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Sri Lanka

The Enactment and Implementation of the RTI Act (LK0022)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Sri Lanka National Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media

Support Institution(s): Presidential Secretariat, Ministry of Public Administration and Management, Right to Information Commission, Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute and state media; Thematic-related CSOs (e.g- Health, Corruption, Education, Empowerment of Women, etc)

Policy Areas

Anti-Corruption Institutions, Capacity Building, Legislation & Regulation, Public Participation, Records Management, Right to Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: Sri Lanka End-of-Term Report 2016-2018, Sri Lanka Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: Yes Starred

Early Results: Major Major

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

The legal recognition of the citizens’ Right to Information and an effective mechanism whereby they are able and empowered to access such information is essential to create a culture of transparency and accountability in governance, and to encourage civic participation therein. It also serves as a tool for the systematic elimination of corruption. It balances the power of the people against the concentration of power in public authorities. The components of a democracy - such as representation, accountability, and participatory decision-making – are facilitated by the introduction of a dynamic RTI framework. Issues to be Addressed: Resources need to be allocated and the State has to roll out the entire RTI infrastructure. Systems (including ICT) have to be developed for record management, reporting, proactive disclosure and responding to requests. Public Authorities and their respective officials have to be trained and sensitized to the principles and processes of RTI. This includes ensuring the autonomy of appointed Information and Designated Officers. There is an ongoing need for the government to engage in public awareness campaigns to ensure that citizens are equipped to utilize the established RTI mechanism. Systems (including ICT) have to be developed for record management, reporting, proactive disclosure and responding to requests. Public Authorities and their respective officials have to be trained and sensitized to the principles and processes of RTI. This includes ensuring the autonomy of appointed Information and Designated Officers. There is an ongoing need for the government to engage in public awareness campaigns to ensure that citizens are equipped to utilise the established RTI mechanism. Main Objective: To strengthen anti-corruption framework and facilitate tri partite; public, private, civil society oversight and ownership of anti-corruption effort.
Milestones to Fulfill the Commitment New or ongoing
Commitment
Start Date:

End Date:
1. The Enactment of the RTI Act

a) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to ensure RTI requests can commence being processed from within 6 months of the Speaker certifying the RTI Act New August 2016 February 2017
2. Appointment and training of key RTI actors, including Information Commissioners and their staff and the Information Officers

a) Constitutional council to appoint RTI Commission
New August 2016 September 2016
b) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media and/or the Commission to develop the initial Terms of Reference for Information Officers and Designated Officers
New August 2016 September 2016
c) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to conduct 4 training programmes for all Ministry-level Information Officers and Designated Officers for the performance of their duties under the Act on the following themes:
• Value of RTI and their role
• Receiving and responding to requests
• Proactive disclosure
• Records-management New October 2016 August 2017
d) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to facilitate training of RTI Commissioners and Commission staff by resource persons from RTI Commissions in comparable jurisdictions
New November 2016 June 2018

e) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to sensitize and train public authorities – In order to change the mind-set of secrecy to one of civic participation, accountability and assistance to citizens New August 2016 June 2018
3. Resource Allocation, Procedures and Processes
a) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to appoint an RTI implementation co-ordination officer
New August 2016 September 2016
b) RTI implementation co-ordination officer to examine & implement international best practices on procedure and processes of RTI implementation. New September 2016 October 2016
c) RTI Commission to publish rules in the Gazette as per the provisions of the Act including details of information to be provided free of charge. New October 2016 November 2016
d) RTI Commission to publish record management guidelines for public authorities
New November 2016 January 2017
e) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to Gazette regulations as per the provisions of the Act
New August 2016 October 2016
f) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to request the Ministry of Finance to include RTI resource allocation in the provisional and annual national budget
New August 2016 August 2016
g) Presidential Secretariat to develop the Government Information Centre Helpline (GIC -1919) into the main voice-based trilingual central RTI request portal, which would transmit requests in writing to relevant Public Authorities for response. New August 2016 December 2017
h) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to facilitate the development of a system that allows for the tracking, monitoring and reporting of RTI requests analytics.
New August 2016 December 2017
i) Parliament to amend Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 and the Establishments Code for RTI compliance – Ensure contradicting secrecy or similar provisions are amended in line with RTI framework
New August 2016 August 2017
4. Raising Public Awareness
a) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media, in collaboration with other relevant state actors, to conduct at least 3 media awareness campaigns targeted at 3 categories: the general public, social welfare recipients and women
New February 2017 January 2018
b) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media, in collaboration with other relevant state actors, to conduct a targeted public awareness campaign for thematic training on the use of RTI in diverse fields for civil society New February 2017 January 2018
c) Government to allocate one-hour weekly slot for an RTI show on a State electronic media – Discussion around key RTI cases, activists, accomplishments, debates, etc New August 2017 June 2018
d) Government to ensure publication of RTI-related content in State newspapers in Sinhala, Tamil and English fortnightly. New August 2017 June 2018

IRM End of Term Status Summary

22. Enactment and Implementation of the RTI Act

Commitment Text:

The Enactment and Implementation of the RTI Act

The legal recognition of the citizens’ Right to Information and an effective mechanism whereby they are able and empowered to access such information is essential to create a culture of transparency and accountability in governance, and to encourage civic participation therein. It also serves as a tool for the systematic elimination of corruption. It balances the power of the people against the concentration of power in public authorities. The components of a democracy – such as representation, accountability, and participatory decision-making – are facilitated by the introduction of a dynamic RTI framework.

Main Objective:

Improve public access to information through the enactment and effective implementation of legislation on the Right to Information (RTI).

Milestones:

  • 1 Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to ensure RTI requests can commence being processed from within 6 months of the Speaker certifying the RTI Act.
  • 2 Appointment and training of key RTI actors, including Information Commissioners and their staff and the Information Officers:

(a) Constitutional council to appoint RTI Commission;

(b) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media and/or the Commission to develop the initial Terms of Reference for Information Officers (IOs) and Designated Officers (DOs);

(c) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to conduct 4 training programmes for all Ministry-level Information Officers and Designated Officers for the performance of their duties under the Act on the following themes: a) value of RTI and their role; b) receiving and responding to requests; c) proactive disclosure; and d) records-management

(d) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to facilitate training of RTI Commissioners and Commission staff by resource persons from RTI Commissions in comparable jurisdictions.

(e) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to sensitize and train public authorities – In order to change the mind-set of secrecy to one of civic participation, accountability and assistance to citizens.

  • 3 Resource Allocation, Procedures and Processes:

(a) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to appoint an RTI implementation co-ordination officer.

(b) RTI implementation co-ordination officer to examine & implement international best practices on procedure and processes of RTI implementation.

(c) RTI Commission to publish rules in the Gazette as per the provisions of the Act including details of information to be provided free of charge.

(d) RTI Commission to publish record management guidelines for public authorities.

(e) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to Gazette regulations as per the provisions of the Act.

(f) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to request the Ministry of Finance to include RTI resource allocation in the provisional and annual national budget.

(g) Presidential Secretariat to develop the Government Information Centre Helpline (GIC -1919) into the main voice-based trilingual central RTI request portal, which would transmit requests in writing to relevant Public Authorities for response.

(h) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media to facilitate the development of a system that allows for the tracking, monitoring and reporting of RTI requests analytics.

(i) Parliament to amend Official Secrets Act No. 32 of 1955 and the Establishments Code for RTI compliance – Ensure contradicting secrecy or similar provisions are amended in line with RTI framework.

  • 4 Raising Public Awareness:

(a) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media, in collaboration with other relevant state actors, to conduct at least 3 media awareness campaigns targeted at 3 categories: the general public, social welfare recipients and women.

