Pinto Jayawardane (Chairperson) did a marvelous job, and has been a shining example.

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