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Q & A

  1. What is ‘Right to Information’ (RTI)?

‘Right to Information’ means that you now have the right to ask for information from Public Authorities as defined in the Act (see below; What are Public Authorities?).

 

  1. What is the Sri Lankan law on RTI?

The Sri Lankan regime on right to information comprises of the relevant Constitutional Provision (Art. 14A) via the 19th Amendment, and the Right to Information Act, No. 12 of 2016.

 

  1. What is ‘Information’?

Information as provided for under the Act means:

“any material recorded in any form including records, documents, memos, emails, opinions, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, log books, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, correspondence, memorandum, draft legislation, book, plan, map, drawing, diagram, pictorial or graphic work, photograph, film, microfilm, sound recording, video tape, machine readable record, computer records and other documentary material, regardless of its physical form or character and any copy of them.”

 

RTI Commission of Sri Lanka

  1. What is the RTI Commission?

The 5 member RTI Commission is the statutorily independent central oversight, policy-making, enforcement and appellate body under the Act.   

 

  1. Who appoints the RTI Commission?

The RTI Commission is appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The Constitutional Council has to recommend nominees who have distinguished themselves in public life recommended by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, organisations of editors/publishers/media persons and other civil society organisations.

 

  1. Who are the current members of the RTI Commission?

The current members of the RTI Commission constitute of Mr. Mahinda Gammampila (Chairman), Justice A.W.A. Salam, Ms. Kishali Pinto- Jayawardena, Mr. S. G. Punchihewa and Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran.

 

  1. Who is the Director – General of the RTI Commission and what are his/her powers?

The Director-General is the CEO of the Commission. The appointment process of the Director – General is ongoing.

 

Public Authorities (PA), Information Officer (IO) & Designated Officer (DO)

  1. Who is an ‘Information Officer’?

When you are making an information request, the information officer is your first point of contact in a Public Authority. He/she is the person required to provide you with the information you request for.

 

  1. What are the duties cast upon an Information Officer (IO)?

According to the RTI regime, the information officer must provide all possible assistance to the person making the request. This includes providing written acknowledgement of the request, responding to the request in time, informing the person making the request if an extension is needed, taking down the request in written form if it is made orally, maintain records of the information requests, and obtaining the assistance of any other officer in order to respond properly to the information requests.

 

  1. Who is a ‘Designated Officer’?

The Designated Officer is the first appellate authority in a Public Authority. When you are unhappy with the response/ non-response by the Information officer you can appeal to the Designated Officer.

 

  1. What are the duties cast upon a Designated Officer?

The Designated Officer has to accept your appeal if it is within time.

 

  1. What are ‘Public Authorities’?

Public Authorities means constitutional and statutory entities, government departments and bodies, corporate bodies in which the government has a controlling interest, local and provincial authorities as well as courts, tribunals and institutions established to administer justice.

This also includes private entities working under contract, agreement, licence or a partnership with the government (where their statutory or public service or function is concerned), higher educational, private vocational or technical education institutions established, recognised or licenced under any written law or funded wholly or partly by the State and non–governmental organizations rendering a service to the public

 

  1. Where a Public Authority has not appointed an Information Officer, what can a citizen do?

According to Section 23 of the Act if an Information Officer is not appointed the Head or CEO of the Public Authority is automatically deemed to be the Information Officer.

 

  1. Where a Designated Officer is appointed, is it possible for a citizen not to appeal to the Designated Officer and come directly to the RTI Commission? 

No – the RTI Act provides a strict Appeal procedure in which the RTI Commission is the Second Appellate body. An appeal to the Designated Officer, (where the Designated Officer is in place), is compulsory before approaching the Commission. This is for the reason that the law gives the power to the Commission to act against the decisions of the DO in appeal.

 

  1. Where a Designated Officer is not appointed, what can a citizen do?

 A circular of the Government of Sri Lanka has specified that where state entities are concerned, the Head of that department or body becomes the Designated Officer if no Designated Officer is appointed. So you can ascertain who that is, submit an appeal and then come to the Commission. If no Information Officer or Designated Officer is appointed by a Public Authority then an information requester can submit a request to the head/CEO (who becomes the Information Officer under the Act) and then come directly to the Commission.

