June 25, 2016 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s Parliament has passed the Right to Information (RTI) bill with amendments on Friday.
The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the Right of Access to Information, to specify grounds on which access may be denied, to establish the Right to Information commission, to appoint Information Officers and to set out the procedure and for matters connected with it.
Subject to the provisions of section 5 of this Act, every citizen shall have a right of access to information which is in the possession, custody or control of a public authority.
The Right to Information bill was first presented to Parliament on the 24th of March 2016, and the amended bill was presented in Parliament on 23rd June for the second reading.
The RTI bill was amended following the Supreme Court’s decision in May that certain clauses of the Bill violate the constitution and it will need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to become law if not amended.
The introduction of the Right to Information Act was a key pledge in the 100-day work program of the government.
A request for access to information shall be refused under following circumstances: Information related to personal information devoid of any public interest, defense matters of the state, confidential details on international agreements, information which might harm the economy of Sri Lanka, trade secrets, medical records, communication between a professional and a public authority which is not permitted to be disclosed, information which might hamper detection of any crime, information which would be in contempt of court, information that would infringe the privileges of Parliament and information which may be harmful to the integrity of an examination conducted by the Department of Examination, etc.
Ministries, departments, public corporations, local authorities, non-governmental organizations that are substantially funded by the government, higher educational institutions, courts and tribunals etc. should provide access to information and shall maintain records. They must also endeavor to preserve all records in electronic format.
A body called the “Right to Information Commission” will be established. The Commission shall consist of five (5) persons appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. One person each will be nominated by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, organizations of publishers, editors and media persons and other civil society organizations. The persons who are distinguished in public life with proven knowledge, experience and eminence in law, governance, public administration, management etc. will be appointed to this Commission. The Commission shall monitor the performance of public authorities and information officers.
Every public authority should appoint information officers. They shall deal with requests for information. Any citizen who is desirous of obtaining any information shall make a request in writing to the appropriate information officer. An information officer shall as soon as possible, make a decision either to provide the information requested or to reject the request. Where a request is refused, the information officer must inform the citizen who made the request, the grounds on which the request is refused.
Any citizen who is dissatisfied with a decision of an information officer is entitled to appeal to the Commission. A citizen or public authority who is aggrieved by the Commission may appeal against such decision to the Court of Appeal.