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Right To Information Act awareness vital - RTI DG

The Kilinochchi and Matale districts are the only two districts in the island where no appeals on the Right to Information (RTI) requests have been made, said Director General of the Right to Information (RTI) Commission, Piyatissa Ranasinghe yesterday.

Inquiries from the Commission showed that this was due to all requests for information in the Kilinochchi district being answered by government officials within the stipulated 14 days whilst in Matale, it was the case of not many requests being made to government officers.

“Both the people as well as the public servants in Kilinochchi have suffered greatly as a result of the war, thus the government officers who also have an interest in resolving the many issues, are providing answers to whatever request they get. In Matale, we have a problem with the people not being made aware of the RTI Act and thus we need more awareness programmes there”, said Ranasinghe.

Ranasinghe who made the above presentations at a workshop held for Government Information Officers in the Western Province at Temple Trees, explained the process appeals took when directed to the Commission and the current progress of the Act in the country. The Western Province he said had the most number of appeals; the highest population and the greatest problems.

“We received the first appeal in March 2016, having had the Act passed in February. The Commission acts on two principles; first is that all information relating to the public has to be disclosed and the second is that not releasing such information is a violation of fundamental rights”, explained Ranasinghe to the Information Officers.

He added that it was not the responsibility of the general public to prove whether any information is public or not and thus it fell on the government authority to justify why information cannot be released.

A survey conducted by the Commission prior to the implementation of the Act, showed that 78 percent of government offices were open to releasing information. In the first six months after the RTI act alone, there were 12,000 requests made for information by the general public, with 302 appeals sent to the Commission. In comparison, India only had 52 requests in the first six months of implementation.

According to Commission statistics, most appeals on information requests came from within the government, “of the appeals, 37.3 percent were related to human resource issues such as problems in exams, promotions and retirement from government servants”. The second most frequent appeals, at 17.7 percent was with regard to land and property disputes, followed by 5.6 percent wanting information on development projects. In addition 3.3 percent of appeals were regarding school administration, “Almost 90 percent of them revolved around school admissions”, said Ranasinghe.

The Commission which is also mandated to provide advice to government authorities has had the most frequent requests coming from local government bodies, divisional secretariats and public enterprises.

“Some officials ask us whether they can release certain information. As the Commission, we cannot advice anyone not to release information. The Officer needs to make an independent decision whether to release information or not, at his/her discretion. The public can appeal”, said Ranasinghe.