Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) CEO Kumar Lopez emphasized the need to strengthen RTI given the challenges ahead with several Acts, such as the Data Protection Act, which indirectly defeats the purpose for which the RTI Act was enacted.
In coinciding with the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) which falls on the 28th of September, the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) launched a study report titled “A Study of the Annual Report submitted by Public Authorities in Accordance with Section 10 of the RTI Act for the period from 2019 to 2020” at the Taj Samudra on September 25, with the attendance of public authorities, tri-forces, journalists, civil and RTI activists.
The launch opened with a welcome note from the CEO of SLPI, Kumar Lopez who thanked the Direct Aid Program of the Australian High Commission to Sri Lanka for the support and emphasized the need to strengthen RTI given the challenges ahead with several Acts, such as the Data Protections Act, which indirectly defeats the purpose for which the RTI Act was enacted. He also pointed out the need for the Ministry of Mass Media, which is the nodal agency for the effective enactment of the same, to lead and be active in promoting within the Public Authority and the citizens of the country.
Following the opening remarks, Shalani Fernando, Attorney-at-Law, presented the study report compiled by Nethmi Jinadasa, Attorney-at-Law, where she discussed the parameters of the study, its limitations, and its key findings. The study shows a very poor submission rate of the Annual reports by the Public Authorities. The findings of the report indicated that out of the 17,538 requests received by Public Authorities (PAs) there was a 73.7% likelihood of the information being provided by the Information Officer. She further stated that in the three years 15.3% of requests have been rejected on the grounds stipulated under Section 5 of the RTI Act as well as for other reasons. Additionally, Fernando summarized the recommendations made by the report on the basis of responsiveness of PAs, criteria and format of the Annual Reports (ARs), the management of records, the maintenance of a PA directory, and the validation of the data provided in the ARs.
Following the presentation of the study report Ashwini Natesan outlined her research on “A Snapshot of Potential Concerns Between Protection of Personal Data vs. Access to Information” where she foregrounded the concerns on the disclosure of personal data in the Personal Data Protection Act No 09 of 2022 (PDPA) and the exemption clause concerning the rights and fundamental freedoms of a person, especially that of the freedom of expression and the right to information. Natesan further highlighted jurisdiction implemented by other countries such as Canada in dealing with the potential conflict between the right to privacy and the right to access to information.
The report can be downloaded at https://slpi.lk/research-and-surveys/