Strengthening Right to Information in Sri Lanka

Chamindry-Saparamadu

Nov 13, 2019 (LBO) – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that freedom of expression includes the ‘right to seek, receive and impart information’.

The right to information is, therefore, a fundamental right and an essential component of a democratic society.

In Sri Lanka, the right to seek and receive information is a constitutional right guaranteed under Article 14A of Sri Lanka’s Constitution.

The Right to Information (RTI) Act which came into full effect by 2017, provides the legal framework within which this fundamental right can be exercised.

Unlike other laws that seek to increase the coercive or regulatory power of the State, the Right to Information Act seeks to empower people.

Its primary purpose is to shift the paradigm of governance from secrecy to transparency.

Hence, the Act provides a key entry point for strengthening transparency and accountability within the Government to address corruption and improve public participation in policy making.

In response to strengthening the Right to Information in Sri Lanka, the ‘Right to Information Guiding Manual’ was recently launched by the Ministry of Mass Media.

The manual acts as a guide for Information Officers to implement the Right to Information Act in the country.

The manual was developed with technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka.

Further, as part of UNDPs ongoing support, a pilot project was undertaken to develop an online RTI application tracking system for RTI requests for the Central Environment Authority, with the broader aim of developing a central system accessible by all public institutions.

In addition, steps have been taken to restructure the websites of the Vocational Training Authority and the Department of Agrarian Services in accordance with the guidelines and internationally acclaimed standards relating to proactive information disclosure on the Right to Information.

Speaking at the launch, Sunil Samaraweera, Secretary of the Ministry of Mass Media highlighted: “Developing this manual would not have been possible if not for the support provided by UNDP. For the past three years we have been training Government officials on how to implement the Right to Information Act. And now we are working to create awareness among the general public on how they can exercise this fundamental right.”

Adding the relevance of Right to Information in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Chamindry Saparamadu, UNDP Technical Consultant on RTI mentioned: “UNDP works to ensure inclusive and participatory governance and human development in-line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The right to information is a prerequisite to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as it enables the public to participate and advocate for meaningful change”.