27 May, 2018

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Is The Government Back-Peddling On The Right To Information?

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government has come in for strong criticism by media and civil rights lawyers after the proposed Audit Bill has sneakily suggested a clause that prohibits RTI applications from being filed against the Audit Service Commission and other individuals authorized by the Auditor General.

Pointing to this development as ‘a clear and present danger’, the widely read Sunday Times asked on 13th May as to whether the Government is ‘back-pedalling on the Citizen’s Right to Information’? The Times has editorialized that openness and transparency through RTI will turn out to be a hollow boast if a pattern of conferring exceptions to RTI for specific individuals continues.

The proposed clause in the Audit Bill states that information can be given by officers to information requesters only after the audit reports are presented to Parliament. Information can be disclosed prior to that only where there is a request of Parliament or an order of court or to give effect to the provisions of any written law, other than ‘any law requiring the disclosure of information’. If information is disclosed contrary to the above, an offence is committed. The Sunday Times has observed that any sensible reader of these clauses will see the obvious ‘potshots’ aimed at Sri Lanka’s globally acclaimed RTI Act, which the Government has boasted about locally and internationally.

The Colombo Telegraph learns that even some state officials involved in the drafting of the Audit Bill had not been in agreement with the wide cover given to a number of individuals by the proposed clause.

Meanwhile this is not the first such instance of a law providing RTI exceptions to individuals within a bare one and a half years of Sri Lanka’s globally praised RTI Act being enacted. The Island reported (May 9th 2015) that RTI Commissioner Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena who was a member of the drafting committee of the RTI Act had criticized the Office of Missing Persons Act as well as the proposed Audit Bill for containing such clauses. Responding to a question raised by a participant in the audience during a global conference on RTI held in Colombo last week, she explained that later laws which seek to protect individuals in a generalized manner from RTI scrutiny is not compatible with core ideals of RTI.

As of now, members, officers, servants and consultants of the Office of Missing Persons are shielded from responding to RTI requests in respect of information given confidentially to them. Families of the disappeared have said that they were concerned about this prohibition as the functioning of the OMP ought to be open and transparent in all respects. The RTI Act already lists privacy and confidential information given by third parties as two separate grounds on which information can be denied unless there is an overriding public interest.

In South Africa, the country’s Access to Information law had been extensively used by activists to get information on the functioning of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One important example among many was when the South African History Archives (SAHA) filed an RTI request in 2016 for a report on funding for covert activities and weapons acquisition that the Auditor General of South Africa had prepared for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to which it denied public access.  SAHA has argued that the requested records related to tax exemptions on the export of uncut diamonds and secret funding could shed light on the manner in which billions of South African rand in tax money, money badly needed for social spending requirements, was either never collected or spent on dubious and illegal activities at the end of the apartheid era. These experiences are good lessons for Sri Lanka. If the proposed clause in the Audit Bill is passed in its current form, information requests such as that filed by SAHA will not be possible.

Where Sri Lanka’s RTI Act is concerned, enacting new laws with exceptions to RTI defeats its Section 4  which places the Act above other written law as at the time the RTI Act was passed by Parliament (4th August 2016). It is common knowledge that though attempts were made to persuade the drafting committee of Sri Lanka’s RTI Bill to exempt some Departments and Offices from the reach of RTI at the time, these attempts were firmly resisted.

Is this purpose now sought to be achieved in a round-about way by some in the Government? This is a question that must be asked when the Government boasts of the RTI law next time around!

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    IF they want to do it, why there is so much speculation and planning. IT is well known the govt has confidential things afftects the security of th country. but, why audit coincul has to be secretive. Was it wanted by some foreign govt to hide their contribution. That can not be as every govt accuse Sri lanka for begging from them. IF they want to hide the spy agency, civil society contribution, those are not supposed to be governamental. What kind of thefts or corruptions they want to hide by making the audit council powerless. Are they taking about the banks,, central bank, Treasury or the PResident’s fund which should be one of the most corrupt places. I think, this itself is cheating o f the public because politiciasn including president want to stay a public thief. IT is legalized theft.

