Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers has approved a Right to Information (RTI) bill, giving citizens greater access to information with restrictions largely confined to what’s accepted in a democratic society, a spokesman said.
The RTI bill will be presented to Parliament in January 2016 and is now available to the public for comments.
The government is also obliged to change existing laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act that obstruct release of information.
“Restrictions under the RTI will be limited to only those that are required by a democratic society,” said Jayampathi Wickramaratne, who headed the committed which drafted the law.
Restrictions will largely be confined to personal information, state security, confidential information in international agreements, commercial and trade secrets and individual health records.
Release of information can also be restricted in an economic crisis. Some restricted information can be released after 10 years.
Information officers will be appointed in every government organisation to handle public queries under the RTI.
“If the government agencies refuse information the public has been given many steps through which to appeal,” he told a news conference.
“There’ll be an appeals officer within the same organisation. If that fails there can be an appeal to RTI commission,” he said.
“We anticipate many officials will be reluctant to give information as that’s the culture people have been used to.”
Government bodies have 14 days within which to respond to RTI requests for information from the public.
“If they refuse they must give the reason so as to enable appeal,” Wickramaratne said. “And if the request is deemed to be in the public interest – if that is more important – the government can’t refuse to give information.”
(Colombo/December 04 2015)