22 November, 2017

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Sunday Leader And Colombo NGOs Confuse RTI Law

More than half of the time of the understaffed, overworked and under-budgeted RTI Commission of Sri Lanka is taken in explaining matters to Colombo’s privileged English-speakers who do not read the gazette and the Act.

The arrogance of a few Colombo based media and NGOs in failing to follow Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Act and gazette in their information requests has become a major stumbling block to the effective implementation of the regime, the Colombo Telegraph (CT) understands.

In contrast, provincial journalists and civil society organsations (CSOs) with little access to the law given the lack of resources in rural areas have been enthusiastically and properly using the gazette and regulations/rules of the Ministry of Media and the RTI Commission, a source from the Ministry of Media said.

The Media Ministry is the nodal agency responsible for implementing RTI. CT asked him as to why he thought this was different and he said ‘the problem is that these people in Colombo think the rules do not apply to them. They go for the easiest and most convenient way without reading the RTIO1 form or the Rules of the Commission that have been gazetted. Ironically these are the very people who should read and understand as they are conversant in English. But that is not what we are seeing. Maybe this is a good study for a social scientist to spend time in!’     

This Sunday (2nd July) the Sunday Leader carried a correction of the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka in response to an article by a journalist (Nirmala Kannangara) who had claimed that she had emailed the Commission in an appeal on her right to information request against the Department of the Police being denied but had not obtained any response. The Commission’s correction had informed the Leader that this claim was factually incorrect. The Commission had responded to her, pointing to the appointment of an Information Officer by the Department. The head of the Department will be the DO. It had said that, if a proper appeal is filed against the refusal, the Commission will act to the fullest extent of the law.   

The journalist was told that she could not file appeals to the Commission by email as that was not permitted by the gazette. Appeals must be filed in person (or through any representative) or sent by registered post. The correction was carried by the Leader in an inside page and also in social media as online websites had also re-published the incorrect story. Commenting on this, accountant Yohes Yoheswaran said on twitter, ‘it is ‘sad that Sri Lankan journalists are not familiar with the Rules.’ He pointed out, ‘I followed the rules as per the RTI Act and got the information I asked for from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka.’

Sri Lankan journalist Amantha Perera pointed out that there is a ‘serious lack’ of application/awareness by journalists of RTI in Sri Lanka right now. Perera was responding on social media to an article in the New Indian Express on a recent book in India ‘Journalism Through RTI; Information, Investigation, Impact’ by journalist Shyamlal Yadav, saying that this will be true in Sri Lanka only if journalists know how to use the RTI Act to gain information.

Ministry sources explained that more than half of the time of the understaffed, overworked and under-budgeted RTI Commission of Sri Lanka is taken in explaining matters to people who do not read the gazette and the Act. Last month, the Commission fixed for hearing, consideration of questions of law on the failure of Colombo based RTI trainer Transparency International Sri Lanka to specify the fact of citizenship in information requests filed by them on the assets declarations of the Prime Minister and the President.

This was not in compliance with Section 3(1) of the RTI Act which gives information under the Act only to a citizen and also RTI Form No 1 in the gazette which asks the requester specifically to declare citizenship. The gazette permits an information request even on a blank sheet of paper, provided that the essential requirements are met. In a similar way, appeals continue to be filed on email by journalists of the Colombo based Sinhala and English media which are not permitted by the gazette.

This resulted in the Commission issuing an Important Announcement last week on its website (http://www.rticommission.lk) asking information requesters to remember to always declare the fact of citizenship in accordance with the gazette form RTI01. It was also pointed out that an Appeal to the office of the RTI Commission cannot be sent through electronic mail.

Given the lack of awareness on the part of journalists, some have questioned on twitter as to what the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), which is supposedly training journalists on the RTI Act, is doing! This is apart from the CEO of the SLPI Kumar Lopez attending RTI trainings organized by Transparency International Sri Lanka in Colombo hotels; the pictures of one event were widely carried on social media this week.      

Yesterday, Ada Derana reported the RTI Commission as having urged officers of state departments to provide information without restriction. The Commission had affirmed that any and all information must be disclosed as requested, according to the RTI Act of Sri Lanka. It had proceeded to explain that they had received a number of complaints claiming that certain state departments had refused to comply with requests of information filed by citizens. As a result, a situation had arisen where the Commission had to directly issue orders to departmental officers to disclose the relevant information upon request. The RTI Commission stated that the public too had a right to access documents of state institutions. The Commission also added that measures would be taken to thoroughly inform departmental officers on the need for compliance with information requests.

If the Public Authority (PA) has not appointed both the Information Officer and the Designated Officer, then the Act states that the request can be made to the head of the PA with appeal directly after that, to the Commission. In the Announcement of the Commission, it was further stated that an appeal to the RTI Commission can only be after an appeal is lodged with the DO. If a DO is not in place, then the Head of the PA becomes the DO. If there is no response by the DO, an appeal to the Commission may be filed after the three week period within which the DO has to respond has lapsed.