(b) Ministry in charge of the subject of mass media, in collaboration with other relevant state actors, to conduct a targeted public awareness campaign for thematic training on the use of RTI in diverse fields for civil society.

(c) Government to allocate one-hour weekly slot for an RTI show on a State electronic media – Discussion around key RTI cases, activists, accomplishments, debates, etc.

(d) Government to ensure publication of RTI-related content in State newspapers in Sinhala, Tamil and English fortnightly.

Responsible institution: Ministry of Finance and Mass Media

Supporting institutions: Right to Information Commission; Transparency International

Start date: August 2016....... End date: June 2018

Editorial Note: This commitment is a starred commitment because it is clearly relevant to OGP values as written, has transformative potential impact, and is substantially or completely implemented. The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full text of the commitment, see the Sri Lanka National Action Plan 2016–2018 at http://bit.ly/2wv3jXR. [299]

Commitment Aim:

This commitment aimed to ensure the enactment and effective implementation of legislation on the right to information (RTI) in Sri Lanka. Government and civil society stakeholders envisioned that, through this commitment, the public will have assured and expeditious access to a wide array of information, including previously inaccessible government and government-held information. [300]

Status

Midterm: Substantial

Overall, the commitment achieved substantial completion by the midterm due the enactment of RTI legislation and the appointment of the RTI commission. However, work remained in important areas, including resource allocation and raising public awareness.

Led by the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, and supported by the RTI Commission, significant achievements reported at the midterm include:

  • Enactment and certification of legislation on the right to information [301] by the Speaker in Parliament on 4 August 2016 (Milestone 22.1);
  • Issuance of a gazette confirming the date of enforcement of the law as 3 February 2017 (Milestone 22.1); [302]
  • Appointment of a complete, and representative, RTI Commission in December 2016 (Milestone 22.2); [303]
  • Development and publication, as a regulation, initial Terms of Reference for key actors involved in the implementation of the law (Milestone 22.2); [304]
  • Publication of a set of rules, in February 2017, outlining details on information to be provided free of charge (Milestone 22.3); [305]
  • Securing a budget allocation in support of work on the right to information (Milestone 22.3); [306] and,
  • Publication of media articles on various aspects of the right to information, in all three languages, in various government newspapers (Milestone 22.4). [307]

Despite these achievements, a number of key milestones remained incomplete at the midterm. Training of Information Officers and RTI Commissioners (Milestone 22.2); sensitisation programs for public authorities (Milestone 22.2); appointment of an officer at the ministry to coordinate implementation (Milestone 22.3); the development of record management guidelines (Milestone 22.3); and the introduction of an RTI request portal and analytics system (Milestone 22.3), were all incomplete or not started.

Progress on raising public awareness on RTI was particularly limited at the midterm (Milestone 22.4). The ministry had not conducted targeted media or civil society awareness campaigns, or developed a weekly RTI show to debate key cases and accomplishments.

For more information, see the 2016–2017 IRM midterm progress report.

End of term: Substantial

This commitment continued to be substantially completed at the end of term. Stakeholders at the RTI Commission and civil society confirmed that the commitment experienced limited further progress toward completion since the midterm. [308] Notable developments are reported as follows:

  • Milestone 22.2: The RTI Commission claimed that all Information Officers (IOs) and Development Officers (DOs) at the national, provincial, and district levels had received training on responding to RTI requests. The commission did not provide concrete evidence of this. The commission noted, however, that some of the trained IOs and DOs had been transferred to different government departments and the new cadre required training; [309]
  • Milestones 22.2 / 22.4: The ministry, with the support of the RTI Commission, conducted a number of sensitisation programs and public awareness campaigns; [310] and,
  • Milestone 22.4: The ministry, with the support of the RTI Commission, printed over 50,000 leaflets on the RTI law to be distributed through public authorities. [311]

However, several other milestones under the commitment remained of limited completion:

Milestone 22.3:

