13 August, 2020

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RTI Commission Comes Legally Into Force 

After a delay of over two months following initial appointments of three members to the Right to Information (RTI) Commission, the RTI Commission came legally into force today.

Mahinda Gammanpila

Mahinda Gammanpila

President Maithripala Sirisena handed over appointment letters to the two remaining members, retired appellate court judge AW Salam and social justice activist Dr Selvy Thiruchandran this morning.

They will join the three RTI Commissioners, Mahinda Gammanpila (Chair), attorney & prominent RTI advocate Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena and attorney Somapala Punchihewa who were appointed with effect from October 1st 2016. All five appointments were variously on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council on nomination of the Editors Guild/Sri Lanka Newspaper Society/the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and other civil society organisations.

The delay was due to individuals ineligible to accept appointment being initially nominated by the Bar and civil society due to which nominations had to be reconsidered afresh by the Constitutional Council.

The RTI Commission is an independent body body tasked with adjudicating complaints under the Act and ensuring compliance with its requirements. The Act states that RTI Regulations must be gazetted by the Minister in consultation with the Commission. Its members have a wide range of powers including the power to inspect any information held by a Public Authority, direct a Public Authority to provide information in a particular form and to directly prosecute offenders in court.

The RTI Act prevails over every other enacted law that is contrary to its provisions of an open information culture including the Official Secrets Act and the Establishments Code.

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    Much happened under the fascist regime of the Rajapakse Kingdom in recent years rendering our democratic say of life a joke. Freedom of Information was not only distorted in various ways. The intimidating presence of the Intelligence services of the Police and Army were used to threaten those who held different views to that of the State. Even prominent contributors to the Colombo Telegraph were “followed” A unit was set up under the watch of GR, located in a building at former Queen Street, headed by a Rajapakse relative – a pleasant and personable man (in his early 40s) high up and successful in the IT industry. A position was created for his unit under a DIG/IT. These men terrorised CT readers and commentators of a pro-opposition bias. Several commentators gave up out of fear. Quite a number of them were Tamils who frequently used BIA to go in and out of the country. They were harassed at the airport. Besides the trumped up of charges of “working against the interests of the Rajapakse regime” officials concerned were far more interested in getting them to cough up very large sums of money as quid pro quo to let them go free. I hope other readers who suffered this fate will come forward to describe their experiences.

    I don’t know if the Terms of Reference of the RTI Commission will cover this gestapo kind of activity. It is in the interest of clean government to go into this matter and identify those who manned this local version of the KGB/NKVD.

    Kettikaran

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