Independent think-tank, Verite Research expressed concern regarding weak provisions under Section 40 of the gazetted Right to Information (RTI) Bill concerning whistleblowers, and the fact that there were no penalties for the delayed provision of information based on requests for information.

Section 5(1)(f) reads, “Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) a request under this Act for access to information shall be refused, where – the information consist of any communication, between a professional and a public authority to whom such professional provides services, which is not permitted to be disclosed under any written law, including any communication between the Attorney General or any officer assisting the Attorney General in the performance of his duties and a public authority.”

Section 40 concerns the release and disclosure of information by an employee of a public authority.

Legal Analyst and Research Director at Verite Research, Gehan Gunatilleke said that aside to the explicit inclusion of the Attorney General’s Department from the scope of Section 5 where the right of access to information may be denied, and there being no uniform reporting cycle for the submission of RTI reports by public authorities under Section 10 (where it is the duty of every public authority to submit reports to the RTI Commission), which in its present state, only refers to the submission of ‘annual reports’, there was an inconsistency between Section 24(5)(c) and Section 25(3).

Section 24(5)(c) reads, “where the citizen making the request believes that the information is necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of a person, [s/he shall] include a statement to that effect, including the basis for that belief,” and Section 25(3) reads, “Where the request for information concerns the life and personal liberty of the citizen making such request, the response to it shall be made within 48 hours of the receipt of the request.”

He added that Section 25(3) must be amended to ensure that a request for information that is necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of any person including a person other than the citizen making the request shall receive a response within 48 hours.

“This is to enable families of arrested, disappeared or missing persons to request information from the relevant authorities and receive information without delay. Section 24(5)(c) sets up this possibility, but Section 25(3) then narrows its scope by restricting it to information pertaining to the citizen making the request,” he said.

“The provision on whistleblowers should be strengthened to afford protection to individuals making proactive disclosures (ones that do not necessarily arise out of specific requests for information) in good faith as such are key to revealing corruption and mismanagement within public authorities.”