  • 1
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    How can I set about getting the list of all the Forces personnel that died in the 15 month war, from Jan 2008 to May 2009? Their names, regiments, ranks, private addresses and their dates of death.? Can some one help? Surely the Forces should have the compilation by now.

    • 1
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      ‘Their names, regiments, ranks, private addresses and their dates of death’

      This is their private information and RTI does not apply to it. On the other hand Gamini, you could always ask Zuckerberg or Cambridge Analytica.

      • 0
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        What is so private about the information? The dead if to be honoured, their names can be mentioned with the relevant details. Why should the Forces fight shy about releasing the list? Is it because it is zero casualty?

        • 0
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          No, its because you want their private addresses.

          • 0
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            Private addresses is for a cross check to see whether the information provided is genuine or not. Otherwise forces dead prior to Jan 2008 will be included for a cover up. Then the game plan of the staged war between MR and VP will be revealed and how VP and his LTTE cadre was annihilated in the end, once they buried all their arsenal and decamped their strong hold Kilinochchi to a beach front to surrender. It also will reveal how VP was duped to leave Kilinochchi with the promise, that he was to be whisked away but nothing of the sort happened and left behind with the rest to be annihilated. USA, India, UK, UN are all deeply involved in the operation to hoodwink the gullible in this country of a Hoax of a war. The list of the Forces dead will reveal the truth whether there was any kind of fighting between the Forces and the LTTE during the said period. Both MR and VP hyped a war after the stage was closed to all witnesses. Mind you the LTTE held area was so heavily land mined, that it took over six years to demine after the war ended in May 2009. If there was a real war the casualty figures of both sides would have been tremendous, which is not the case.

            • 0
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              Fascinating! So that long monologue justifies private information being passed to one Gamini of CTgama?

              • 0
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                Paul for your information there is nothing called private information, not to reveal who the soldiers who have died in combat during a specific period. Why, I have asked is to clear my mind that the whole of North as all know, the LTTE held areas were heavily land mined and any intrusion would have resulted in heavy casualty figures. It is an open secret that it took over six years after the war ended to clear the area of land mines. After the war commenced in January 2008 where the LTTE closed the Mawilaru anicut and drew the Forces to a Publicity war, the govt. cleared the stage of all witnesses including the UN. Thereafter both MR and VP started to hype a massive war in the North with many casualty figures claimed on either side. Strangely there were hardly any funerals or Pinkam houses to comemorate such number of deaths of Forces personnel in the South. By August 2008, eight months in to the war, just before the NCP election the Govt announced that they had captured all land held by the LTTE and all the LTTE was holed up in Kilinochchi surrounded by the Forces. Had the LTTE been in combat to capture their land many would have died and there would not have been many LTTE left to seek refuge in Kilinochchi. If that was the case the last battle should have been at Kilinochchi where the LTTE had their bunkers to hide and fight. No the LTTE numbering around a forty five thousand and a Tamil civilian population of around a three hundred thousand, all decamp Kilinochchi by January 2009 and assemble on the beach front. Thereafter although it was announced that the LTTE was shooting any Tamil civilian trying to escape, all Tamil civilians were allowed to wade through the Lagoon to the Forces control side. It is only then the drama starts where it was publicly admitted by Sarath Fonseka how the LTTE was massacred when they tried to surrender. So when Gota said that it was zero casualty it looks true for the Forces.
                Then the cat was out of the bag when the Govt displayed a large haul of weapons at the first Deyata Kirula Exhibition held at the BMICH, found buried by the LTTE. Ask yourself the question if the LTTE was in fierce battle with the Forces would VP have buried a single weapon? Think! Think!

                Colonel Hook, thanks for the information, Let me get the number of the dead soldiers to prove my point, that is if I get it.

    • 0
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      gamini!
      Similarly how can you get the number of people killed in Mullivaikal inclusive of Srilanka soldiers/Tamil civilians. How many Tamils were captured by the army and never let free. How many civilians were made to disappear after being captured/ handed over by the relatives. How many are still in custody without charges being framed. How many LTTE men and women were released after rehabilitation. There are so many questions to be asked after the reply.

    • 0
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      gamini,

      “How can I set about getting the list of all the Forces personnel that died in the 15 month war, from Jan 2008 to May 2009? Their names, regiments, ranks, private addresses and their dates of death.? Can some one help?”

