The Colombo Telegraph has learnt that Transparency International Sri Lanka, an NGO doing trainings and holding conferences on RTI in Colombo has again messed up a simple information request for the Assets Declaration of the Prime Minister. This is by completely ignoring a condition in RTI01 form, which is the gazetted information form under the Act, requiring information requesters to state if he/she is a citizen or not.
This problem has emerged with TISL filing an appeal to the RTI Commission against the refusal of the Prime Minister’s Office to give the information asked for. The refusal of the Prime Minister’s Office was carried in massive propaganda on its social media platforms and picked up by activists to hammer the Government.
When CT examined the information request carried on social media, it was apparent that TISL had not even bothered to use the gazette form (RTI01) or to include its requirements in a separate letter as the gazette itself provides for.
The information request signed by TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere and filed with big publicity on February 3rd 2017 which was the very day that RTI was operationalised in the country, shows that TISL has filed as an organization. Sri Lanka’s internationally recognised RTI Act limits the right to obtain information in the possession, custody or control of a public authority’ to a ‘citizen.’ ‘Citizen’ is defined as including, “a body whether incorporated or unincorporated, if not less than three-fourths of the members of such body are citizens.” As seen on the Commission website, (http://www.rticommission.lk) the RTI Commission has reserved the matter for a full hearing and determination with written submissions being called for, from both parties, in early August.
TISL had filed two RTI requests for the assets declaration of the Prime Minister. Secretary to the Prime Minister Mr Saman Ekanayake had appeared before the Commission as the Designated Officer and stated that the information asked for by TISL is not ‘within his possession, custody and control’ and that therefore he is not able to give the information. He had also asked for further time to respond to get legal counsel given the complex matters involved.
That objection reflects an earlier expose by Colombo Telegraph pointing out that TISL had muddied the waters by filing for the Assets Declaration of the Prime Minister in the office of the Prime Minister rather than in the President’s Office which is the correct Public Authority in terms of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities law.
In the second appeal, it had been discovered during the hearing before the Commission that TISL had also failed to go by the requirements in RTI01. Board member of TISL Gehan Gunetilleke who had appeared for TISL had been informed of this fact by the Commission and directed to provide written submissions on the matter.
TISL had been publicly critical of government agencies not implementing RTI properly. But it has now become apparent that its own knowledge of RTI basics is gravely in doubt! Asked for his views, an outspoken anti-corruption activist among those who had filed RTI requests to TISL on internal mismanagements and alleged corruption which had been refused by TISL, laughed out loud saying ‘this is a fine situation; when trainers on RTI need to be taught on RTI in ignorance of basic things that even a villager will be careful of as they will go by the gazette.’
He said also ‘this is what we have been saying all along. TISL has been captured by funny forces. They are so arrogant that they do not think the normal rules apply to them. This is a good example of a NGO having conferences on RTI but failing to walk the talk.’