(a) The RTI Commission confirmed that the ministry had not yet officially appointed an RTI Coordination Officer. However,

(b) The promotion of best-practices—a task assigned to the proposed coordination officer—did occur through external training programs. [312]

(d)The RTI Commission, and civil society, noted that key stakeholders had also not finalised guidelines on record and document management. [313] However, the RTI Commission confirmed that related discussions are underway among key stakeholders—the National Archives, the Ministry of Public Administration, and the RTI Commission. [314] The director general of the RTI Commission clarified that there were no examples of developing such guidelines from other countries. There are four existing general sets of rules on record management in the government service, but these were not relevant to RTI.

(g) The RTI Commission further noted that the government had not yet developed the RTI request portal, but indicated that this was likely to take place through the Government Information Centre (GICs), which aims to collect and collate information from all government entities, including ministries, and government corporations. [315]

(h) The ministry (i.e., Ministry of Finance and Mass Media) had also not developed an analytics system, but the RTI Commission noted that it was in ministry plans, and should be completed over the next year. [316]

(i) In the context of amending conflicting legislation, the RTI Commission highlighted that the Ministry of Public Administration had submitted the Establishments Code for further review and received approval for amendment by the Cabinet of Ministers. However, limited progress, if any, had been made toward amending the Official Secrets Act. [317]

Milestone 22.4: According to civil society, there was some improvement in raising public awareness on the right to information. [318] For instance, the ministry had started developing documentaries on RTI success stories and best practices. These videos were made available on a government website dedicated to the right to information. [319]

A representative from Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) also noted that two government-owned newspapers—in Sinhala and Tamil—created monthly supplements to publish RTI success stories and highlight the importance of proactive disclosure. [320]

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Major

This commitment led to a major improvement in access to information and open government overall. Specifically, legislation on the right to information was widely considered a significant and positive step forward for government openness in the area of access to information. [321] In fact, quality assessments by the Centre for Law and Democracy recognised the country’s legal framework for RTI as the best in the region and third best in the world. [322] However, inadequate focus by key government stakeholders on implementation of the law in practice has limited this commitment and prevented it from being considered a reform that has transformed ‘business as usual.’

At the outset of the action plan, Sri Lanka remained one of the few countries in the region without legislation guaranteeing public access to information. Despite initiatives by various actors toward constitutional and legislative reforms to promote the right to information, successive governments had failed to convert positive momentum into tangible results. [323]

Therefore, while legislation on the right to information represents a major contribution to access to information in Sri Lanka, the limited progress on implementation has served to stymie momentum. A civil society representative from TISL noted that, although the government had positively adopted a participatory approach to implementation, the focus had largely been on training. [324] According to this representative, the government seemed to assume that implementation will ensue from training and there was no follow-up to ensure that this happened. [325] TISL also highlighted concerning signs in the form of discussions around potentially regressive amendments that threatened to include legislative exceptions to the right to information. [326]

Despite all this, civil society stakeholders, including the RTI Commission, confirmed significant citizen engagement with the RTI process. [327] According to the RTI Commission, as of August 2018, citizens had filed over 850 appeals before the Commission, of which 650 had received final or interim orders. These legally-reasoned orders are available online on the website of the RTI Commission. [328] The information released through the use of RTI included reasons the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission blocked certain websites, processes of procurement, salaries of top executives in state institutions, and information on bilateral agreements relating to migrant workers. [329]

TISL confirmed, therefore, that the commitment significantly opened government. TISL suggested that, previously, a lack of political will inhibited efforts to promote the right to information, but noted that the government had been largely supportive in this case. [330]

Carried Forward?

Sri Lanka’s second action plan was not released at the time of this report. However, as this commitment represents a comprehensive list of crucial steps toward effective implementation of legislation on the right to information, the IRM researcher recommends that this commitment is carried forward to the next action plan.

