The Right To Information is fundamental in Sri Lanka!

With the establishment of republic states in 1972, a concept which denotes that the ownership of the state lies with people was evolved in Sri Lanka. State and the public institutions are maintained by the tax monies of people. Thus, the fundamental principle being established is that the people have the right to know information of which the functions of the state are accomplished using public funds. With the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015 came the Constitutional right of access to information and on 23 June 2016 the Parliament of Sri Lanka, enacted the Right to Information (RTI) Act gave meaning to another citizen’s Fundamental Right.

Sri Lanka’s journey to enact an RTI law was a prolonged and difficult struggle. In 1995, a Committee was appointed to advise to then Government on the reform of laws affecting media freedom and freedom of expression. The Committee recommended drafting a Freedom of Information Act and following the report of the Commission in 1996, the Sri Lanka Law Commission prepared a draft Freedom of Information Bill. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s print media industry had embarked on a vigorous campaign to bring an RTI law to the country’s statute books and the 2000 Draft Constitutional Bill also included a ‘Right to Information’ clause, but the Bill never passed the seal of Parliament.

Subsequently, a Prime Ministerial Committee drafted the 2004 Freedom of Information Bill which was approved by the then Cabinet and tabled in Parliament, with the premature dissolution of that Parliament, the Bill was never debated. Subsequent to revision in 2008 of the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility prepared earlier in 1998; led the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Free Media Movement, Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka and The Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka to emphasize the need for a RTI law in Sri Lanka.

This draft Freedom of Information Bill was revised in 2010, as the general elections intervened, the Bill was never presented to Parliament. In 2011, the 2004 draft Freedom of Information Bill was presented as a private member’s Bill, but it was not taken up for debate in Parliament.

Later in 2011, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in its final report recommended that the Government introduce RTI legislation, which was included as an action point in the 2013 LLRC’s National Action Plan.

With the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015 came the Constitutional right of access to information provides for a process to exercise that right. It is important to remember that the RTI Act does not give us any new rights and on 23 June 2016 in a celebrated move the Parliament of Sri Lanka, enacted the Right to Information Act to give meaning to the citizen’s Fundamental Right to Information.

RTI stands for ‘Right to Information’. It is the right to access information held by public authorities. In other words, this allows complete or partial release of information held by the state. In many countries, this freedom is supported as a constitutional right. This is also known as the ‘Freedom of Information’, ‘open records’ or ‘sunshine laws’, as governments are typically bound by a duty to publish and promote openness. Thus, this is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Public officials are entitled to disclose any information requested by any citizen under the RTI unless it falls under one of the exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement. Accordingly, accessible information includes printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, contracts, samples, models, and sound or video recordings.

The Right To Information (RTI) is a fundamental right of every citizen, was established for transparency, government accountability and general public protection against mismanagement and corruption together with the intention of improving public participation in policy making, a process that every citizen is entitle to use part of routine.