November 15, 2019
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    Eng

    RTI COMMISSION OPPOSED TO CLAUSES IN AUDIT BILL

    June 02, 2018

    The Right to Information Commission on yesterday said it was opposed to certain clauses in the proposed National Audit Bill, arguing it violated the spirit of the RTI Act.Their statement follows a similar challenge to the law by the advocacy group Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) in April, who alleged before the Supreme Court that some language in the Draft Bill attempts to skirt requirements of the country’s RTI law.

    Draft laws “that (propose) to place selected state offices on an advantaged position as against others and enforce general prohibitions on citizens seeking information … raise legitimate concerns as to whether this will create exclusive domains of privileges for those offices,” the commissioners wrote.

    They took issue with a clause of the proposed Audit Bill that gives wide range for any person working for the Audit Service Commission, the Auditor General, or any office under the Audit Act to refuse requests for information until an official report is placed before Parliament.

    Only a request by Parliament or any order of court can exempt this direction. The commissioners said they were concerned that “a chilling effect” would be created by this general prohibition. Such a blanket exemption is “contrary to the letter and spirit of the RTI Act,” they said.

    In an interview, Transparency International RTI Manager Sankhitha Gunaratne said that the highlighted clauses in the National Audit Bill, as well as information exemptions in the Office of Missing Persons Act, amounted to Parliament “chipping away” at the framework set up under the country’s Right to Information Law. She added that the draft Reparations Bill, accessed through an RTI request, contains a similar exemption. The Supreme Court, in its response to Transparency International, said it did not find the proposed exemptions in the National Audit Bill unconstitutional.

    “As the Bill now moves through Parliament, the RTI Commission warned that “the precedent set by shielding some offices and individuals from RTI in this manner will dilute the victories gained for Sri Lankans through the enactment of the globally recognized law.”

    “The exemptions would also “discourage largely positive tendencies evidenced so far by Public Authorities in dismantling a decades-old culture of secrecy and denial of legitimate information,” they added.

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