In the 2016–2017 IRM midterm progress report, the IRM researcher proposed a set of additional measures to bolster this commitment and further improve implementation. A select few of these recommendations include:

  • Conducting advanced training sessions for public authorities to assess general competence on RTI, troubleshoot implementation issues, and reinforce standard protocol;
  • Designing and conducting special, customised awareness activities and programs targeted at key decision makers in the state and government apparatus; and
  • Identifying and appointing a champion of the RTI Act—outside the state apparatus—to promote the use of the law as a collective right to advocate government transparency on behalf of the general public. [331]

For more information and a full list of recommendation, see the 2016–2017 IRM midterm progress report.

[299] In the action plan, milestones pertaining to the right to information and proactive disclosure are listed under a single commitment. In this report, however, the two areas are separated into two different commitments (Commitments 22 and 23).

[300] Sugath Kithsiri (Ministry of Finance and Mass Media), interview by IRM researcher, 20 October 2017; Piyatissa Ranasinghe (RTI Commission), interview by IRM researcher, 19 October 2017; Sankhitha Gunaratne (Transparency International Sri Lanka), interview by IRM researcher, 17 October 2017.

[301] Right to Information Act, No. 12 of 2016, http://www.media.gov.lk/images/pdf_word/2016/12-2016_E.pdf.

[302] “Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Extraordinary),” No. 2002/42 (20 January 2017) http://www.documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2017/1/2002-42_E.pdf.

[303] “The Right to Information Commission Is Now Operative” (Sri Lanka Press Institute, 23 December 2016) http://www.slpi.lk/the-right-to-information-commission-is-now-operative/.

[304] “Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Extraordinary),” No. 2004/66, Regulation 21 (3 February 2017) https://www.rti.gov.lk/images/resources/2004-66_E_feb.pdf.

[305] “Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Extraordinary),” No. 2004/66.

[306] Kithsiri, interview. See also Budget Estimates 2018 – Volume I (Ministry of Finance, Fiscal Year 2018) http://bit.ly/2rOgMZZ.

[307] R. Deshapriya, “Right to Information Act and Applicability in Sri Lanka” (Daily News, 26 December 2016) http://dailynews.lk/2016/12/26/law-order/102951; W. Wutthman, “Fighting for Your Rights,” (Daily News, 5 September 2017) http://dailynews.lk/2017/09/05/features/127185/fighting-your-rights; “RTI Commission Receives 438 Appeals in 2017” (Daily Mirror, 19 November 2017) http://www.dailymirror.lk/140651/RTI-Commission-receives-appeals-in-.

[308] Piyatissa Ranasinghe (RTI Commission), interview by IRM researcher, 25 September 2018; Sankhitha Gunaratne (Transparency International Sri Lanka), interview by IRM researcher, 28 September 2018.

[309] Ranasinghe, interview.

[310] Id.

[311] Id.

[312] Id.

[313] Id.; Gunaratne, interview.

[314] Ranasinghe, interview.

[315] Id.

[316] Id.

[317] Id.

[318] Gunaratne, interview.

[319] RTI Sri Lanka – Video Gallery (Ministry of Finance and Mass Media, 2018) https://bit.ly/2QCeJ34.

[320] Gunaratne, interview.

[321] Ranasinghe, interview; Gunaratne, interview.

[322] “Sri Lanka Jumps to Third Place Globally on the RTI Rating” (Centre for Law and Democracy, 9 February 2017) https://www.law-democracy.org/live/sri-lanka-jumps-to-third-place-globally-on-the-rti-rating/.

[323] Citizens Access to Information in South Asia: Regional Synthesis Report (The Asia Foundation, August 2014) https://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/CitizensAccesstoInformationinSouthAsia.pdf.

[324] Gunaratne, interview.

[325] Id.

[326] According to TISL, exceptions to the right to information have variously surrounded discussions on legislation such as the Audit Act, Reparations Bill, and legislation on the Office of Missing Persons.

