Skip to main content

As Sri Lanka Cabinet clears RTI Bill, civil society consultation reveals information commission has "no teeth"

By Our Representative
Following the footsteps of India, the Sri Lankan Cabinet has approved a Draft Right to Information (RTI) Bill for tabling in Parliament. While welcoming the development, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in its preliminary analysis has said that the proposed RTI Commission in the Bill is virtually toothless with no power to impose any sanctions on anybody for non‐compliance.
Pointing this as one of its major weaknesses, which would need to be plugged, CHRI’s RTI expert based in Delhi, Venkatesh Nayak, who has prepared a note, said, “The RTI Commission will not be able to impose its writ and champion the cause of transparency in the absence of powers to impose sanctions.”
According to Nayak, the Bill allows Attorney General's Office “an exemption to protect its communication with government” from RTI pleas, which is “a blanket exemption, not in tune with international best practice standards.”
As for “trade secrets and intellectual property (IPR) related information”, the Bill allows disclosing them “in public interest but only by a public authority.” Commented Nayak, “The power to direct such disclosure must also be given to the RTI Commission as they are an appellate body.”
Objecting to “third party provisions”, which are spread out all over the Bill, the note says, “There is an undue weightage given to confidentiality in one provision and to the public interest override in another provision. This will create confusion and make almost every third party information contentious.”
Nayak said, “The Government under President Maithripala Sirisena had announced that they would enact an RTI law within 10 days of his taking office, earlier this year. However the RTI Bill was could not be tabled in Parliament. Instead the Constitution was amended to include RTI as a fundamental right.”
An RTI consultation organized by CHRI in alliance with International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, on December 3-4, 2015, which brought RTI practitioners and experts from all over South Asia and Australia, saw interaction with Sri Lankan civil society and media representatives, functionaries of the Attorney General's Office and various statutory authorities such as the Law Commission and the Press Complaints Commission.
Among those who participated included Bangladesh’s Dr Shamsul Bari, chair, Transparency Advisory Group, South Asia and Research Initiatives, Bangladesh; Nepal’sTanka Aryal, executive director, Citizens' Campaign for RTI; Maldives’ Hamid Mohammed Thoriq of Transparency Maldives; Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner, Central Information Commission, India, and Chair, CHRI; Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner.
“Also participated in the consultation was Prof Kalim Ullah, Information Commissioner, RTI Commission, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, who shared with participants the design of their RTI laws and the manner of their use and implementation till date”, Nayak said.
“Prof Rick Snell, acting dean and head of school, Law Faculty, University of Tasmania resourced the workshop explaining best practices and challenges to the implementation of freedom of information (FOI) laws in advanced jurisdictions like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom”, he added.
“Participants highlighted the need for spreading awareness about the contents of the Draft RTI Bill to enable people all over Sri Lanka to debate it in an informed manner and give their suggestions to the government and their elected representatives for strengthening the Draft Bill before it is approved by Parliament”, Nayak said.

Comments

TRENDING

India's GDP down by 50%, not 23%, job loss 200 million not 122 million: Top economist

By Our Representative  One of India’s topmost economists has estimated that India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline was around 50%, and not 23%, as claimed by the Government of India’s top data body, National Statistical Organization (NSO). Prof Arun Kumar, who is Malcolm S Adiseshiah chair professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, said this was delivering a web policy speech, organised by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi.

Youngest of 16 activists jailed for sedition, Mahesh Raut 'fought' mining on tribal land

By Surabhi Agarwal, Sandeep Pandey* A compassionate human being, always popular among his friends and colleagues because of his friendly nature and human sensitivity, 33-year-old Mahesh Raut, champion of the democratic rights of the marginalised Adivasi people of Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, has been in prison for over two years now.

#StandWithStan: It's about Constitution, democracy and freedom of expression

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  It is more than three weeks now: On the night of October 8, 2020, the 83-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy was taken into custody by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) from his residence in Ranchi to an undisclosed destination. According to his colleagues, the NIA did not serve a warrant on Fr. Stan and that their behaviour was absolutely arrogant and rude.

Stan Swamy vs Arnab Goswami: Are activists fighting a losing battle? Whither justice?

By Fr Sunil Macwan SJ* It is time one raised pertinent questions over the courts denying bail to Fr Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and granting it to Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of the Republic TV, arrested under the charge of abetting suicide of Avay Naik, who ended his life in 2018. It is travesty of justice that a human rights activist is not only denied bail but is also made to wait for weeks to hear a response to his legitimate request for a straw to drink water, while Arnab Goswami walks free.

Human development index: India performs worse than G-20 developing countries

By Rajiv Shah A new book, “Sustainable Development in India: A Comparison with the G-20”, authored by Dr Keshab Chandra Mandal, has regretted that though India’s GDP has doubled over the last one decade, its human development indicators are worse than not just developed countries of the Group of 20 countries but also developing countries who its members.

India performs 'poorly' in Quality of Life Index, ranks 62nd out of 64 countries

Counterview Desk “Expat Insider”, which claims to be one of the world’s most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, in a survey of 20,259 participants from around the globe, has found that of the 64 destinations around the globe, has found that while Taiwan is the best destination for persons living outside their native country, closely by Vietnam and Portugal, India ranks 59th.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Namaz in Mathura temple: Haridwar, Ayodhya monks seek Faisal Khan's release

By Our Representative As many as 23 members of the Hindu Voices for Peace (HVP), including the founder president of the well-known Haridwar-based Matri Sadan Ashram, Swami Shivananda Saraswati, and a one of its top monks, Brahmachari Aatmabodhanand, have expressed their “dismay” over the arrest of Khudai Khidmatdar chief Faisal Khan and three others on charges of “promoting enmity between religions” and “defiling a place of worship” after they offered namaz in Mathura’s Nand Baba temple premises on October 29.

Government of India 'refuses' to admit: 52% of bird species show declining trend

Finn's Weaver  By Our Representative The Government of India has been pushing out “misleading” data on the country’s drastic wildlife decline, says a well-researched report, pointing towards how top ministers are hiding data on biodiversity losses, even as obfuscating its own data. It quotes “State of India’s Birds Report 2020” to note that of the 261 out of 867 bird species for which long-term trends could be determined, 52% have declined since the year 2000, with 22% declining strongly.

Dalit, Adivasi protest in Jharkhand against 'illegal' transfer of land for development

By Rishit Neogi Displacement and eviction are not new terms. It is surprising that they are still continuing and have become a tool in the hands of state backed corporates to forcibly occupy lands in the name of development.