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.