Responding to an appeal filed by a journalist asking for, the educational qualifications of members of the current Parliament (especially the ministers) as well as how many MPs have criminal charges against them, the Right to Information Commission of Sri Lanka has directed the Sri Lanka Parliament to make available that information to citizens.
The Commission has dismissed the defence of officials of the Parliament that these details relate to the ‘privacy’ of MPs. Instead, it has ruled that the information asked for does not come within the ambit of Section 5 (1)(a) in that firstly, it has a direct relationship to ‘public activity or interest’ within the meaning of that Section and secondly, as a consequence thereof that, there is no ‘unwarranted’ invasion of privacy thereby.
The RTI Commission has observed that it is of direct comparative interest that, in Union of India v Association for Democratic Reforms , the Indian Supreme Court held that constituencies have a right to know about inter alia the educational qualifications and criminal charges, if any, of elected representatives, as this is an exercise which furthers the citizens’ right to make an informed decision about who should represent them in Parliament. In any event, the public interest in disclosure of the said information is paramount as envisaged in Section 5 (4) of the RTI Act, the Commission said.
The Commission has noted that, ‘it is encouraging to note that the PA has taken the first steps in this regard by writing to all Members of Parliament (MPs) by letter dated 10.05.2021 to obtain information on the relevant educational qualifications, citing requests for information made by citizens under the RTI Act.’ However, the PA has affirmed that not a single MP had responded to the said request to date. This has led the Commission to state that;
‘…The absence of any response even after the lapse of more than two months since the aforesaid letter is undeniably a matter for concern in the context of the overriding public interest as referred to in this Order. The Commission directs the PA to apprise the Appellant forthwith of any responses to the above stated letter, with copy to the Commission. We further note that, contingent on the said information being furnished, the PA has undertaken to update their website with the educational qualifications of MPs albeit without a specified timeline.’
In the Order signed by Chair and Commissioners, retired secretary of the Ministry of Labour, M Gammampila, senior attorney Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, activist SG Punchihewa and S. Thiruchandran, Parliament has been told to ‘take requisite steps to obtain the requested information regarding pending criminal charges from elected representatives of the Sri Lanka Parliament and to make the same available of public record.’
The full Order of the Commission can be read here