Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Podujana Party members, warned Sri Lanka’s editors at a media briefing on 26th March that the proposed Counter Terror Bill will dilute the ‘peoples’ victory’ won by RTI.
Pointing out that the RTI Act is a ‘good thing’, Dullas Allahapperuma said that the Counter Terror Bill will take away the importance of the RTI Act. The Bill should be opposed as it contains several provisions harmful to citizens and the media, he and the former President said.
Though applauding the RTI Act now, Rajapaksa’s Government refused to enact the law for several years, shooting down a proposal by then Opposition member Karu Jayasuriya to bring it as an independent members’ bill. Analysts were sceptical about the Rajapaksa praise for RTI now, saying that if they come into power, significant obstacles will be put in the way of the smooth working of RTI. ‘Government bodies may be instructed to ignore the RTI Act and the RTI Commission may be weakened as its active Commissioners will step down,’ a journalist-activist based overseas said.
Meanwhile, the Rajapaksa push to ‘support’ the independent commissions reached bizarre heights when the former President sat as a ‘distinguished invitee’ in the front seats of the extravagant launch of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC)’s action plan on tackling corruption held at the plush Shangri-La hotel, itself a site for controversial corruption allegations. Rajapaksa, his brothers and son have several corruption cases pending and ongoing in the fast-tracked corruption focused special High Courts.
The launch was heavily criticised in the media as a RTI disclosure at the same time had found that the CIABOC had filed only one case involving more than Rs. 10m in court during the past ten years even though a staggering Rs. 2.3b of public money had been spent on maintaining CIABOC.
The Colombo Telegraph also learns that several RTI appeals had filed at the RTI Commission by complainants who had complained to the CIABOC regarding instances of bribery and corruption in government entities and by politicians but had not been informed by CIABOC as to why their complaints were dismissed/not proceeded with.
One appellant told Colombo Telegraph on the basis of strict confidentiality as his appeal was pending at the RTI Commission, that the RTI Commission had subjected the senior officers representing the Bribery Commission at the appeal hearing to heavy questioning as to why reasons cannot be given when a complaint is dismissed by the Bribery Commission without just informing complainants of the fact.
He said that there were many similar appeals at the RTI Commission. There is a huge number of cases where the CIABOC decides not to proceed and does not inform the complainant why on a factual basis but hides behind the ‘secrecy provision’ in the Bribery Act to use it as an excuse for being as ‘non-transparent’ as it could be, he said. The media should also ask CIABOC under the RTI Act as to the percentage of complaints that it dismisses, he added.
‘Why should public money be wasted on a useless institution like CIABOC? Why are we funding grand launches while they do nothing or file cases that are thrown out of court?” he asked.
Coincidentally, even as the CIABOC ‘celebrated’ its action plan launch, its officers went to the Colombo Magistrate’s Court to withdraw cases that it had filed against MP Johnston Fernando for failing to disclose assets and liabilities due to technical defects in the legal actions.