RTI analysed at Colombo parley | Sunday Observer

RTI analysed at Colombo parley

‘RTI Making the News’, a trilingual handbook on the Right to Information (RTI) Act No. 12 of 2016, published by the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) was released at ‘Empowering Citizens with RTI’ an international conference to mark the first year of the RTI Act in Sri Lanka in Colombo last week.

The book contains basic information of the Act and a compilation of RTI based news stories from the local and international press along with several appeals made to the RTI Commission.

The conference held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) auditorium on May 8 and 9 was a public platform to evaluate the first year of implementation of the RTI Act in Sri Lanka.

It focused on RTI’s key strengths and weaknesses; information disclosure; privacy and data protection; role of the civil society and the media; risks and safety of information seekers and the way forward. RTI experts from Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Myanmar, Norway and Pakistan joined local RTI experts, the members of the public, representatives of the civil society organizations and journalists sharing experience and best practices.

RTI Act No.12 of 2016, is the fruition of a struggle of over two decades by the civil society activists and journalists. The main purpose of the Act is to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities, combating corruption, promoting accountability and good governance.

Though viewed as a law only for journalists the full effectiveness of the RTI could be demonstrated only when a citizen exercises his or her legal rights to seek information from public authorities or matters that affect him or her.

The RTI Act 12 of 2016 enhances and facilitates citizens’ right to information guaranteed by the constitution of Sri Lanka. It enables citizens seek information from public authorities setting out the procedure and mechanism of doing so.

The public has the right to obtain different kinds of information such as documents and records, pictorial and graphic work, electronic records such as emails and other computer records, samples, models and so on could be obtained from relevant public authorities through RTI applications.

Certain types of information could be denied under a few exemptions. However, these exemptions could be overridden by the principle of public interest, stipulated in the Act.

The power of the RTI lies in the hands of the socially marginalised and challenged people, said Kishali Pinto Jayawardene, RTI Commissioner, a panelist, focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the act. It is a weapon as well as a tool for the underprivileged, she noted.

Proactive disclosure or self publicizing of the information for access by the public - the most desired outcome of the RTI, was recognized as a strength of the act while ignorance both of the public and the public authorities was revealed a weakness and an obstacle in implementing the RTI Act in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, later legislation attempting to deflect the act was seen as an obstacle to transparency and good governance.

A good understanding of the RTI had brought in best results during the year, it was revealed. There had been a considerable number of success stories. However, some authorities still oppose the Act seeing it as an instrument of policing.

Additional Secretary, Development and Planning of the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, Thilaka Jayasundera noted that as a measure to create public awareness the RTI would be included in the Citizenship syllabus for Grade 10 and 11 students. It will also be introduced to the university students. The implementation of the RTI comes under the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media. 

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