NEWS

RTI law: Secy Gen, not Speaker, gatekeeper of parliament

Published

on

…info cannot be withheld on the basis of parliamentary privileges and privacy of MPs

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The releasing of information in response to the Right to Information (RTI) queries was the prerogative of Secretary General of Parliament, Hansa Abeyrathne, Assistant Secretary General, Parliament and Information Officer (IO) said.

The House official said so in response to a recent The Island RTI query pertaining to the landmark Court of Appeal ruling that information sought by journalist Chamara Sampath of Wijeya Newspapers also under RTI law be released two years and three months after the petitioner lodged an appeal with the RTI Commission.

The Court on Feb 28, 2023 reaffirmed the RTI commission’s stand that Declarations of Assets and Liabilities Law of 1975 (DALL) didn’t prevail over the Right to Information Act no. 12 of 2016 (RTI Act). A member of the RTI commission told The Island that the new ruling meant a Fundamental Right in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, is superior to DALL.

Abeyrathne said that parliament rejected the RTI request made on June 21, 2018 by Chamara Sampath. That decision had been taken by the then IO Tikiri K.Jayathilake, Abeyrathne said in response to our query whether the Speaker decided on that matter. Karu Jayasuriya served as the Speaker at that time. Jayathilake has declined to disclose the requested information on August 21, 2018, exactly two months after Chamara Sampath made the request in terms of RTI law.

The first appeal to then Secretary General Dhammika Dasanayake who functioned as the Designated Officer (DO) pertaining to RTI matters had been made on August 30, 2018 and he had rejected the request on Sept 07, 2018, hence the decision on the part of the journalist to seek the RTI Commission’s intervention on Sept 11, 2018.

On March 23 this year, Kushani Rohanadeera received the appointment as the Secretary General. She also functions as the DO.

Asked whether the then Speaker Jayasuriya decided to take legal action to prevent the disclosure of information sought by the journalist? Abeyrathne said that the then Secretary General Dhammika Dasanayake moved the court in that regard.

The journalist has asked for a list of names of Members of Parliament (MPs) who have handed over their respective declarations of assets and liabilities in 2018 and list of names of MPs who have handed over their Declarations from 2010 to the time he made the request.

There hadn’t been any legal fees as the Attorney General’s Department represented parliament, Abeyrathne said. According to him, since the enactment of Right to Information Act, No. 12 of 2016, the parliament moved court in this regard only once (CA/RTI/0004/2021).

In addition to Abeyrathne, Chaminda Kularatne, Chief of Staff and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament also functions as the IO.The court found fault with the Secretary General of Parliament for holding back information that should have been released without hassle.

The bone of contention according to the court ruling has been whether the requested information should be sought from the Speaker in terms of DALL or the IO and then appealed to the DO.

According to the RTI Commission, the DO as claimed by Chamara Sampath has declined to disclose information even after the Speaker asked him to do so. The Attorney General has declined to advise parliament whether the Speaker could release information due to a related matter being pending at the Court of Appeal.

Finally, the Court of Appeal upheld the RTI Commission’s assertion that the requested information should be released regardless of DO’s stand that the Speaker and the Secretary General were separate and distinct positions in parliament.


Author

Comments are closed.