23 February 2015

Right to Info: Get it right first time

The new Government has hit the ground running when it comes to ‘show’.  Allegations are a dime a dozen so to speak, these days.   There’s a lot of ‘show’ but little to see, strangely.  Sure, the law doesn’t move as fast as the vengeful or the righteous want it to.  There is thing called ‘due process’ after all.  This does not sanction the kind of vigilantism that thrills the likes of Ranjana Ramanayake, however.  A lot of the ‘showing’ can be ignored and even forgiven, but that is only if the Government demonstrated the same kind of energy when it comes to other pledges.  It has not.   

It is way behind schedule in enacting policy reforms pledged to the people.   There is talk of repealing the 19th Amendment and this is good.   However, the National  Executive Council appears to be sleeping when it comes to electoral reform.  Instead we have both major parties talking ‘elections’ at every turn.  Elections without reform only guarantees further democratic deformity.  But then again, how could one expect miracles from a body that has named itself using the word ‘Executive’ without any ‘by-your-leave’ from the public, eh?

It looks like the architects of the promise-list were either deliberately hoodwinking the public or were ignorant about practicalities.  Whatever the reason, ‘there’s a lot to do that we didn’t anticipate’ seems to have become a pretty common excuse.  What is disturbing is that this ‘lot to do’ excuse is shelved when it comes to ‘holding elections on promised schedule’.  If they need time for reform then they can take time over elections too, the public will not mind if it took them, say, 101 days or even 135 or 214. 

In this context one must applaud the Media Ministry for acknowledging practical difficulties but asserting that irrevocable steps will be taken to get the Right to Information (RTI) Bill tabled and passed in Parliament.  The Secretary of the Ministry, Karunaratne Paranavithana told the media that the Right to Information will become a fundamental right, an eventuality which will force the enactment of the Bill.  The Bill was not tabled on February 20, as scheduled, but it will see the light of day within the much talked of ‘100 Days’ he promised. 

As is true of other promised reforms, including electoral reform, much of the spade work has already been done by various interest groups.  Tweaking is no big deal in the year 2015 when templates are just a click away.  Those responsible for turning the RTI need of the people into a reality by scripting it into the Constitution have enough working drafts.    UNP stalwart Karu Jayasuriya in fact came up with one in the capacity of a ‘Private Member of Parliament’.  The challenge is to get it right the first time, even if it takes time.

The drafts that are floating around these days are too good to be rejected.  However, they remain incomplete.  Rights advocates have pointed out that the Right to Information must cover all relevant institutions, not just those of the state.  The RTI Acts of Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and South Africa give citizen the right to demand information not just from state institutions but from private sector and non-government organizations, essentially including any and every body obtaining money directly from the Government, foreign governments or international organizations. 

The political will to get the RTI ‘done’ is certainly greater than the will to enact electoral reforms.  If that’s all that this Yahapaalana adventure is going to yield, then so be it.  But, let us reiterate, it should be comprehensive.  The 17th Amendment had holes.  We don’t need the RTI to have any. 


The Nation supports this Bill.  We will suffer delays that are unavoidable.  We will not, however, go along with a half-baked document that allows some outfits to do the hanky-panky and get away with it.  It is good to make sure state institutions are held answerable to the people, but if you also make sure you offer immunity from scrutiny to NGOs, for example, you are cheating the citizen.  
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1 comments:

Uditha Devapriya said...

Given past (in)action I have very little faith that the manifesto proposals will be adhered to in letter or spirit. However, miracles do happen. The RTI should apply to civil society too. They are "reps" of society, after all.