Transparency International, Sri Lanka (TISL)’s much hyped Information Requests under Sri Lanka’s Right to Information (RTI) Act regarding the Assets Declarations of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have been filed to the Wrong Public Authorities, the Colombo Telegraph learns.
Under Section 3 of the RTI Act, information requests can be filed in the relevant Public Authority having ‘possession, custody or control’ of the information asked for. In this case, the TISL with much fanfare and publicity, filed Info Requests to the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the President on the very first day that the RTI Act was operationalised, ie February 3rd 2017.
But the correct Public Authorities in both instances are not these Offices, the Colombo Telegraph understands after queries were made to responsible Media Ministry officials. In the case of the Prime Minister, the Assets Declaration is held with the Speaker of Parliament. Rightly the Information Request should have been filed in Parliament.
Meanwhile, a letter by the Prime Minister’s Office sent to TISL by the Secretary to the Prime Minister yesterday has made the situation worse by pointing to a ‘ruling’ made by the Speaker as the basis for the refusal of the Info Request. Officials at the Ministry point out that this must be only a direction by the Speaker to the Prime Minister’s Office that the Info Request should be properly directed to him and not an actual refusal as such.
Under the Act, the proper procedure would have been for the Information Officer in the Prime Minister’s Office to consider the matter, not the Secretary to the Prime Minister who is the Designated Officer for the first appeal. The Information Officer should have directed the misfiled Information Request by TISL to the Speaker of the Parliament as Parliament is the relevant Public Authority.
In the case of the President, the Colombo Telegraph understands that the correct Public Authority is the Commissioner of Elections. Therefore the Information Officer in the Office of the President must direct that Information Request to the Commissioner of Elections. Here again, the Information Request had been filed in the wrong place!
Speaking to the Colombo Telegraph, public officials working on RTI questioned as to whether the filing of RTI requests by TISL to the wrong Public Authorities was an act of ignorance on their part. ‘What is all this money they spend on the ‘training’ on RTI’ and talking on this everywhere in Colombo’ one official said. “Even with all that, they are ignorant as to the proper place to file RTI requests? And all that they can do is to criticize the Government for inefficient delivery!’
Even after almost one month has passed since the RTI Act was operationalised on February 3rd 2027, the TISL has not conformed to the RTI Act. It is yet to appoint an information officer under the Act.