Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Commission released statistics of its appeals record in the 2nd term (December 2021-January 2022) this week, pointing to information release in 139 appeals out of a total of 147 concluded appeals.
In four appeals, the information requests were rejected on grounds under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), one appeal was dismissed for failure to comply with the RTI Act.
Two hundred and four hearings were held by the Commission in Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna during the period with fifty seven hearings adjourned for further adjudication, according to the update posted on the commission’s website.
Sinhala version is found here
Tamil version is found here
In an appeal brought by a citizen against Litro Gas Limited (LGLL) asking for information regarding the salaries and allowances paid to its top management, the Commission refused to uphold an objection by lawyers for the company that Litro Gas did not come within the RTI Act.
The company had argued that, though LGLL was a 99.94% owned subsidiary of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC), it did not constitute a “Public Authority’ as the SLIC did not fall within the meaning of a ‘corporation’ under the RTI Act. However, the Commission took the position that the Secretary to the Treasury holds 99.97% shares of the SLIC and the SLIC holds 99.94% and 100% of LGLL and Litro Gas Terminal Lanka (Pvt) Ltd (LGTLL). Also, that as per the SLIC Annual Report for the year 2020, LGLL was audited by the Auditor General, all of which made LGLL a ‘Public Authority.’
Litro Gas had been in the news recently for irregular management practices resulting in the explosions of domestic gas cylinders, its CEO had been dismissed and then reappointed through a direct intervention by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Meanwhile, the main Parliamentary Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balaya (SJB) alleged that the Bribery Commission (CIABOC) was not responding to its requests filed under the RTI Act asking for information on the withdrawal of indictments in a number of cases against Government politicians since the change of regime in 2019. MP Mujibur Rahman alleged that CIABOC had only sent the numbers of the relevant cases as a response.
On Tuesday (8th February), the Colombo High Court (HC) Permanent Trial-at-Bar made severe statements against what the Bench termed as ‘inconsistent’ positions taken by CIABOC in cases that it had filed. The Court asked why CIABOC could not act independently without embarrassing witnesses, defendants, and the court. This was in relation to an ongoing trial against Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage and others for actions when Aluthgamage was a former Sports Minister, when the indictment had been amended.
Since 2019, a spate of indictments against ruling politicians had been withdrawn or amended by the Attorney General and CIABOC with no reasons disclosed publicly as to why they had decided to do so. Following queries by the Colombo Telegraph, CIABOC lawyers claimed that they were bound by an oath of secrecy imposed by the CIABOC Act (1994) which they said, prevented them from releasing information under the RTI Act. Section 4 of the RTI Act however states that the RTI Act (2016) prevails over all previous laws.
The conflict between the RTI Act and the CIABOC Act has yet not been brought before the RTI Commission to decide. Since the appointments of the new Commissioners, President Rajapaksa’s choice of a politicised ex-SC judge Upali Abeyratne as Chairman had resulted in the generally praised RTI Commission being dragged into public controversy. It is learnt that Abeyratne had later stepped down as Chair of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) following his appointment to the RTI Commission. Media activists pointed to the positive record of the Commission in the recent months as encouraging. Commissioners Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Rohini Walgama and Jagath Liyanarachchi serve as the independent nominees of the Bar, the media and civil society on the body.
During the 1st term of the Commission, RTI Chair and Commissioners Gammampila, Pinto-Jayawardena and Walgama had upheld Section 4 of the RTI Act in other contexts where conflicts emerged. Responding to appeals filed by civil society and citizens to release the assets declarations of politicians, the Commission had ordered the release on the basis that the RTI Act prevailed over the secrecy imposed on declarations of assets by the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities Law (1975).