Other Issues Sidetrack RTI Legislation in Sri Lanka

3 June 2015

The right to information bill in Sri Lanka has lost momentum, according to several persons following the legislation that the new government said would pass in the first 100 days.

Political attention has turned to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution concerning the election system.

The RTI bill “was presented and approved by the Cabinet but the Government is hesitant to table it at Parliament in case it is defeated and a momentum against the government is generated as s result,” according to one source close to the debate who added, “As far as we know the government is keen to enact the Bill and we still continue to pressure the government to do so as soon as possible.”

An article by Lionel Guruge in The Sunday Leader says, “During its inception, the RTI bill was the topic of many a lively discussion, which again has now ebbed away.”

Guruge proceeds to criticize several elements of the second draft bill. He wrote:

Article 31 of the draft RTI bill states that the information that can be provided to citizens will not always be for the purpose of dissemination or publication. This is of concern when considering what can be done with the information that is provided to citizens; if it is not explicitly stated what can and cannot be publicised, the consequences will be detrimental to those that do publicise it. Secondly, it is stated that the members of the commission would be selected by the Executive Council, but the President has the power to dismiss the members, which creates a contradiction. More experts and academics must voice their concerns on this matter, and the drafters of this bill must take pains to revise these articles.

There is also a discrepancy with regards to national security as mentioned in the RTI bill. In countries such as India, it is explicitly stated which institutions can and which institutions cannot provide information as it concerns national security. However the same cannot be said about our RTI bill, which can lead to many institutions refusing to provide information on the pretext of preserving national security.

These are issues of contention that many academics have pointed out during the first draft of the RTI bill being presented to public; however in the latest draft, these issues have still not been addressed or revised. The RTI bill does not have any obstacles to be passed in Parliament, but to pass it without addressing these concerns will render the bill futile even before its implementation. At the very least there is not even a hum from the opposition with regards to this bill. The former enthusiasm that came with the introduction of this bill has disappeared. This vain exercise of questioning something and then loosening grip without following through on its progress must come to an end. The government has a duty to follow this through and introduce a reformed final draft of the RTI bill before parliament is dissolved.

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