Friday 24 June 2016

Sri Lankan Parliament passes Right to Information bill with amendments

Sri Lankan Parliament on 24 June 2016 unanimously passed the Right to Information (RTI) bill with amendments. The bill that seeks to restore transparency and good governance in the country was adopted without a vote in the Parliament after two days of debate. 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.
• It shall be the responsibility of the Ministry of the Mass Media to ensure the effective implementation of the Act.

• A five-member Right to Information Commission will be formed to monitor and ensure compliance. The members who will have powers to hold inquiries and hear appeals will be appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.
• 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.
• A request for access to information shall be refused under following circumstances:
a) Information related to personal information devoid of any public interest
b) Defence matters of the state
c) Confidential details on international agreements
d) Information which might harm the economy of Sri Lanka
e) Trade secrets
f) Medical records
g) Communication between a professional and a public authority which is not permitted to be disclosed
h) Information which might hamper detection of any crime
i) Information which would be in contempt of court
j) Information that would infringe the privileges of Parliament
k) Information which may be harmful to the integrity of an examination conducted by the Department of Examination, etc
• It says that all ministries, departments, public corporations, local authorities, non-governmental organisations 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 endeavour to preserve all records in electronic format.
• Every public authority should appoint information officers. 

During 2015 presidential campaign President Maithripala Sirisena promised the new law, since Sri Lanka had a long history of official secrecy.
The bill was presented in the Parliament on 24 March 2016 by Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media.
Earlier, the bill was introduced in 1996, but was delayed by successive governments citing national security issues, while Sri Lanka was at war with Tamil rebels until 2009.

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