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Govt. should be open to the people - Mangala

Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera addressing a workshop for Information Officers at Temple Trees yesterday. Picture by Wasitha Balapatabendige

The Right to Information (RTI) Act is important in establishing a strong social contract between the government and people, said Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday, as he appealed to Information Officers to open the government to the people.

Addressing 2100 Information Officers from the Western Province, Minister Samaraweera asked that the Officers be sensitive to the demands of the public and to do their utmost in their new responsibilities to ensure that people have confidence in the government.

“As Information Officers, you act as a bridge between the government and the people to further strengthen our democracy,” he said further addressing the workshop for the Officers held at Temple Trees.

The Workshop which looked to educate the Information Officers further on the RTI Act passed last year also made them aware of the need to have government offices engage in voluntary disclosure of information in order to increase transparency in the government sector.

Research conducted by the World Bank together with Verite Research had shown that whilst most government offices disclosed some information regarding their yearly budgets, the interactions government officials had with the public, especially when it came to information sharing were extremely poor.

“One year and three months since the RTI Act was passed, we cannot forget the long struggle it took us to get here. Through the enforcement of this law, we have shown to the world that we are once again a strong and vibrant democracy,” the minister said.

“Our Ministry since 2016 has been rolling out a plan to implement the Act and to make it part of everyday use. The government has also created an enabling environment for the Act through its inclusion as a Fundamental Right in the Constitution- the first such Fundamental Right since the Constitution was passed in 1978, the Ministry explained. The 3rd Constitution proposed to be introduced to the country too would take the RTI as Fundamental Right, Samaraweera assured.

“The people should be given the opportunity to find out about the workings of government within a certain legal framework,” he added.

Finance and Mass Media Ministry Secretary R. H. S. Samaratunga said 5000 Information Officers have been appointed to various government agencies. In addition, 17 awareness programmes have been conducted in the nine provinces, 700 journalists made aware of the Act and 150 master trainers trained to conduct 100 programmes per month to train the 5000 officers.

Samaratunga further observed that certain conflicting areas in the Establishment Code were in the process of being amended in order to be in line with the principles of the RTI.