Sri Lankan RTI Backers Shudder at Rajapaksa Quote

7 July 2011

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week told newspaper editors that a law to protect the people’s right to information was unnecessary.

He said instead that he could ensure access to information, saying “just ask me for a file and I will give it to you,” according media reports such as this one in Lakmiba News. The president’s party in June defeated an effort to pass a right to information law and said it was drafting an altenative bill. (See previous report.)

His comment caused reactions such as this in a Sunday Times editorial:

The slip showed badly; this Government made it clear it has no intention of bringing in a Right to Information Law that will allow citizens to have access to official information that affects their daily lives.So, secrecy in Government will continue to be maintained. The people, ordinary people, will have no business getting to know how their money will be spent or how government decisions are taken, and why so.

The editorial later continued:

Without continuing with its infamous prevarication on why it is not bringing in a law that is now found in more than 100 democratic countries, by saying it is “looking into it”, President Mahinda Rajapaksa no less, said, “why do you want such a law, just ask me for a file and I will give it to you”. He was speaking to editors of national newspapers who broached the subject this week after attempts by the opposition to introduce such a law, however dated it may be, failed to get Government approval.

The President has clearly missed the point. A Right to Information Law is not for editors to ask for a government file, but for ordinary citizens to apply for a government file anywhere in the country. The President’s offer also came to naught when at the same meeting, he was asked why he was not releasing Justice Shiranee Tillakawardene’s Commission of Inquiry report on arms procurements in the Sri Lanka Navy, especially during the tenure of Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri. The editors were told that it was the President’s prerogative to release such a report, and that he had reason not to release it. The contradiction was stupendous, though not entirely surprising.

In an interview in The Sunday Leader, the acting leader of the opposition UNP, Karu Jayasuriya, said, “I will engage with other political parties in the opposition to examine what possibilities exist to bring the Bill to parliament once again as a new Joint Opposition Bill.”

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