Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Friday, May 11, 2018

More awareness on RTI necessary

MAY 11 2018

Despite living in an age where there is no shortage of information, Sri Lanka’s citizens are confused over the lack of key information pertaining to aspects that have a considerable impact on their lives.

The Right to Information Act has been in place for quite some time and there have been people of various walks of life who have filed for information pertaining to issues ranging from missing persons in the North to the development projects in the South.

However, there are certain lapses in the manner in which the RTI is implemented, which is the case probably due to the fact that it is still in its initial stages.

However, there are instances where those who have filed several RTI requests are yet to obtain the information they require.

People file RTI requests because they need certain information for various reasons. The information they require could be for their work, studies, or even their day-to-day lives.

The Government could make things easier by being proactive in providing information regarding matters that are important to people.

For instance, a certain development project in a coastal area could affect the lives of the people living adjacent to the site. Their livelihoods could be affected, or they could be compelled to shift base to a different location.
Such projects would definitely trigger negative reactions from people who are likely to be directly affected. On the other hand, the confusion among the people will also fuel the negative reactions even if the move does not impact the people.

In such situations, the government, or the relevant authorities could be proactive in providing the necessary information so that the people or the particular segment of the community which is expected to be affected have a clear understanding of the situation.

Such measures could be taken on the basis of public interest.

The effectiveness of the RTI Act depends on how it is used. Unlike other Acts passed by the Legislature, the RTI would be deemed effective only if the people start using it. Therefore, an active participation of the general public is essential if the RTI needs to be effective.

However, this could be ensured only if the people are aware of how it works. In fact, the Government has recognized this necessity and has worked towards including the RTI in the school curriculum.

The Ministry of Finance and Mass Media has said that it intended to introduce the RTI Act into the Sri Lankan educational curricula.

Additional Secretary (Development and Planning) of the Ministry, Thilaka Jayasundara had revealed this at the International Conference on RTI.
Another area that needs to change is the mindset of the officials who provide the information.

The above seminar saw discussions pertaining to this issue where it was agreed that there needs to be change in the thinking and attitude among Government officials.

Jayasundara admitted that there were officers in the Government service who were still under the impression that the public had no right to access Government information.

They appear to think that disseminating such information could be detrimental for the particular institution or for the department if the information is misused.

But, such confusions could be overcome if the Government is transparent. Recently a Minister admitted that much of the positive work that had been done by the Government had not been communicated to the public properly owing to the lack of a proper communication system within the Government.

In a way, the RTI would help the Government and State institutions to streamline the line of communication and send across accurate information to the people.

Such small changes in the attitude of the officials coupled with an effective awareness campaign among the general public on the RTI is necessary if the Act is to be utilized for the benefit of the people and the country.