Sunday Times: Sri Lanka: Sunday, April 23, 2017.
In a note presented by President Maithripala Sirisena and approved by the Cabinet recently, the President has informed all Ministers that all Cabinet decisions and Memoranda not falling within excepted categories under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, No 12 of 2016, have to be made available to a citizen upon request.
In terms of this note, the Cabinet has also been formally apprised of the appointment of an Information Officer (IO) and a Designated Officer (DO) for the Cabinet in terms of the RTI Act. The President has stated that previously, all Cabinet decisions were considered as confidential documents, conveyed only to the Secretary to the relevant Ministry, the parties who are directly involved in the implementation. These decisions were also informed to a limited number of others, including the Attorney General when required in regard to legal matters.
However, with changes brought about by the passing of the RTI Act, President Sirisena has noted that when requests are received from a ‘citizen’ in accordance with RTI Regulations and Rules, necessary action needs to be taken by the Secretary to the Cabinet. He has also pointed out that in conformity with proactive disclosure obligations under the RTI regime, Cabinet decisions and other facts required to be published therein are carried on the website of the Cabinet Office.
Sri Lanka’s RTI Act, along with Regulations and Rules on Fee and Appeals of the independent RTI Commission, was operationalised on February 3 this year. According to Section 23(1)(a) of the RTI Act, every Public Authority must appoint within three months of the date of operationalising the Act, one or more IOs as well as a DO to hear the first appeal. Where an IO and a DO are in place, it is mandatory that a citizen seeking information should approach those officers first and then only appeal to the RTI Commission and thereafter, to the courts.
In terms of a government policy decision, in instances where a Public Authority has appointed an IO but has failed to appoint a DO, the relevant administrative superior will become the DO. The Act, meanwhile, provides that if an IO is not appointed, then the Head or the CEO of the Public Authority is deemed to be the IO. In this case, appeal from a decision of the IO will lie directly to the Commission.
Following inquiries made to the Mass Media and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry which is the implementing nodal agency, the Sunday Times learns that a considerable number of Public Authorities and other private entities falling within the Act have complied with the mandatory requirement to appoint IOs and DOs. However, Public Authorities still failing to comply include the University Grants Commission (UGC), the Higher Education Ministry, ‘all courts, tribunals and institutions created for the administration of justice’ and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). Other independent constitutional Commissions and Commissions created under written law have also complied with the requirements of the RTI Act.