      Information Officer
      Brigadier WP Upali Weerasinghe (Retd) USP
      Legal Advisor 
      Tel: 0112424374/ 0756492348
      Email: wupali@hotmail.com
      Address: Legal Branch, Ministry of Defence, No: 15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo 03.

      Designated Officer
      Mr. RPR Rajapaksha
      Additional Secretary – Parliamentary affairs, Policy & Planning
      Tel: 0112389186/ 0714499678
      Email: rrajap60@gmail.com
      Address: Ministry of Defence, No: 15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo 03.

  • 2
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    I think this articles say, if this work out the way it should, The election will be a disaster for politicians. All the histories of thefts come out. Because, I heard, Mahinda Rajapakse had said do not let theat happen we all will be in trouble. Maithripala sirisena is saying my all miraculous contributions to Sri lanka as the president will be jeoparady. Ranil says, I am caught now, they will find I was not the same CLEAN MAn many they know now. Ranil has though th his horescope was getting better until I see this bill coming to discussion. It looks every politician in the cabinet is scared. for example, MY3 has offered Wijedasa Rajapakse a new list of govt institution under him

  • 1
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    IT looks they get scared even for the Audit. PResident Fund, has it ever being audits since the inception JRJ. I heard PAddy marketing board also has never been audited and that is a place every minister to make him rich at the expense of PAddy. NOw ministers may have stolen from PAddy MArketing board, and Fertilizer scam. but one the minister is transferred he is no longer responsible. So, next time they braing another round complains to a new FCID. but the minister is acquitted because he is not the minister now. The anwser is ” I DID NOT HAVE EDUCATION OR EXPERIENCE. MY MINISTRY PEOPLE HAVE DONE ALL THESE AND I DO NOT KNOW”. IF it is wimal weerawansha would say, I built indsutrial complex but it was wrong all were good for a housing scheme. so, I sold below the price to my relatives. IF it is KiriElla or MAhindaNanda Aluthgamage would say my inheritance but when asked since all received recently. S.B. dissanayake can not say anything because of that he has built a new group, all in the saem boat and same interests, with 16 MPs to bargain for the next elelction. I heard one defeated MP from MAthale is saying he is coming back and he is going to marry an ATHUKORALA. But the bride says, Now I can not marry you because I have a muslim boy friend.

  • 4
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    It is very rarely that good and sensible laws are enacted by the lawmakers of this country, who are mainly notorious for enacting obnoxious legislation. On some rare occasions good and useful laws have been passed, but after some time they are gradually undermined and even repealed. Why does the Sri Lankan Government have such a great distaste and aversion for good laws?

  • 2
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    CT

    This is a classical case of functionaries attempting to cover up their mistakes, professional incompetence and misconduct, corruption, illegal dealing, ………….. in advance.

    Do Sirisena and Dr Ranil read the draft act before its being debated in the parliament?

    • 1
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      According to the act of ‘Office of Missing Persons’ if a missing person is subsequently found that person still has the option to remain in the list! Native you can keep on writing to CT.
      Soma

      • 2
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        somass

        What is your point if you have one or ever had one?

        • 1
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          I mean you don’t have to worry about being found out by RTI guys. Your name will remain in the list.
          Soma

      • 0
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        Soma,
        Whether the Paranagama Commission II(OMP) has started to investigate the where about of any of the missing persons or not, they have thoroughly done that job for all missing persons ‘relatives. Last time Paranagama Commission kept sending CIDs to missing persons homes to make sure the members recoded by them were at homes and to issue them threats not to try anything beyond the Commission. This time already relatives are complaining the CIDs were going to their homes and threatening that they should not go to present their cases to Paranagama Commission II.

  • 5
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    They have been Back-Peddling from Day 1; Jan:09th 2015!

    • 1
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      Plato;
      Really? Whose Backs were they Peddling?

    • 1
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      Did you mean Back-Pedalling?

  • 3
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    The govt. need not worry to hide matters if they are honest. The term security is used laterally to hide frauds and crime. Why not start by disclosing their assets which has no security concern?

