The Sri Lanka Police Department, on Thursday September 1st 2022, agreed to provide information to a group of Sri Lanka’s leading ‘Aragalaya’ protestors on the quantity of tear gas brought to Sri Lanka during January 1st 2020 – January 1st 2022 and money expended for that purpose, all documentation, tender documents, procurement committee reports etc.
This was during a hearing before the Right to Information Commission where the Police Department had told the protestors that they had dispensed with the relevant documents as they were more than five years old.
Commissioners Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and Jagath Liyana Arachchi questioned the police at length as to why the Department had given contradictory and different explanations to refuse the information in the three information requests filed by the Centre for Society and Religion.
It was pointed out that the excuse of not having documentation or of destroying documentation cannot be done lightly as the internal circulars of the Department of the Police themselves prohibit this and further, that Section 7 (3) of the RTI Act prohibits destroying new records created from the year, 2017, for 12 years from that year.
Commissioners referred to a previous Order of 28th July 2022 issued by Chairman and Commissioners of the RTI Commission, Upaly Abeyratne, Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and Jagath Liyana Arachchi in which the Department of the Police had admitted that there was no legal grounds under the RTI Act to refuse the information in relation to another information request.
Journalists and activists who had suffered health repercussions as a result of what they alleged were expired tear gas used on them, had also asked for details of safety checks on the tear gas brought to Sri Lanka which had been refused by the police on the basis of national security. The Commission called upon the Inspector General of Police to strictly justify their denial to give the information based on national security. The appeal is ongoing.
Thursday’s hearing followed an Order handed down by the RTI Commission on Monday August 29th where information was directed to be released in a different ‘gas’ matter. This was in response to a citizen, WKS Karunaratne asking for details of salaries of top management of LITRO Gas together with the amount of loans taken by them. He had filed an appeal to the Commission against the refusal of LITRO Gas to give the information, stating that, the salaries and allowances of LIRO’s employees have been ‘immensely increased’, violating government policies imposed to protect the public money which attracts the public interest.
Mr Karunaratne also stated that, both the salaries and the amounts of loans taken by the employees of the Public Authority, ‘finally should be paid by the general public who consumes LP Gas…’with the increase in the selling price of LP Gas in the market.
In its Order available here, the Commission stated that, ‘the Public Authority is a leading provider of domestic cooking gas to the public in Sri Lanka, functions on public funds and utilises the same for the information asked’, which should be released before September 28th 2022. The Commission had earlier dismissed an objection brought by lawyers appearing for LITRO Gas that, it did not fall within the ambit of a Public Authority in the RTI Act.
LITRO Gas has been warned that failure to comply with the Order will result in the Information Officer and the Public Authority being prosecuted before the relevant Magistrate’s Court under Section 39 of the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016.