 

  1. Can an Information Officer or a Designated Officer ask advice from the Commission on substantive issues?

 No, Section 5 (5) of the Act contemplates the Commission providing advice on ‘an issue connected to the grant of access to any information’ exempted under the Act. This is a procedural matter distinct from the substantive issue as to whether information should be granted or not.

 

Making a RTI request

  1. Who can make a RTI Request?

A citizen of Sri Lanka. Citizen includes a body whether incorporated or unincorporated, if not less than three- fourths of the members of such body are citizens.

 

  1. Are there application forms available to make a RTI request?

Yes, RTI Form 01 as provided for in the Regulations gazetted in February 2017. But this form is not compulsory and any written request that contains the facts in the form will suffice.

 

  1. Can an information request to a Public Authority be submitted by email under the RTI Act?

Yes –Section 24 (6) and Regulation 04 clause 04 (gazetted in February 2017) allows for this.

 

  1. Do you need to give reasons when making a RTI Request?

No. This is not a requirement under the Act and no one can force you to disclose reasons for making a request.

 

  1. What are urgent requests?

Where the request concerns the life and personal liberty of a citizen. Such request should be responded to within 48 hours. 

 

  1. What is the procedure for making a RTI Request?

A RTI request should be made to the Information Officer of the Public Authority in the manner prescribed in RTI Form 01 (mentioned above).

 

  1. What is the time period to decide on a request?
  • The Information Officer should acknowledge your request as soon as possible.
  • If the information can be provided immediately, it should be provided.
  • The Information Officer should inform you within 14 working days if the Public Authority will provide you with the information you requested and indicate the amount to be paid to obtain the information in the manner you requested.

 

  1. What is the time period for delivering upon a request?

After the Information Officer informs you that the information will be provided he/she has a further 14 days (after you make the necessary payment) to provide you with the information.

 

  1. When are extensions of the time period acceptable?

When the information relates to a large number of records, or when the information is stored in a town, city, or location situated at a distance from the said Public Authority. The person making the request can appeal to the Designated Officer if unsatisfied with the extension.

 

  1. What is 3rd Party Information?

Third Party Information means information that concerns a party other than the Public Authority or the person making the request, where such information has been given to the Public Authority by the Third Party in confidence.

 

Exemptions & ‘Public Interest’ Override

  1. What information is exempt from the RTI according to the Act?

Only the information that is specifically mentioned in Section 5 of the Act cannot be asked for.

These are any personal information that is not related to public interest, any information which may undermine national security and national relations with any states, information that may cause prejudice to the economy of Sri Lanka, information of commercial confidence, any personal medical records, confidential information in a fiduciary relationship, information that may cause prejudice to criminal cases or national security, information that concerns third parties, information that may constitute  contempt of court or cause prejudice to judicial independence, information that impinges on parliamentary privileges or privileges of a Provincial Council, information causing harm to the integrity of examinations, confidential information relating to an election and cabinet memoranda where decisions have not been taken.

 

  1. What is ‘Public Interest Override’?

Public Interest Override as provided for in Section 5(4) of the Act means that when the public interest in disclosing the information is greater than in refusing to provide the information, the information should be provided. This exception to the exemptions applies to all the exemptions provided in Section 5 of the Act. This ‘term public interest’ will be interpreted by the RTI Commission in due time.

 

Appeal Process

  1. What is the Appeal Process?
  • If you are unsatisfied with the response of the Information Officer you can appeal to the Designated Officer within 14 days of becoming aware of such response.
  • If you are unsatisfied with the response/ non- response of the Designated Officer you can appeal to the Commission within 2 months of the response/non-response.

 

  1. On what grounds can an appeal be made to the RTI Commission?
  • If unsatisfied with the decision of a Designated Officer
  • Failure to obtain decision from the Designated Officer.

 

  1. Can an appeal to the RTI Commission be submitted by email?

No –according to Rule 13 (2) of the RTI Rules of 2017 (Fees and Appeals Procedure) an appeal to the Commission can be made only in – person or through registered post.

