Sri Lanka Issues Draft Bill; Commenters Urge Changes

17 February 2015

The new Sri Lankan government has issued draft right to information bill that several international organizations say is good but needs improvements.

With rapid passage in mind, the government provided limited time for comment before it is presented before Parliament, possibly on Feb. 20. (See draft bill here.)

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative welcomes the initiative and said the draft bill “contains most of the components of access legislation that ?are  now  recognised  internationally  as  indispensable  for  engendering  a  regime  of  transparency.” (See CHRI’s full analysis.)

It said:

The provisions of the draft Bill do in fair measure reflect essential principles of  access  legislation  such  as  maximum  disclosure  including  an  obligation  of  voluntary  disclosure of information on the government, minimum and narrowly defined exceptions  that are linked to harm tests and a public interest override clause, time?bound and  inexpensive access procedures, an independent body to adjudicate information access  disputes, a regime of sanctions for contravening the provisions of the draft Bill and  reporting and monitoring requirements.

CHRI made a variety of recommendations, including strengthening the powers of the information commissioner.

Article 19 said the draft “requires some improvement and clarification before it is adopted.”

The London-based free expression group said “the draft Bill contains many positive attributes, such as the 10-year rule on providing secret information and the overriding of existing secrecy legislation.”

But the bill also “has a number of flaws and is not completely in line with contemporary international standards,” according to the Article 19 analysis.

Its suggestions included allowing noncitizens to make requests, making it clear that requests do not need to be justified and clarifying that all information released is freely re-publishable and reusable.

The definition of “public authorities” should be broadened, Article 19 said, “to ensure that all public and private bodies that are conducting public business are covered.”

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