  • 1
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    Please go through the statements of Arnold Robinson (The Cabinet Secretary in Yes Minister series.) He says that Open Government is a contradiction in terms. Initially when MY3 and RW combine started to riding the horses of power it did not strike on them on how to cover certain operations ans enacted the RTI Act. Bur now, with one revelation after another they want to stifle the RTI. If that audit bill is already enacted, the RTI commission should ignore it to cause a court case and there let it be argued successfully that provisions of RTI are above any other provisions stipulated in other acts. That in my humble view is the only way to beat this net of secrecy that is being woven right now.

    • 0
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      Wierdo Blair grumbled that the Freedom of Information Act in the UK was the biggest mistake that he made!

      What I know is it is even more difficult to dodge the Lankawe RTI Act than the UK law. But even if the Lankawe Act is placed higher than other laws already in force when it was passed (Aug 2016), that does not apply to future laws, audit act and others as Parliament is not supposed to block itself.

      Clowns who sit on court benches now are not in favour of rti. They are nervous of rti being applied to their corrupt acts! They must be exposed. Three cheers for lawyers naganada and suhandhika for bringing the stink to the public.

  • 2
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    Not worth of a comment. Lankawe???? Dear citizenry enjoy the ride. It is one way ticket to HELL. Since independence the policy of successive govt is to do no good but do more harm and the public seems to be very much satisfied with it.

  • 2
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    We Sri Lankans are not civilized enough to keep abreast with to days world standards in Good Governance.

  • 1
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    Why did the president make a sudden dash to IRAN (out of all the places) at this juncture??? amid all the conflicts,including Syria/Israel/US/border/nuclear/new embassy issues in addition to their internal political conflicts. Where their own leaders are currently overwhelmed and dosent have any time for these casual sit downs or friendly visits.If any readers have any views or inputs please help me out.( I have my own views but I will like to hear from others).Following his visit he had made a statement again outright rejecting any international involvement in UN related issues.And at the same time one (and only) trust worthy politician has clearly stated that president is the one who is watching the backs of Rajapaksas

  • 0
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    Chiv.
    The President went over to Iran to advice the Govt: over there about the benefits of Samurdhi!
    What else does he know?

  • 0
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    RTI was introduced in SL to make UNHCR smile. But we never stopped laughing!
    Activists will almost always try to get information on ‘Law and Order” situations. The transgressors are the Lankan Police, the Armed Services and the goon-squads rented by politicians. An industry will blossom to make activists withdraw RTI application. How? Surely you know the answer.
    .
    RTI has been used by business interests to gather commercial information. To the layperson TRI will serve to confirm known ‘truths’ about ‘Law and Order’. .
    Recently Sugandhika Fernando and Nagananda Kodithuwakku with steely determination have started a tide. We must join them in creating a tsunami.

  • 1
    2

    Drug Peddling under Yahapalanay is more dangerous and causing more damage than Dr Ranil back peddling the the Right to Yahapalana Information.
    Poor Rugby players were apparently served Brown Sugar adulterated with Rat Poison at the Night Club in the Liberty Plaza.
    That is how much freedom Dr Ranil and his mate Sira have given the Colombo Elite to enjoy Yahapalanaya.

    • 1
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      Drug Peddling is Dangerous, OK. But when did they start Peddling ‘Backs’ ?

      • 1
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        Drug peddling definitely should connected to powerful people. that is mostly politicians. Drug business is international business by which spy agencies earn their income because of the covert operations are not sanctioned by the respecttive govts (the country that indulged in this). In Sri lanka IT says both the govt and opposition politicians are helping the drug imports. Both MY3 and Ranil know it.

    • 3
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      Sumanaya is back with more entertainment. I thought you did all a favor by kicking the bucket. Bloody hell, you are back.

      • 2
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        Tamil from the north

        KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera reincarnated as Kalu Albert and then re-reincarnated
        as KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera.

        He is alive and kicking, he is back to being himself. Not much change therefore there is nothing much to worry about him.

      • 1
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        A KAllathoni from north say he is with sinhala people but he doe snot allow them to express their views.