The University Grants Commission and several universities are notably among the remaining few state institutions that have not acted in compliance with the Act.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    Is this not the same for everything in Sri Lanka? People who should know better, read better and are educated better, act worse than those in the villages!

    Nothing new is what I feel. Journalists and so-called activists are the same.

    • 6
      1

      Most Sri Lankans take pride in being “literate”. But that doesn’t mean that they can understand what is written, even though they may read it.

      • 5
        0

        old codger hear some Balance talk!!
        and it is very easy for colombo telegraph to talk its hat off because it does not come under freedom of information act as it is registered as a charity in the UK.
        neither is it regulated by ethical reporting standards of the UK.
        The government is reportedly planning to extend the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to cover charities who receive public money. In what is undoubtedly fallout from the Kids Company debacle, the proposal that anyone should be able to keep charities honest by submitting requests to see correspondence, performance data and policy discussion from them will prove, in all likelihood, popular. But would it work? And is it right?
        https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2016/jan/08/freedom-of-information-act-charities-transparency

        • 0
          0

          Garuda,
          “it is very easy for colombo telegraph to talk its hat off because it does not come under freedom of information act “
          And that’s a good thing, since it allows CT to publish almost anything about all sides of the political spectrum.
          Compare that to, for example, Sirasa and Hiru, which have such obvious bias that one might think they operate in different countries, such is the variance in what they present as “news”.
          Yesterday News 1st had nothing on the student rally in Nugegoda but Hiru went to town about it. News 1st also editorializes far too much, imposing its own views, instead of a straight factual presentation.
          These are not the only culprits. There was the recent hoo-ha about “plastic rice”. Would any journalist with even minimum intelligence even consider such allegations? But our “journalists” do, and the highly “literate” public fall over each other to come up with “evidence”.
          Can Sri Lankans be so dumb that they don’t know that rice from other countries tastes and cooks differently, and is cleaned so well that it may look like plastic?

          • 0
            0

            old codger ,
            “”almost anything “” cry wolf and spin till bobby and Bojo shut the fu**up.
            its happened to many big talkers from several nations.
            The west does not compare with others but itself and how it affects its own security. Musharraf told Blair very publicly that UK is the motorland of terror then came over stayed 5 doors next to mosque and got at Bin. Articles that prejudice professionals can have adverse effects- because they function in innovative ways to create projects and they are professional secrets not meant for clerical jargon. Of Course only Audit teams can call the shots not hear say suspicions which tantamount to character assassination. The plague has to be eradicated but there is more supporting a plague just to sell the blooming thing as if there isn’t a better when most come for some form of knowledge without taking the trouble to research and learn english.
            With The Donald and Theresa May out against the Libtard press it’s not Obama’s sponsored wall street press. Things will happen outside the EU laws but popular National Security arrangements like The sinhalese doctor at Australia being deported for murder and the Canadian Tamil being deported- cheap and good riddance of bad rubbish without letting Human Rights the overwhelming weapon of deceit. Human rights conveniently hides the weakness so many escape the net of fairness. Everyday is not X’Mas . Tamil Net was not a blog but a news so it survives with edits of some of its articles (removal in total)
            Rice is 99% starch and a simple chemical experiment would confirm if its it or not.Talking about cooked rice you may know malabaris are famous to adding bicarbonates so the stomach gets puffed very quickly. Our plastic shopping bags go into the waterways and comes back into the food chain- even Singapore has no way to clear it.

      • 2
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        tinkerman,””Most Sri Lankans take pride in being “literate”. “”
        So I repeat all literature is two dimensional while everything around us is nothing less than three dimensional.
        The more you write the more the horrors and lawyers keep getting fat.
        Well they are not alone. The coloniser English too fall in that category. 500 leaseholders mainly the middle class english lost a sensational case along with the valuation tribunal to the richest landlord of london at the supreme courts of justice and the law governing reasonableness of charges was taken away. Even the queen refused to hand it back because they lost it on one word of the english language which i knew as a kid – bona fide- estimate.- the land of pirates. I asked the president of the tribunal what are you going to do now she smiled and said we are going to ask her majesty for several alternatives and wrap it up to come to the same. 17 years on no one has won a case against that specific landlord. services go retro and charges never come down.! world of entertainment.

