Sunday, June 25, 2017

RTI progress assessed: Appeals heard and info relased disclosed

Sunday Times: Sri Lanka: Sunday, June 25, 2017.
Commission launches trilingual website and logo.
Pending is a request for the declaration of the assets of the President and the Prime Minister
Launching its trilingual website ( and the RTI logo consisting of Sri Lanka in the black pupil of an eye signifying information held aloft by a hand of a citizen, the RTI Commission of Sri Lanka this week, disclosed details of appeals heard and information released by public authorities summoned to the commission.
The RTI logo shows Sri Lanka in the black pupil of an eye signifiying
information held aloft by a citizen
This was following appeals filed by citizens against the Road Development Authority (RDA) and the Panadura Urban Council among other public authorities. During the past four months following the operationalising of Sri Lanka’s RTI Act on February 3, 2017, the commission has responded to approximately 69 Government ministries clarifying duties cast on public authorities under the Act.
Among these was the office of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Presidential Secretariat, the Sri Lanka Customs, the Employees Trust Fund Board, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the Department of Meteorology and several provincial authorities including the Chief Secretary’s Offices of the Southern Province, the Central Province, the Eastern Province and the Secretariat of the Governor of the Western Province. Pending appeals before the commission include an appeal filed by a citizen against the Governor’s Secretariat of the NPC.
Also pending is a request for the declaration of the assets of the President and the Prime Minister. The commission’s website states that the part heard matter will be continued on August 8, 2017 to enable the two Designated Officers (DOs), the Secretary to the President and the Secretary to the Prime Minister to obtain legal representation. This was on a request made by the DOs to the commission citing the complexity of the issues involved. The commission’s order states that two preliminary questions of law before it for consideration relate to the failure on the part of the appellant, Transparency International, Sri Lanka, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), to state the fact of its membership coming within the definition of ‘a citizen’ in the initial information request to the public authorities asking for the assets declarations.
The preliminary questions of law arise under Section 3(1) of the RTI Act which only gives a citizen the right to seek information from a public authority having ‘possession, custody or control.” Section 43 defines a ‘citizen’ as “a body whether incorporated or unincorporated, if not less than three-fourths of the members of such body are citizens.” The Rules of the Commission (February 2017) provide that though use of RTI 01 (the information request format) is not mandatory when filing an information request, the necessary details must be stated even on a blank sheet of paper in accordance with the Act.
The commission’s website also features two draft guidances on pro-active disclosure applicable to all ministries as required under the RTI Act. Along with draft Inquiry Rules, these have been published in advance to obtain public feedback before gazetting. It has also been announced that the commission will seek the views of PAs through a series of public consultations.
A special feature of the draft Guidances relates to information that must be disclosed three months in advance of the initiation of ‘projects”, the value of which exceeds USD 100,000 (in case of foreign funded projects) and Rs. 500,000 (in respect of locally funded projects) under Section 9 of the Act.
In these cases, the commission has specified that ministers must disclose all capital expenditure of procurement activities approved by procurement committees. These include project budget and financial information including the total estimated cost of the project, the source of finance (foreign/ local/other – for example Public Private Partnership) and identification of the foreign or local entities/institutions involved in financing the project.
It is also stipulated that if the proposed project is to be implemented on the basis of a Public Private Partnership, the relevant ministers must provide the main terms and conditions of agreement between the Government and the private sector party, including details of equity and profit share bases, financial information such as fees, tolls, or other kinds of revenue that may be collected by private sector parties under authorisation from the Government.
Further, all additional benefits or concessions, if any, offered to the contractor or private parties at the cost or expense of the State/Government of Sri Lanka in the implementation of the proposed project. For example, tax holidays, tax concessions, sale or lease of land at concessionary rates/prices etc must be listed.
The draft Guidances state that information on environmental impact assessments for the project must be disclosed along with approvals from relevant regulatory agencies mandated by the law. In addition, details of the supplier/vendor/contractor who will implement the project, the number of bidders as well as the relevant names/contact details of those who submitted bids for the project and the complaints handling mechanism conforming to accepted standards of fairness and transparency which is accessible to the public.
In a different Guidance under Section 8 which relates general pro-active disclosure duties, ministers are required to provide a breakdown of all costs and expenditure, including but not limited to, rentals, utility costs, salaries, emoluments and allowances, travel costs (both foreign and local, including cost of air travel and accommodation), stationery, fuel, cost of other facilities, such as repair of vehicles, repairs, renovations, improvements and refurbishments to buildings and structures. Also required to be disclosed in advance is the relevant procurement plan of the ministry.
The commission has also proposed rules relating to the procedure for holding inquiries which includes the holding of public hearings on matters of ‘public importance.’