      • 1
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        Tamil from Scarborough,
        Pleased to hear you missed me a lot.
        Tell me something mate,
        Do your Vellala Buds in Wella Gardens frequent the sleazy joints in Colombo, which have proliferated under Yahapalanaya?
        I know they wouldn’t want to pay 30 Bux to get in let alone fork out 7 Bux for a Hindian watered Red Label.
        They definetly wouldn’t be interested in paying to sniff those cheap perfumes from Thailand and Ukraine as the latest review the Travel Writers put in to describe Cleopatra..
        BTW, how come we don’t hear about your Vellala mates coming with their Canadian Dollars to invest in Mallika.s FDI projects?.
        Don’t you have Vellalas there, Or is it that the Vellalas’ there don’t have the Dosh to help Dr Ranil and his EAVW action?..

    • 1
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      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      “Drug Peddling under Yahapalanay is more dangerous and causing more damage than Dr Ranil back peddling the the Right to Yahapalana Information.”

      I thought your /clan’s buddy Duminda is secured inside 4 walls.

      “That is how much freedom Dr Ranil and his mate Sira have given the Colombo Elite to enjoy Yahapalanaya.”

      Clan’s step brother’s son Malaka is under control, not much seen in the open or near clubs/hotels nowadays.

      • 0
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        Dear Native,
        Hamlet wants to know when did they start Peddling Backs?.
        I know you a re loyal buddy of Dr Ranil.
        Can you please tell Hamlet..

        Looks like Kudu Duminda will say bye bye to Bogambara.
        Yahapalana SC reckons he was convicted on charges which weren’t even in the Prosecution charges list.
        How cool are these Yahapalana Judges?.

        Kudu Mervyn is a new man now, thanks to Yahapalanaya.
        He has opened with barrels at Treasure Hunting, Dr Ranil’s Deputy Keselwatta Kid.
        Bad enough the Kid copped it big time from Dr Ranil’s other Deputy , Monarch Ravi.
        Poor Kid , how can Dr Ranil anoint the Kid as the PM and face Gota to get the President Gig, to make it an all UNP Yahapalanaya.
        If that happens I will sell up and migrate to Madagaskar.

        • 0
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          KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

          “If that happens I will sell up and migrate to Madagaskar.”

          Will you be looking after clan’s laundered money in Madagascar?

          Tell me if you are given the choice whom would you chose as the UNP leader between Kesselwatte kid or Dutta Gamani’s Nayake descendant?
          Do you have to consult Dayan or maybe Bandula?

          • 1
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            Dear Native,
            Now I know that you you have no idea about Barrel Ageing of Fine Whiskies .
            And the types of Barrels that are used..
            Neither you seem to know about cutting Heroin in Colombo Night Clubs,
            Vellalas generally . are not spenders.anyway.
            They want to collect as much as they can and give it away as dowries to get the highest in Money and Caste.
            But the Sinhala Elite are different. Most probably because of their upbringins under the Suddas.
            They love Dr Ranil and his mates even though most of them are proven rogues.
            Because Dr Ranil and his Rogue Troops have given the Elite the best.
            Look at the number of Ayurvedic Massage Joints.
            Colombo 3 alone has 33 of them.
            Then there are Bellagios, Cleopatras, Sumathipala’s Turf Clubs and Monarch Apartments , you name it and they have it in Colombo.
            Dr Ranil has certainly set a high Bench Mark for the Elite to have Fun.
            BTW have you been to sniff those cheap Thai and Ukranian Perfumes.
            I bet you haven’t.
            Are there any good Gay Bars .in Colombo that you know.
            I don’t like cheap places myself.

      • 1
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        NATIVE VEDDA: I heard Ranil had saved his relative daughter who was brining both Cash and Drugs via the airport. So, it is a business restricted for the elite and wealthy.

  • 0
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    Shame on you President and PM. We cannot expect people holding positions of President and PM of a country stooping to such low levels. What examples are you
    giving to the community in general. During the last three years we have seen your moral conduct deteriorating to very low levels if not to the lowest imaginable. Justice,honesty are openly assailed. We cannot expect these politicians to live exemplary lives they are beyond redemption, the policy of the politician is ‘you scratch my back and I scratch your’s.’The political caravan goes while the dogs keep barking at them and the goons keep pelting stones at them. Readers please do not take this literally.

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