    • 1
      0

      CT Editor, RE: Sunday Leader And Colombo NGOs Confuse RTI Law——————————————————————————————————————————–
      //”In contrast, provincial journalists and civil society organsations (CSOs) with little access to the law given the lack of resources in rural areas have been enthusiastically and properly using the gazette and regulations/rules of the Ministry of Media and the RTI Commission, a source from the Ministry of Media said.”//—–Interesting Data!———————————————————————————
      ————–These are the Symptoms or Effects of the low IQ ( the cause) of these “Journalists” from Colombo resulting in the low comprehension of written materials compared to those from the provinces and outstations.. —-Is it in the water? Is it because they drink too much soda loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sugars? Is it because they are eating too many Hamburgers loaded with fats and meats with all the chemicals and growth hormones, which make them fat and cloud their brains?-May be they should eat red rice, vegetables, lentils, fruits and perhaps fish, to clear the fog in their brains.——————————————————————————-So we do have some data in support of the low average IQ , 79, of the Paras, in the case of Para-Colombo “Journalists” in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho. The good news is that not all the Paras, fall into this category. ———So the Paras IQ and Comprehension, is bi-modally distributed, with the Colombo Journalists at the lower end of the distribution. —Shouldn’t there be an IQ and comprehension test for Journalists as well, and extend to the others, like “Politicians” and “Doctors”, as well? At least there are reports that the Jaffna Populations IQ is bi-modally distributed. Why should the Para-Sinhala be different from the Para-Tamils? After all they have the same Para-genetics from India?———————————————————-The Story Of Two Graphs Drawn By A Tamil Man——Thevaram’s first graph was a simple one, widely known by the familiar phrase the “Bell Curve.”———————————————————————————————————-https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-story-of-two-graphs-drawn-by-a-tamil-man/ ——————————————Now, the bell curve has famously been used to show how intelligence is distributed among a population.———https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/OnionIQDistributions.jpg

      • 1
        0

        Amarasiri,
        “These are the Symptoms or Effects of the low IQ ( the cause) of these “Journalists” from Colombo resulting in the low comprehension of written materials compared to those from the provinces and outstations.. —-Is it in the water? Is it because they drink too much soda loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sugars? Is it because they are eating too many Hamburgers”

        We have people now suggesting that the Asgiriya Mahanayaka is Presidential material. I don’t think IQ levels can get much worse than that.

        • 1
          0

          old codger,
          “Asgiriya Mahanayaka is Presidential material.”————S,o, the best the Para-Sinhala “Buddhists” can come up with is the so-called Asgiriya Mahanayaka, who was elected by the rigged election, bribed and paid for, by you know who.——————————————Asgiriya mahanayake was appointed on vote rigging ! statements of such corrupt monks unacceptable – true nayakes rip off his robes (video)—————————

          https://Shamelessly , it is Asgiriya mahanayake who is even today issuing statements endorsing the villainy and hate mongering of Gnanassara whose putrid antecedence and debauched life are well known despite being a so called Buddhist monk who is wantonly disgracing his own religion .

          The three most lofty and most Ven . Devahuwe Chandananda mahanayake , Ven. Heenatiye Samitha nayake and Ven. Magalkadawala Punyassara nayake who attended a media discussion pertaining to religious freedom ,directly said , the abominable statement issued by Asgiriya mahanayake recently shall be withdrawn , thereby ripping off Asgiriya mahanayake’s robes in the best interests of true Buddhism and its tenets.

          https://youtu.be/mEwAg3V-uYs

  • 3
    0

    @old codger -very true. Sad for Sri Lanka

  • 1
    0

    But what confuses me is what the SLPI CEO (who is also himself training on RTI) is doing at an RTI training by TISL??

    The blind leading the blind? Or playing a game of three blind mice! And all of them making mistakes? While cosying up to the funders?

    These fellows have become a joke. Is the Board of SLPI, all honourable gentlemen we believe, asleep and snoring loudly while this nonsense goes on under their noses?

  • 0
    0

    What action to be taken if the RTI has failed to respond even after a lapse of one and a half month in response to a request made to them. Although several reminders were sent, no reply received. Pl help.

  • 0
    0

    After this, I checked the SLPI website – http://www.slpi.lk/. This so-called RTI trainer SLPI have not even appointed an Information Officer under the RTI Act. Thats rich! What is its Board doing?

    Look at whom SL has as RTI educators’ – NGOs who talk on RTI but refuse to obey in practice. TISL which has RTI petitions filed against it which it refuses to allow and SLPI which does not even have an RTI Officer. Typical NATO (no action, talk only) folks.

    Spoken as a true Mahinda Rajapksa hater who hated what he did but who refuse to fall for these tricks of other people, I can only say ‘NATO operators – the curse of Sri Lanka.’

  • 0
    0

    I agree with @old codger. SL media editorializes far too much instead of giving straight up factual news. Many other things wrong with media as well.

    Now there is a big hooh-hah about a news media council act pushed by people with vested agendas and some foreigners. Whatever may be the faults of media, these cannot be corrected by state regulation under the cover of a so-called independent body which, as we know, will not be independent!

    What are the print media bodies doing about this? Why only the electronic media making a fuss? What is the official body of the print media? Is this only the Press Institute? This seems to be doing nothing but opening some hot corners for journalists with some people having silly grins and posing with Ministers!

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