 

  1. Can an Appellant or a Public Authority be represented before the RTI Commission by a lawyer?

Yes, no prior permission needs to be obtained. But legal representation is not a compulsory requirement.

 

  1. When are inquiries conducted?

Inquiries are conducted by the RTI Commission if and when necessary to obtain the objectives of the RTI Act.

 

  1. Is there a further Appeal from the RTI Commission?

Yes, any party unsatisfied with the decision of the Commission, you may appeal to the Court of Appeal within one month of the communication of the said decision.

 

Proactive Disclosure

  1. What is proactive disclosure?

Proactive disclosure is the act of releasing information before it is requested. 

 

  1. How does Sri Lankan Law encourage proactive disclosure?

Through Regulation 20 (gazetted in February 2017) and Sections 8, 9, and 10 of the RTI Act.

 

  1. What are the proactive disclosure duties cast on Public Authorities?

Ministers are expected to abide by the Guidelines and Forms formulated by the Commission with regard to disclosure about the organizational setup etc., and disclosure about projects undertaken by them (in the case of Public Authorities falling within a Ministry/Provincial Ministry) as provided for in Sections 8 and 9 of the Act. All Public Authorities are required to provide annual reports to the RTI Commission relating to the implementation of RTI in the said Public Authority. In general, Public Authorities should also provide the information mentioned in Regulation 20 (gazetted in February 2017) on a regular basis. 

 

Offences

  1. When can the Commission recommend disciplinary action under the RTI Act?

The Commission has the power to recommend disciplinary action against an officer of a Public Authority to the appropriate disciplinary authority:

When an Information Officer, wilfully;

  • refuses to accept your request
  • does not give reasons for refusing your request
  • charges extra fees
  • fails to process your request

When a Designated Officer, wilfully;

  • Refuses an Appeal on a ground other than that specified by Section 5 of the Act
  • Without reasonable cause, failed to decide on an appeal within 3 weeks of receiving it

 

  1. What are Offences?

Under the Act, the Commission can institute legal action by way of prosecution in the Magistrate’s Court when any person commits the following offences:

  • Giving incorrect, incomplete or inaccurate information
  • Destroys, invalidates, alters or conceals information
  • Fails to appear before the Right to Information Commission
  • Appears before the Right to Information Commission, but refuses to be examined or provide information, or provides false information upon oath
  • Does not give effect to a decision of the Right to Information Commission
  • Obstructs the work of the Commission

 

  1. What are the penalties attached to such offences?

The Commission can institute action before the Magistrate’s Court.  Upon conviction the guilty party will be liable to a fine not exceeding Rs. 50000, or to imprisonment for upto 2 years, or to both fine and imprisonment. Disciplinary action too may be taken against the guilty party by the relevant disciplinary authority.

 

Other Queries

  1. In what form is information provided?

Information can be inspected, notes taken, printouts, certified copies made, certified samples can be made, or obtained in the form of disks, tapes, video cassettes, USB pendrive, CDs or in any other electronic mode.

 

  1. What is the applicable fee schedule for an information request?

There is no fee payable when making a request. The Fee Schedule becomes applicable only after your request has been positively responded to. The Fee Schedule is provided for in the Rules on Fees and Appeal Procedure of the Commission (Gazetted in February 2017).

For example:

The first four pages (A4) of photocopies or printing are provided free.

Information that is provided as a result of a successful Appeal is free.

Information provided via email is free. 

What is RTI?

At the core of the right to information is the principle of citizens’ right to know government policies and decisions that impact their lives. This includes the right to know how public funds are allocated and spent.

The RTI Act is the instrument for institutionalizing open government where all information related to activities performed in the service of the public is made easily accessible to all citizens.

Information is provided proactively where all public information not specifically exempted by the law is routinely provided in an accessible manner without a request for information being made. Proactively disclosing such information demonstrates the government’s sincere commitment to transparency, signifies citizen empowerment, and contributes to a reduction of corruption.

Information is also provided reactively in response to requests from any person or designated third party. Information Officers exist for all public authorities. All requests submitted in writing (oral requests are accepted where writing is not possible) to Information Officers trigger a process of assistance in securing the requested information. The provision of public information is an essential part of a functioning democratic system

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