[327] “Sri Lanka’s right to information” (Sunday Observer, 30 September 2018) https://bit.ly/2T7mzHn.

[328] Right to Information Commission of Sri Lanka, Orders and Directives, https://bit.ly/2H9KWgG

[329] “Sri Lanka’s right to information” (Sunday Observer).

[330] Gunaratne, interview.

[331] Dr. Gopa Kumar Thampi, interview by IRM researcher, 15 October 2017.


Commitments

  1. Integrity Officers to Decrease Bribery and Corruption

    LK0024, 2019, Capacity Building

  2. Asset Declaration System

    LK0025, 2019, Asset Disclosure

  3. Increase Use of RTI

    LK0026, 2019, E-Government

  4. Citizen Participation in Health

    LK0027, 2019, E-Government

  5. Campaign Against Youth Drug Use

    LK0028, 2019, Education

  6. Open Data

    LK0029, 2019, E-Government

  7. Agriculture Support Policy

    LK0030, 2019, Capacity Building

  8. Participation for Persons with Disabilities

    LK0031, 2019, Land & Spatial Planning

  9. Disability Rights Bill

    LK0032, 2019, Legislation & Regulation

  10. Disaster Management Planning

    LK0033, 2019, Capacity Building

  11. Nationak Environmental Policy

    LK0034, 2019, Environment and Climate

  12. CEDAW Implementation

    LK0035, 2019, Capacity Building

  13. Local Service Delivery

    LK0036, 2019, E-Government

  14. Feedback on Public Bus

    LK0037, 2019, E-Government

  15. Implementing UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in a Participatory Manner

    LK0038, 2019, Legislation & Regulation

  16. Improving Public Access to Preventive and Curative Strategies to Combat Chronic Kidney Disease

    LK0001, 2016, Health

  17. Transparent Policy to Provide Safe and Affordable Medicines for All

    LK0002, 2016, Capacity Building

  18. National Health Performance

    LK0003, 2016, Capacity Building

  19. Ensuring Transparency and Impartiality in Teacher Recruitment Policy and Process in Sri Lanka

    LK0004, 2016, Capacity Building

  20. Enhance the Services of Government Information Center (GIC- 1919) for Inclusive, Transparent, Accountable and Efficient Governance, Using ICT As Enabler

    LK0005, 2016, Capacity Building

  21. Promote the Open Data Concept and Delivering the Benefits to Citizens Through ICT

    LK0006, 2016, Capacity Building

  22. National Environmental Act (NEA) Amendments

    LK0007, 2016, Capacity Building

  23. Coast Conservation

    LK0008, 2016, Capacity Building

  24. Flora and Fauna Protection

    LK0009, 2016, Capacity Building

  25. Transparent and Accountable Procurement System for Local Authorities in Sri Lanka

    LK0010, 2016, Capacity Building

  26. Local Authority Procurement System Implementation

    LK0011, 2016, Legislation & Regulation

  27. Annual Work Plan of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to Include a Transparent and Accountable Process to Implement Selected Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Concluding Observations.

    LK0012, 2016, Gender

  28. CEDAW Implementation – Accountability

    LK0013, 2016, Gender

  29. CEDAW – Inclusion

    LK0014, 2016, Gender

  30. Strengthening Women Participation in the Political Decision Making Process at the Local Level

    LK0015, 2016, Capacity Building

  31. Strengthen the Anti-Corruption Framework to Increase Constructive Public Participation

    LK0016, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  32. Implement UNCAC

    LK0017, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  33. Coordination Among Anti-Corruption Agencies

    LK0018, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  34. Corruption and Money Laundering

    LK0019, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  35. Campaign Finance

    LK0020, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  36. Disseminate Asset Declaration

    LK0021, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  37. Starred commitment The Enactment and Implementation of the RTI Act

    LK0022, 2016, Anti-Corruption Institutions

  38. Proactive Disclosure

    LK0023, 2016, Legislation & Regulation