Even as Sri Lanka’s RTI Act is supposed to be implemented in regard to all public authorities from February 3rd 2017, Director General of the Information Department, Ranga Kalansooriya’s basic ignorance about even the Act’s time limits in which information must be given, has been exposed.
In a newspaper interview given to a daily newspaper on Thursday, Kalansooriya claimed that ‘They have to place the request in writing and the request, if it is possible would be given in 14 days. So, all information sought could be provided within 14 days. If more time is needed then it could go up to 45 days. But, the process has to be finished within 45 days. 14 days is the minimum to say whether the information could be given. But the entire process should be completed in a maximum of 45 days.’
A quick look at the Act by Colombo Telegraph reveals that under Section 25, an information officer shall, as quickly as possible and in any event, decide to provide information or not within a maximum of (14) fourteen working days. If a decision is made to provide the information requested for, access to such information needs to be given within a further fourteen days of arriving at such decision.
So in all, the maximum time that an information officer can take is 28 days (fourteen plus fourteen), if not earlier. In two situations, where the request is for a large number of records or if the records are in some other city completely, then an extension of a further twenty one (21) days can be asked for. In all instances, if there is unjustified delay, the citizen can appeal to the RTI Commission against the information officer.
Kalansooriya’s obvious mistake about the time limits was not corrected by the journalist interviewing him in a ‘puff piece’ written to boost the Info DG.
After discovering this mistake, Colombo Telegraph spoke to a RTI activist who had prominently supported the yahapalanaya Government to come into power but was now a strong critic on television and in public. His response was that this was just one of many lies uttered by Kalansooriya.
‘From where has the DG got this number of 45 days? The Act does not even mention 45 days. May the devas help us if this DG is involved in the implementation of the RTI Act!’
He pointed out that the Info DG had sought to take credit for the RTI Act when he had nothing at all to do with the drafting of it. The RTI law was drafted by a committee of expert lawyers, editors and public servants who brought in good principles. ‘Kalansooriya was seeking for a job from the new yahapalanaya Government. He grabbed RTI as a useful vehicle to get prominence for himself after he became Info DG. He was shifted away from RTI at some point but has got back into the game. Now he is trying to use the proposed government regulation of the media for that same reason. Both are political ‘tricks’ by him.’ he said.
Even in regard to the RTI Commission, the RTI activist explained that what he had said was wrong as the independent Commission was suffering from the lack of financial resources, despite four months having passed since it was established.
‘We wish the new Commissioners well for their commitment. They are brave to get into this mess. They have an uphill task against this lying Government and its utterly ignorant and boastful officers’ he said. (By Chandima Wijeratne)