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The Preamble of the Bill talks of the existence of a need to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities and to promote a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance.

The Right to Information Bill contains safeguards for both sides, for citizens seeking access to information and information officers appointed to the public authorities from which the requests for information are made, MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne said.

When queried as to whether Section 5 of the Bill under which the right of access to information may be denied, and in particular Section 5 (1) (c) (v), which reads as “the disclosure of such information would cause serious prejudice to the economy of Sri Lanka by disclosing prematurely decisions to change or continue government economic or financial policies relating to the entering into of overseas trade agreements,” would impact the public obtaining information about the proposed controversial Indo-Sri Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), the Wickremaratne said that Section 5 (4) which reads, “Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1), a request for information shall not be refused where the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the harm that would result from its disclosure.”, would apply.

If denied, a citizen can appeal against the rejection of a request, first with a designated officer appointed to the said public authority which refused information, then through the Right to Information Commission and finally challenge it in the Supreme Court, he added.
The long waited Right to Information Bill was presented in Parliament on March 24.

The Bill is for an Act to provide for the right of access to information, to specify the grounds on which access may be denied, to establish the Right to Information Commission (Commission), to appoint information officers and to set out the procedure for gaining access to information.

The Preamble of the Bill talks of the existence of a need to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities and to promote a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance.

According to the Bill, ‘It is the responsibility of the Minister assigned to the subject of mass media to ensure the effective implementation of the provisions of the Act. Access shall be given to the part/s of any record or document which contains any information that is not exempted from being disclosed under Section 5, and therefore severability under certain circumstances is provided for. The duties of the Minister and public authorities are outlined. Public authorities are to maintain and preserve its records. Ministers have a duty to publish a report containing certain particulars. It is the duty of the Ministers to inform the public about the initiation of projects. It is the duty of public authorities to submit reports.

The Constitution of the Commission is outlined, along with the appointment of officers and employees of the Commission, duties and functions of the Commission, the powers of the Commission, the funding of the Commission, the audit of its accounts, members, officers and employees of the Commission being deemed by the Act to be public officers, the application of the Bribery Act to the Commission, about expenses incurred by the Commission in any suit or prosecution, and procedural requirements to be published by the Commission. The Commission is to prepare a report of its activities. In accordance with the provisions stipulated in Section 38 of the Bill, the Commission shall inform the appropriate disciplinary authority of any matter concerning any information officer and/or designated officer.

Section 39 of the Bill outlines offences. The Minister in consultation with the Commission may make regulations. Public authorities are to display details of information officers and fees to be charged. The manner in which information is to be provided is specified. The refusal of a request for information has to be communicated.

There are provisions governing cases where the information requested for was supplied by a third party. No liability, whether civil or criminal, shall be attached to any public authority or any information officer or any other officer or employee of such public authority, for anything which in good faith is done by such officer in the performance or exercise of any function or power imposed or assigned to such officer under this Act.
An appeal may be made on behalf of an aggrieved party. Appeals can be made to and before the Court of Appeal. There is a duty to disclose reasons for a decision. Nothing in this Act is intended to prevent or discourage information from being published.