In a major victory for Right to Information in Sri Lanka, the Cabinet of Ministers released the full report of the Cabinet Committee investigating financial irregularities incurred during the construction of Sri Lanka’s Defence Headquarters Complex (DHQC) in Akuregoda, together with annexes, appendixes and attachments following an appeal hearing at the Right to Information Commission this Tuesday (2nd April).
The committee had been appointed in terms of Cabinet Decision dated 05.08.2015 (No. 15/1131/603/045) ‘to investigate and make recommendations’ on the financial irregularities concerning the construction during the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The release was in response to an appeal filed by Thirukumar Nadesan whose request for the documentation had been refused by the Cabinet and state entities on the basis of national security.
Also released was Cabinet Decision dated 05.08.2015 (No. 15/1131/603/045) to investigate and make recommendations on the matters related to the ‘consultancy firms and related payments’ of the project on the construction of the Defence Headquarters complex (DHQC) in Akuregoda.
Saying that the information asked for concerned financial irregularities and if any documents affected national security, they could be redacted from the information handed over, the RTI Commission had ordered that the report be released under confidential cover to it. The Cabinet of Ministers had agreed to hand over the report in line with the ruling.
After prolonged hearings before the Commission where the basis for rejection of the information had been examined at length, the Attorney General had indicated to the Commission on Tuesday that there was no impediment to the release of the information. Upon being directed to indicate if national security impacted on the release, the Ministry of Defence also informed the Commission that it had no objection. Following this, the information was released to the Appellant Nadesan.
Also released were details of money paid to Muditha Jayakody Associates (Pvt.) Ltd and Muditha Jayakody in regard to the project on the construction of the Defence HQ Complex in Akuregoda in the period 2011 to 31st May 2015.
Reporting on the information release, the Daily Lankadeepa this week hailed the release as a landmark step for RTI, pointing out, in a report filed by senior journalist Tharindu Jayawardena, that Public Authorities should realise from this example to be more careful in raising national security as a ground to refuse information without any actual basis and should understand that information can be refused only in respect of clearly spelt out reasons under the RTI Act.