13 November, 2018

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Right To Information Act: Better Late Than Never

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

When the campaign staff of Maithripala Sirisena started articulating the when-elected plans, neither he nor his spokespersons were taken seriously. It’s not their fault. Election-time, after all, is all about promises, never mind their doability. How many times, for example, have we heard the slogan, ‘I will abolish the executive presidency if elected’?

The fact that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe dispensation got the 19th Amendment passed, even with its flaws, was therefore a remarkable and happy departure from past practices pertaining to manifestos and their implementation. No one can be faulted therefore for hoping that the rest of the promised reforms would get implemented, although about 300 days have passed since the end-date of the 100 Day Programme came and went.

It wasn’t going to be easy of course. First, there was the General Election. That sent everything to the back burner. Then there was the period of limbo when those in power couldn’t name a cabinet. The daily grind of governing can also get in the way of making laws. We had the case of a little girl being raped and murdered, we had the issue of the National Anthem being sung in Tamil, we had a debate about how ‘Danno Budunge’ should be sung and now we have ECTA.

RTISome of the distractions are not of the government’s own making, but some certainly are. It makes sense politically. Who, after all, talks of the famous ‘100 Days’ now? It is almost a year since Maithripala Sirisena and almost all the SLFP high rankers spoke at a rally pledging to put the entire elections system right, but is there any talk of the 20th Amendment now? Political expediency is not what the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government promised us, however.

Today we are offered the media-bytes of impending arrests, arrests and promises of further action. This might keep the vociferously anti-Rajapaksa supporters of the government happy and annoy those on the other side, but righting wrongs is not only about punishing wrongdoers. It is about correcting the flaws of the system.

We are still in the early days of the independent commissions. There is a woeful absence of information about how these entities operate. It will take time and we should be patient. However, there’s nothing to stop the government from going ahead with complementing reforms, in particular getting busy with the Right to Information Act.

The draft was ready more than 10 months ago. The input of all relevant sections of society was obtained before it was put together. And yet, apart from the odd ‘we will do it soon,’ there’s no sign of it getting done.

Since anti-corruption was picked as a veritable pay-off line by the Sirisena campaign and has been retained as a ‘must-say’ in the rhetoric of this government, one would have thought the Right to Information Act would have been treated as a matter of priority. Given the fascination that the government and its defenders demonstrate about the need to be squeaky clean with money, why is this important weapon against financial wrongdoing being constantly footnoted?

The Right to Information Act would, over time and with regular reference, create a more alert and pro-active citizenry. It would put politicians tempted to bend rule or even brazenly rob on the back foot. They’d be forced to think twice before doing ‘what was always done and what every did and worse, were expected to do’.

And it’s not just the politicians and others in the public sphere that would have to be careful. A comprehensive RTI Act would cover other organisations too. Each and every entity obtaining money from the government, foreign governments or international organizations would be open to scrutiny. This is the case in the RTI Acts of Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and South Africa.

[Read ‘The Right to Info Act: Get it right the first time‘ — Editorial, ‘The Nation’ about 10 months ago]

A few days ago the Minister of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, Mano Ganesan revealed an interesting fact to Parliament.

“The government had not received financial statements from NGOs in respect of funds received from overseas donors since 2000, barring the period 2011-2013.”

Minister Ganesan revealed that “NGOs had received Rs. 13.9 bn (Rs 13,926,619,942) in 2011, Rs. 11. 4 bn (Rs.11,488,308,761) in 2012 and Rs. 10.8 bn (Rs.10,840,293,929) in 2013”.

If these are typical figures for a year, we are talking about a figure in the region of staggering Rs 150 billion going unreported.

Minister Ganesan would no doubt take steps to find out who received money, how much money was received and how the money was spent.

President Sirisena and his supporters, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe pledged to put things in order. We do understand the need to prosecute those who are found to have indulged in financial fraud, but what is more important in the long run is to put in place a system that makes fraud difficult or impossible. In the case of the former ‘need’ the exercise cannot be selective. Minister Ganesan will be naming names or should be. In the case of the latter ‘need’ then the RTI has to be seen as one of the most important instruments of prevention, provided of course that the draft and the final document curtain relevance and limit it to state entities and individuals therein.

In light of all this, perhaps it is high time that the President and Prime Minister move the forces they command to get the RTI Act back on track.

*A version of this article was published as the Editorial, Sunday Island (February 28, 2016). Yesterday (Tuesday, March 1, 2016), the Deputy Minister of Paliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Karunarathna Paranawithana said that the draft Act will be placed before Parliament for the first reading next Monday (March 7, 2016).

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Latest comments

  • 10
    1

    “We had the case of a little girl being raped and murdered……Some of the distractions are not of the government’s own making, but some certainly are.”

    Well, rape and murder of a little girl is a concern for the government. It is not Kurakkan Samagama Rule where a foreign national could be killed and his fiance could be gang raped by killer Councillors next to his body. She was found half naked on the concrete floor by the police after many hours. No, no, the Rajapaksa government was not to be distracted from their Dhamma Ruling by this trivial issue.

    “We are still in the early days of the independent commissions. There is a woeful absence of information about how these entities operate.”

    This comes from an apologist of Rajapaksa Government, where the All Party Council Report and LLRC Report were tossed in the bin. Hardly anyone knew about their processes.

    “Minister Ganesan would no doubt take steps to find out who received money, how much money was received and how the money was spent.”

    Shiranthy Rajapaksa had an orphanage in Vanni. Some of the girls, about 21, were kept in the facility. She or her staff would take international donors to look at the facility, which was presented as an NGO. It seems she received millions of dollars to run that NGO.

    Seriously, does Malinda Seneviratne have any sense of shame? I know, we all know the answer.

    • 2
      1

      On the right track MS, but you have a ways to go, still!

      Indeed, you are right, the NGOs have gone silent on the Right to Information – CPA and ICES and all those self righteous promoters of democracy are strangely silent because they will also need to provide their financial statements and be ACCOUNTABLE.

      But surely the RTI Bill is more important!

      CT editors. perhaps you could inquire from CPA, NPC etc why they are silent on RTI Bill?

      We always knew that there is little to chose between NGOs and corrupt politicians that infest the Diyawenna Parliament!

      Today there is a conspiracy between corrupt politicians who are addicted to the CULTURE OF IMPUNITY and the IMMUNITY they enjoy because people are denied to Right to information on the financial and other crimes of the politicians, and the NGOs.

      Time for non-NGO civil society to take RTI forward!

    • 3
      0

      RE”Right To Information Act: Better Late Than Never

      Malinda Seneviratne

      Yes. Need to know why?

      “However, there’s nothing to stop the government from going ahead with complementing reforms, in particular getting busy with the Right to Information Act.”

      Yes.

      Right To hide. That is what the politicians and culprits want.

  • 4
    0

    You are one of three appendages to the Gang of four. But you are a minion compared to other two appendages HLDM & Dayan.

    You desperately wants MaRa regime to come back to power at any cost to the future of SL. So you wants RTI act passed in a hurry so that you all can use it as chisels to bring down the MS -RW regime which is progressive but cautious because there is no sign MaRa is going to gracefully retire from active politics until he makes Namal to take over the SLFP.

    Before trying your tricks again and again why not you consult Sumanadasa Abeygunawardne and get the right advise.

    • 0
      0

      @Non PhD

      And your point is what exactly ?????

      You haven’t brought up anything to refute what he is saying, instead you are just trying tocharacter-assasinate, insult and belittle – which does YOU more harm than it does to Malinda, no ?

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