ne of the major achievements the country gained during the government with the 100-Day Programme was the recognition of people’s Right to Information (RTI). The right has been legalised not through an ordinary law but through an amendment to the Constitution-the 19th Amendment passed in Parliament on April 28, though with restrictions.
The Right to Information has been a long standing demand by the media community as well as the civil society that has been fighting for a wider democracy.
Many attempts to make the right a law, have been foiled owing to the opposition of the last government.
In September 2010, Karu Jayasuriya, the then Deputy Leader of the United National Party (UNP) moved a private member’s Bill in the Parliament in this regard, but had to withdraw it at the instance of Minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who said that the government was in the process of preparing its own Right to Information Bill and it would be presented in the House within six months.
When Mr. Jayasuriya presented it again in June 2011 after realising that the government was not interested in the matter and that it had hoodwinked the Opposition, the Bill was defeated by the government.
The Rajapaksa government might have had its own reasons to scuttle the efforts by the then Opposition to make the Right to Information a law.
When corruption is all over the body politic any government would resort to unofficial as well as official censorship, since rulers have many things to conceal from the people.
One of the major allegations levelled against the last government and that brought that government down was that of corruption. Hence the underlying reasons that would have compelled the then government to block the Right to Information Bill were comprehensible.
President Maithripala Sirisena in the 100-Day-Programme he had put forward at the January 8 Presidential Election included a Bill on the Right to Information as one of his priority concerns.
The Bill was to be presented in Parliament, according to the programme on February 20 and was to be adopted on March 20. However, as in the case of some of his other major promises the government failed to keep it.
Nevertheless, the government must be commended for the inclusion of the matter in the 19th Amendment, though with broad restrictions.
But the Article on the Right to Information in the Constitution cannot be implemented without a proper mechanism, including institutions to handle people’s requests under the Right To Information and their complaints on the refusals by the government officials to provide information they needed.
Another Bill hence must be brought in for the purpose and Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilake had told journalists in Kandy a few days ago that a Bill was ready to be presented in Parliament in this regard.
The mechanism is vital for the people, especially for the media as there are signs of an anti-corruption movement in the country that was active between the last Presidential Election and the Parliamentary Elections seeming to be gradually deflating.
Very few people seem to be interested now at least in speaking about corruption. On the other hand, given the huge amounts of money that the politicians had spent on their election campaigns one has to expect more allegations of corruption against many of them in the near future.
Also one has to consider the fact that some of those accused of corruption already have been absorbed even into the Cabinet as well.
Therefore, a workable RTI mechanism is inevitable and urgent for a democracy that is at least somewhat corruption-free.
With the diminishing interest in this regard in the country and with the possibility of new allegations of corruption emerging, the RTI Bill too might be pushed to the back seat. Therefore it is important for the civil society as well as the media community to be vigilant and stir up enthusiasm afresh over the matter.
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