18 September, 2018

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Government Denies Moves To Amend RTI Act

The Government has strongly denied reports in some Sinhala media that it plans to amend the Right to Information Act to ensure that Cabinet secrets are not subjected to RTI disclosure.

Ranga Kalansooriya

Responding to reports that an amendment bringing about this change will be hurriedly brought to Sri Lanka’s RTI Act ranked internationally as the third best law in the world, Director General of Information Ranga Kalansooriya responded on social media, denying the same. The DG Information stated that what was intended was merely to seek the advice of the Attorney General in regard to the application of the exemption relating to Cabinet papers and decisions. He stated further that ‘in any case there will be no move to curtail the law. The news is the usual exaggeration by media.’    

Section 5(1)(m) of the Act states that information may be refused where it concerns a Cabinet Memorandum in respect of which a decision has not been taken unless, as provided in Section 5(5), the RTI Commission determines that the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the harm that would result from its disclosure.

This provision is far more expansive than the equal provision in the Indian RTI Act which shuts out not only Cabinet memoranda but also ‘cabinet papers including records of deliberations of the Council of Ministers, Secretaries and other officers’ (S 8 (1) (i) of the Indian Act. The Indian law goes on to state that the ‘decisions of Council of Ministers, the reasons thereof, and the material on the basis of which the decisions were taken shall be made public after the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over.’

Responding to the news, RTI activists contacted by Colombo Telegraph noted that media reports of amendments to the RTI Act were surprising and unexpected. They were in fact, directly contrary to the public announcement at a Cabinet briefing given by President Mathripala Sirisena in April this year. This is where he specifically informed all Cabinet Ministers in a Note copied to the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka, that Cabinet decisions and Memoranda not falling within excepted categories under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, No 12 of 2016, have to be made available to a citizen upon request.

The President declared on a Note presented by him that when requests are received from a ‘citizen’ in accordance with RTI Regulations and Rules, necessary action needs to be taken by the Secretary to the Cabinet. The Cabinet was informed of the appointment of an Information Officer (IO) and a Designated Officer (DO) for the Cabinet. It was further stated that even though previously, all Cabinet decisions were considered as confidential documents, conveyed only to the Secretary to the relevant Ministry, the parties who are directly involved in the implementation or the Attorney General, the RTI Act had changed that process. The importance of this announcement to the Cabinet arose in the context of this indicating a change in the policy of the Government under the direction of the President himself.    

President Sirisena also pointed out that in conformity with proactive disclosure obligations under the RTI regime, Cabinet decisions and other facts required to be published therein will be carried on the website of the Cabinet Office.

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Latest comments

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    RTI, Sri Lankan, public/private of SAITM, GMOA and strikes, all say the same thing about the lawlessness, chaos and darkness we are in, clueless about the next step without the right information and right thinking. Human agendas are sometimes bizarre and weird. For the deaf and blind re the GMOA writing on the wall, the agreeing to halt SAITM admissions and also the graduation of existing students are the 1st steps to the shift to nationalization. GMOA stresses that in Ragama take over, there was a loss of students lives, whereas now they offer the Prez. and PM the bloodless path. However twisted and obtuse SLMC Prof. Carlo is, he has experienced the Ragama takeover of Prez Premadasa, while legislature is totally clueless how to complete this action. They take ages to even receive NFTH handed on a platter. Academic thinking and not political stock market must lead to action. This is not public/private airlines or banking, but a steady continual resource without eyes focusing on profit all the time, but the focus is on curing patients. Violence is what we have tolerated and created through lawlessness and we are on the fast lane to chaos and anarchy. GMOA is now a terrorist organization but even with threats, they cannot be eliminated from the govt. with its shorter life span than GMOA. Visionary wisdom of the govt. even now to take over SAITM and attach it to a regular structured and ordered uni like Moratuwa who have asked for a medical faculty is the only way to give justice to this locally approved MBBS to go into internship. “Standards” is not the issue except to win argument. Its not who wins, but who prevents death repeat chaos in SL. Grateful to Dr. Neville, but his 8 years exhausted, bereft of Prof. boards, no people. Carlo has know how without experimentation

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    What is the use of the RTI Act if not properly implemented by some Government Agencies? The Act came into force on 03rd February, 2017. The different Government Agencies were directed to appoint Information Officer (I.O.).and Designated Officer (D.O.) for their respective Offices and publish details in their websites. This had not been done for many Govt: Agencies up to date. Deadlines for acknowledgement and replies to requests for information are stated in the Act and the guidelines gazetted for implementation of the Act.
    I applied on 06th April, 2017 for information from the I.O. of the Department of Pensions. After I drew attention, my request was acknowledged on 25th April and a reference number was intimated. But the information, I requested, had not been given, up to date, despite two reminders to the I.O. I complained to the RTI Commission and received a prompt reply to appeal to the D.O before complaining to them.. I appealed to the D.O. on 03rd June, and despite a reminder, had not received an acknowledgement or any positive (Or even negative)..response so far. Yet, the Department boasts in its website that Special Awareness Program on RTI Act was held for Officers of the Department of Pensions on 19th May, 2017. Were the Officers not told about the necessity of prompt acknowledgement (3 working days) and reply (As early as possible, however within 2 weeks). This is an example of how some Government Agencies are implementing Government Laws and directives..
    Vela
    Govt: Pensioner

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      RTI Act is a reactionary piece of legislation which is meant that the law which has implemented more or less by written document, has not established proper atmosphere to entertain the law in reality.

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