The Right to Information Commission on Monday (16th) released information of admission of school children to Grade One of Vishaka Vidyalaya in 2014 along with directions and instructions issued by the Ministry of Education in regard to the said admissions. The appeal was filed by the parents after the Ministry had rejected their information request. The information was released by the Principal of Vishaka Vidyalaya when she was required to appear before the Commission.
In its Order uploaded on the website, the Commission has pointed out that the Ministry Secretary’s directions to admit particular children to Grade One is an exercise of ‘discretionary powers in office by public functionaries and is therefore of public interest.’ In any case, the name lists of children admitted to other schools in the country had already been released by the Education Ministry in other instances when appeals had been filed before the Commission and there was no reason to treat this request in a special manner.
The Commission Order issued by Mahinda Gammanpila (Chair) and Commission members Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Selvy Thiruchandran and SG Punchihewa also stated that it was the Commission’s statutory duty to give effect to the principle of maximum disclosure. The preamble to the RTI Act emphasizes transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information. Therefore the right to information can be refused only when specific exceptions are cited and if the public interest is not seen.
The Ministry Secretary had not named any ground under Section 5 (1) of the Act to deny the information, either before the Commission or in other letters issued by him. He had just sent a letter refusing to release the information to the parents after the Commission had noticed him to appear. By doing so, he had seriously breached the law and procedure of the RTI Act, the Commission said.
Several reports commenting on the Commission Order in the mainstream Sinhala and English media this week, including the Lankadeepa and the Daily Mirror pointed out that the Education Ministry’s attempts to evade the RTI Act should be taken seriously by the Government as it ‘boasts about’ the progressive RTI Act. In Friday’s editorial, the Daily Mirror pointed out that the Commission Order might also help to tackle one of Sri Lanka’s most serious social problems over large scale “donations” demanded by schools for admission of children which are seen by many as ‘glorified bribes.’
The release of information in these instances may inspire other parents also to get written information from the school as to how and for what purpose these donations are used. ‘If education authorities, school authorities and parents work proactively to turn the promise into a reality, then a major reduction in corruption and fraud that have ravaged society and led to the plunder of billions of rupees from public funds may be seen,’ the editorial said.