South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) is disappointed to note that the Sri Lankan government has for the second time failed to pass Right to Information (RTI) legislation in parliament. The Bill presented by United National Party Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya was voted against by 97 Members of Parliament (MPs) of the ruling coalition while only 34 MPs from the opposition parties voted for the Bill.
This has not been the first instance that the issue of an RTI bill has been raised. Initially, the bill was drafted in 2003 but was not passed due to a change in government. Karu Jayasuriya presented the Bill in 2010 as a private member’s bill to Parliament but it was withdrawn after a commitment by the government of the time, to put forward its own Right to Information Act. However, the government failed to do so. It is unfortunate that the most recent introduction of the RTI bill was rejected on 21 June 2011.
People’s access to information is considered a basic human right and a vital part of a functioning democracy. RTI law is implemented worldwide in ninety countries including four countries in South Asia, namely India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. RTI will enable people to access information from relevant authorities and thereby improve their livelihoods as well as resolve various personal and social issues, resulting in greater transparency of the government.
SAHR notes that Sri Lanka being a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes RTI, is under obligation to incorporate it into domestic law. Despite this Sri Lanka is yet to implement any legislation guaranteeing public access to information.
While SAHR welcomes the government’s statement on 24th June 2011 which indicates its renewed commitment to introduce a new piece of RTI legislation, taking into account the views of all stake holders including the media, civil society, and political parties, we are conscious of previous such promises made but not honoured. We hope that this is not a tactical means of detracting from a meaningful response to the public demand for RTI legislation.
SAHR believes that the absence of right to information indicates an absence of transparency and prevents effective people’s participation in the law and policy making process and therefore hopes that the government will adhere to its commitment to protect this fundamental right.
On behalf of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Nimalka Fernando
28th June 2011