The Director General of the Information Department, Ranga Kalansooriya announced yesterday that the Treasury had released the Rs 76 million requested by the Right to Information (RTI) Commission but the source to which it had been released remained unclear.
Posting a message on his twitter account, he congratulated the media for taking up the matter and ‘highlighting the issue.’ Earlier, Colombo Telegraph, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times and the Daily Mirror had consistently pursued the question of an adequate and independent financial allocation for the Commission.
This was after the Sunday Times discovered through a supplementary estimate presented in Parliament for the RTI Commission by the Office of the President, that a separate financial allocation for the Commission had not been contained in the 2017 National Budget. The Government had explained that this was because the Commission had come into existence after the budgetary allocations had been decided on. As a result, the provisions of the Act which states that the Commission should have a separate Fund to which moneys voted on by Parliament was not being conformed to.
The RTI Commission is the RTI Act’s powerful supervisory, policy making and adjudicating oversight body. Vested with the authority to take offenders to court, it is mandated to monitor Public Authorities subject to the RTI Act, including not only Government bodies but also corporate, private and non-governmental bodies. In a statement that the Commission issued last month, it explained that it was negotiating with the Ministry of Finance to resolve this matter and to enable the needed allocations in order for it to function smoothly.
Calls made by the Colombo Telegraph to the Ministry of Finance to check the authenticity of the claim made on social media by the Director General, Information disclosed that the Ministry was considering, on the request of the Commission, if a separate supplementary estimate for the body could be placed before Parliament this year.
‘These things cannot be done like magic’ a senior ministry official attached to the Department of Budgets said ‘The Minister has already assured that he will make sure that the RTI Commission will receive its funds. We are proud of this law and the Commission as these are credits to the country. If there is any specific roadblock, he will intervene.’ he said.
Vested Interests Of ‘Indecent’ Civil Society Activists Against RTI
Meanwhile, Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that certain groups with vested interests are heavily engaged in trying to muddy the operationalising of the Right to Information (RTI) Act in Sri Lanka due to fear of RTI being used to expose their nefarious dealings.
The RTI Act and the Regulations of the RTI Commission, both ranked as making Sri Lanka’s RTI system the 3rd best in the world, is the only notable achievement of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government after two years of being in power. An important part of the law is that it can be used not only against Government but other entities, private and non-governmental as well.
Due to the fear that this powerful system may be used against them, various groups (incorporated and unincorporated) have sprung up attempting to sabotage RTI. Their sensationalist efforts includes trying to pass off as a ‘private response’, the public reply sent by the RTI Commission to a citizen regarding its negotiations with the Ministry of Finance to secure an independent funding allocation.
One such scam which has led to agitation on their part is in regard to attempts to prevent RTI being used to the scam where Ravaya had collected a whopping sum of Rs 12.7 million from unsuspecting individuals to be deposited in the so-called Ravaya Solidarity Fund. Thereafter Rs 5 million was personally pocketed by Victor Ivan (he earlier demanded Rs 20 million) without the contributors to the so-called ‘crowd funding’ initiative knowing about it.
Although supporters were told that they would receive shares for their pledged donations that too never took place. Later, some of those contributors protested and lodged complaints with the Registrar of Companies. One such contributor who gave Rs 100,000 to the Ravaya Solidarity Fund was public interest litigation activist Nagananda Kodituwakku who was not only not given shares but was not even given a receipt for his money. He lodged an entry at the Mirihana police station and though the nefarious individuals behind the scam pleaded that they would return the money that he contributed, he did not agree. But Ravaya returned the money via post.
Nagananda Kodituwakku, lodged a complaint at the Police Fraud Bureau on the 02nd of July 2015 and also complained to the Registrar of Companies D.N.R. Siriwardena about the same matter.
On the 6th of July 2015, commenting on the allegations against Victor Ivan pocketing Rs 10 million of Ravaya funds, D.N.R.Siriwardena, the Registrar of Companies told Colombo Telegraph that the entire transaction is illegal and completely out of the order and that an investigation is to be launched into the transaction.
‘Indecent’ activists who defended that scam also criticized Colombo Telegraph, calling it ‘low and uncultured’ when Colombo Telegraph exposed it. The Colombo Telegraph learns that these are the people who are worried that RTI may be used to expose their deals behind the scenes and embarrass them, including in regard to Victor Ivan’s scam in selling shares even though Ravaya Ltd was a guarantee company. It received monies from NGOs and INGOs.
We ask if those sensationalist actions are not ‘low’ and ‘uncultured’ on that same yardstick applied by the ‘indecent’ civil society activist to us?