Ministry of Mass Media
Important stages of ‘Right to Information act‘ in Sri Lanka
The discussion about Right to Information act emerged since 1994. Media Associations and Civil Society Organizations have raised the necessity of the act in 1994 who supported ‘Podu Peramuna’ in the Parliament election.
First written document about the act could be found in 1994. Travel Information and Aviation Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake introduced a cabinet paper so called ‘Media Policy of the Government’ in 1994.
Its second clause was about accepting Right to Information and promised to give a constitutional protection for that.
Constitutional provisions about the Right to Information act
Right to Information act was introduced to 1978 Constitution by the 19th Amendment in 2015. Hence Freedom of expression, including freedom of press had being assured before. The first decision to introduce this act to the constitution was taken in 1994.
Mass Media Ministry appointed an advisory committee later (R.K.W Gunasekara Committee) to reform laws affecting Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression in 1996.
Its 3rd recommendation was to include Right to Information under the Freedom of Expression according to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
R.K.W Gunasekara committee stated that amendments should follow constitutional fundamentals including following fundamentals.
- Giving information than exception should be the rule.
- There should be an equal right for everyone to access information.
- It’s not needed requestors to prove the justification of requesting relevant information. The responsibility to prove justification of not giving the information is up to the government.
- The ability to take judicial assistance against rejection.
The Supreme Court has stated that Right to Information is included under freedom of expression in many occasions.
- ‘Colombo statement’ about Media freedom and social responsibility which was passed in the Media summit held at BMICH in 1998. The lack of provisions about RTI in the constitution was discussed in the summit. They discussed that constitution should be amended according to International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
- Reforms of the constitution were being made to give a political solution to the ethnic crisis. RTI was included under fundamental rights in 2000 constitution Bill. Hence that was ruled out amid protests of the opposition.
- Sri Lanka Legal Commission introduced a bill about access to information in 1996. By the report they accepted the unsatisfactory situation related to the Legal regime.
- Cabinet passed a bill in 2004 after Editors Guild, Free Media Movement and Centre for Policy Alternatives introduced a bill about RTI. Justice Ministry made the final bill amid several amendments. Hence with the dissolution of Parliament, government‘s interest about the bill ended.
- In 2006 Sri Lanka Legal Commission introduced a bill about RTI for the second time. They recommended that RTI act should be legally passed for make a public participation for the democracy. They mentioned a necessity of having such act as Sri Lanka signed the two UN conventions named convention on Organized Crime Prevention and Convention against Corruption.
- A new bill about access to information was introduced in 2009 by a committee appointed by Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda with the opinions of Press institute and the Editors Guild. They have taken examples of the RTI act passed by India. This bill was introduced to the President in 2010 Parliament election period. Hence Mr. Moragoda lost in the election and there was no one to carry out the bill.
- There is some information that Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakshe has made a bill about RTI in 2010 who was an opposition member at that time. Therefore they couldn’t find more details about this.
- In 2010 Mr. Karu Jaysooriya who was an opposition member at the time introduced a bill about RTI saying ‘this act should be passed’. Opposition Leader in 2010 Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe confirmed the proposal. Though Mr. Jayasooriya withdrew the bill amid protests from the government.
- Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala who was a parliament member in 2010 made a private proposal about RTI.
- In 2011, Mr. Karu Jayasooriya privately proposed a bill after that was stated in the gazette. Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe who was the opposition Leader at that time confirmed the proposal. Government refused the act. A vote was held regarding this and it was refused by 62 votes.
- Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission published their report in 2011 regarding freedom of expression and right to information. It had mention that freedom of expression and right to information will perform a main role when it comes to reconciliation. They said that freedom of press should be developed. It was mentioned that mistrust within the ethnic groups will be increased when that freedom is limited.
The committee has stated that law should be reformed to assure right to information.
A law about RTI was included in the National action plan which was made to implement these recommendations. Cabinet approval was given to that national action plan in 2012.
- Lakshman Kiriella who was an Opposition member in 2012 proposed an adjournment debate about enactment of rules for establishment of Independent Commissions and right to information.
- Mr. Maithripala Sirisena who was the common candidate of the opposition in 2015 Presidential election promised to introduce an act about RTI by through his manifesto. According to that it was scheduled to introduce the bill to the parliament on 20th February 2015 and to pass the bill on 20th March 2015.
- Media and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Gayantha Karunathilake brought a cabinet paper to bring the RTI act on 12th March 2015. The responsibility of making the bill was assigned to ministry of media and parliamentary affairs, Ministry of public administration and to the ministry of Justice. A committee was appointed with representatives of Media and Civil Associations.
- Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe brought a cabinet paper on 22nd April 2015 proposing ‘this act should be brought as an emergency bill’ but the ability of bringing emergency bills had being abolished by the 19th amendment. So it was decided to introduce the bill to the parliament in the normal procedure after the bill was passed on 02nd November 2015 by the cabinet. It was stated in the gazette on 18th December 2015.
- Task force was installed with the guidance of Media and Parliamentary Affairs deputy minister.
- Government said ‘they will introduce the act to parliament on 08th March 2016’. Yet it was not introduced to the parliament on said date.
- RTI bill was introduced to the parliament for first reading on 24th March 2016.
- Five petitions filed about this act to the Supreme Court. After the hearing, the Supreme Court decision was introduced to the parliament by the speaker on 03rd May 2016.
- The bill was introduced to the parliament for the second reading on 23rd June 2016 with the amendments decided by the Supreme Court and proposals of provincial councils. Debate was held on 23rd and 24th June.
- The act was passed on 24th June with amendments from opposition and government without a parliament vote.
- Act was enacted as a Law of Sri Lanka after speaker signed the act on 04th August 2016.
- Legislative Council requested Editors, Publishers, Journalist’s Associations and Civil Associations to propose names for the RTI commission through a newspaper advertisement. They requested to make the proposals before 11th August 2016.
- President appointed 3 commissioners to the RTI Commission on 30th September 2016. Two more commissioners yet to be appointed to complete the commission.