By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The government should establish a greater trust with its people by disclosing information related to economic, political and social decisions, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said recently.
“It is important that the government provides accurate and complete information on expenditure and transactions in order to demonstrate accountability and professionalism, to reinforce their own credibility and competency, and provide clear and comprehensive information regarding the financial consequences of economic, political and social decisions,” he added.
He noted that all information related to short-term and long-term impacts of decision making should be disclosed in order to establish trust with the citizens.
“When sovereign debt issues are prominent, it is particularly important that the government’s focus is on the priority to establish a greater trust between themselves and their constituents,” he further added.
However, the recently passed Right to Information Bill absolves the government of the duty to inform its citizens of macroeconomic information prematurely related to interest rates, financial system regulations, taxation, adjustment of prices, rent, wages, etc., and negotiations of trade agreements. The lack of specificity in what premature amounts to in each case, and the wide range of economic activities that can be included under each of the subjects provides the government with a free hand in suppressing information from the public until after the implementation of regulations.
When Mirror Business had inquired of the fact from Karunanayake earlier this year prior to the passing of the Bill, Karunanayake had said that he had not been aware of such clauses within the Bill, and that he would inquire about them. However, there had been no changes related to disclosing economic information.
Further, the Right to Information Bill calls for the appointment of public officials who will have the power to decide whether to allow or deny a request for information within 2 weeks of receiving one.
The government’s freedom to not to disclose information related to trade agreements is creating some controversy. A European Union (EU) trade delegation which had visited the country earlier this year had noted that the EU discloses all negotiations on trade deals to its public, and advised Sri Lanka to follow a similar procedure.