Sri Lanka turning from culture of secrecy to transparency with RTI law

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Commission (RTI Commission) said it has seen an encouraging increase in appeals by people seeking information under the new law with a culture of secrecy turning to a culture of transparency.

But there was much more room for improvement and commitment by public authorities to disclose information, it said in a statement.

“On the part of the Commission it will strive to ensure that the spirit and intention of the legislature is upheld in a manner that citizens of Sri Lanka would reap the benefits of the right to information to the maximum extent possible.”

The RTI law, enacted two years ago, “has created a paradigm shift in Sri Lanka wherein a culture of secrecy is gradually evolving to a culture of transparency and accountability,” the statement said.

“The increasing involvement of women participation in using RTI for advocacy work is noteworthy.

“Furthermore, the increasing visibility and representation of men and women of low income populations who have shed their inhibitions to come before the Commission is a positive trend in Sri Lanka.”

The RTI commission said that there are success stories that Sri Lanka has experienced during the short period of two years since the law came into effect.

However, it noted that there was “much more room for improvement and commitment by public authorities to disclose information in their possession, custody or control.”

The RTI Commission said it was doing several public outreach programs to inform people about the RTI law in different parts of the island.

It had also published two volumes tri-lingually on selected orders of the Right to Information Commission on the impact of RTI on various subjects.

These range from declarations of assets and liabilities of politicians and bilateral agreements to release of police complaints and environment-related policy and permits.

Since its inception in 2017, the RTI Commission has seen an increase in the number of appeals to the Commission with deeper appreciation among citizens in regard to using the right to information.

“From individuals seeking information on personal land related matters to collective groups coming together to seek information on development projects in the public interest, the Commission has observed a wide range of information requested across diverse public authorities,” it said.

While there were 230 appeals received in2017, in 2018 there was an exponential increase to 800 appeals.

By August 2019, the Commission received over 650 appeals.

Most appeals came from the Western and Southern Province.

The commission said it has issued more than 1,500 reasoned orders, releasing information in the majority of appeals heard before it.

The appeals related to a broad range of issues including corruption in the state sector, responding to disclosure requests for information relating to the government’s transitional justice policies and balancing the right to privacy with the overriding public interest.
(COLOMBO, 22 October 2019)