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Public officials must disclose information - RTI Chairman

The new Right to Information Act has had a strong first year, but public authorities need to shed their culture of secrecy, RTI Commission Chairman Mahinda Gammanpila said Tuesday.

He was speaking at a seminar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Colombo.

“The public authorities in this country, of which I myself have been a member.… the culture is a negative kind of response towards the disclosure of information,” he said.

He said many officers are briefed that all government documents are supposed to be confidential. “This is a kind of legacy that we have inherited from the colonial administration to the local administration of today,” he said.

Gammanpila said that in appeals before the RTI Commission, the quasi-judicial body set up by the Act to moderate disputes, most public officers agree to disclose information once the law is properly explained and they are given an official order.

“Except for one or two instances, we have not come across officers who are ready to say no,” he said. But for citizens to be able to freely and easily exercise their right to information, “there is a need for us to change this attitude in the minds of the public officials,” he added.

Chairman Gammanpila said there were other mechanisms in law that need to be strengthened on the ground, such as the proactive disclosure of information like budgets and expenditures.

In addition, some private companies and non-governmental organisations that are funded by the government or contribute significantly to public activities do not realise they are covered by the law.

“We need to explore the possibilities of enlightening them or educating them on this matter,” he said. “There are very many NGOs and INGOs which have influence on the public life of this country, so the citizens have the right to obtain information on the activities that have been carried out.”