A full five days after the Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya had returned to Sri Lanka after a brief trip overseas during the weekend, his Office is yet to respond to references made to a ‘ruling’ by the Speaker by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President in denying requests for the Assets and Liabilities Declarations of the head of the executive and the head of the legislature lodged under Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Act.
The requests had been filed by a non-governmental organization Transparency International, Sri Lanka (TISL). TISL itself has been besieged by RTI requests filed to the organization in respect of allegations of institutional mismanagement and corruption by a coalition of trade unions numbering over forty who are part of the Coalition against Corruption.
These long standing allegations involve asking for an inquiry report by JC Weliamuna and Lakshan Dias regarding a secretive inquiry after which whistleblower employees of TISL had been ‘got rid of’ and ‘favouritism’ allegations against the TISL top management in awarding lucrative assignments to individuals with conflict of interest ties (ie friends and colleagues of the TISL’s management) without a proper procurement procedure. The information requests are pending before TISL.
As Colombo Telegraph previously reported, TISL had filed in the Office of the Prime Minister for the Prime Minister’s Assets Declaration even though this was not the proper Authority to receive that application. The Public Authorities in custody of the PM’s Assets Declaration is the President (through the Assets law), the Speaker (though the practice and procedure of Parliament) and the Commissioner of Elections (at the time of coming forward as a candidate).
Regardless, the proper course of action would have been for the PM’s Office to have transferred the request to the Speaker. However and without the Information Officer of the PM’s Office responding to TISL as required by law, the appeal (Designated) Officer had replied, denying the info request and citing ‘a ruling’ of the Speaker.
Under the RTI law, the Speaker cannot give any ruling. The power to hand down orders is exclusively in the hands of the RTI Commission. The Colombo Telegraph learns that this reference to a ‘ruling’ by the PM’s Office was a mistaken reference to a request by the Speaker to transfer the request to him. But this confusion has been made worse by the Office of the President also responding in a similar way. And no clarification is yet forthcoming from the Office of the Speaker regarding the so-called ‘ruling’ even though a full one week has lapsed since.
The Colombo Telegraph is raising this matter in the public interest. Regardless of the fact that the early operation of RTI, a long fought for right in Sri Lanka, is being muddied by NGOs and ‘indecent’ operators holding out to be ‘journalists’ to get publicity for themselves, the highest State institutions of the land need to abide by a duty to put their RTI affairs in order.