As the Right to Information (RTI) Act enters its second week, authorities conceded that communication gaps were making it difficult for proper implementation of the legislation. The first week of the Act was marred by confusion over what constitutes a Public Authority (PA) under the Act, and uncertainty regarding who the designated Information Officers (IO) [...]


RTI implementation: Communication gaps facilitate buck-passing


President launches the Media Ministry's RTI website on Friday at Temple Trees. Pic by Indika Handuwala

As the Right to Information (RTI) Act enters its second week, authorities conceded that communication gaps were making it difficult for proper implementation of the legislation. The first week of the Act was marred by confusion over what constitutes a Public Authority (PA) under the Act, and uncertainty regarding who the designated Information Officers (IO) are.

Some of the issues that arose when the Act became operational on February 3 have now been rectified. On Friday (17), over 1,500 IOs appointed throughout the country were invited to Temple Trees, for a formal inauguration event symbolising the launch of the Act. With President Maithripala Sirisena attending as Chief Guest, the event also saw the launch of a website dedicated to RTI. The website –, has a section where details of appointed RTI officers are now being listed along with their contact details.

The event on Friday also saw the first response to a high-profile RTI request, when Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment & Welfare, Ranjan Ramanayake, who was among the first persons to submit RTI requests, was furnished with information he requested from the Ministry of Mass Media, regarding TV channels operating in the country. The MP had lodged his application on February 13 and it was emphasised at the event that, his request had been processed inside four days, and provided well before the expiry of the 14 days stipulated under the Act.

This, however, has not been the case elsewhere. The Sunday Times has not been able to locate any other incident where information has so far been provided as per an RTI request. But PAs are now becoming more aware about what is required of them under the Act, including on the requirement to provide acknowledgment letters. Manager- Right to Information of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) Sankhitha Gunaratne said, “Though they were yet to hear from agencies they submitted their RTI requests to, some institutions had provided letters of acknowledgment for their RTI requests. This, however, has not been uniform. The Elections Commission, for example, had provided an acknowledgment letter on the day the RTI request was submitted, while Sri Lanka Customs had provided one several days after submission of the request.”

The Sunday Times too, this week, received acknowledgment letters to RTI requests it had submitted to the Department of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources. The letters were delivered via registered post, a week after the requests were submitted.

Additional Secretary at the Presidential Secretariat, B.K.S. Ravindra said there appears to be a communication gap between various authorities, resulting in difficulties, when it came to RTI implementation.

“What we have seen is that instructions have not been properly conveyed from certain Ministries, down to Depts and other institutions. This is causing problems.”

Authorities are still not properly equipped to handle RTI applications in key areas such as police stations, Government hospitals and schools. Many of these institutions still have no IO.

For example, while some police stations have sent details of their IOs to the Ministry of Mass Media, many others haven’t done so. The Sunday Times contacted several police stations in the Western Province and other Provinces. According to Section 23 (1) (b) of the Act, till such time that an IO is appointed, the Head or Chief Executive Officer of that PA is deemed to be the IO of that authority. This would mean that, in the case of a police station, its Officer-in-Charge (OIC) should be the IO of that station, if no IO has been appointed.

Officers we spoke to, including some OICs, however, said they were still unaware about how to deal with RTI requests or, whether they should accept them. “All we know is what we have seen in the media,” quipped one officer from a police station in Colombo, when asked about the RTI, while an OIC from the Gampaha District said he was under the impression that Police Headquarters would appoint an IO.

Officers said they were hoping for some direction from Police Headquarters- by way of a circular, on how the RTI applies to police and what they are expected to do.

Mr. Ravindra, however, insisted police stations must accept an RTI application submitted by any citizen. “It’s the law. Saying they haven’t received directions from Police HQ is not a valid excuse for refusing to accept an RTI request.”

The Additional Secretary said he would recommend to the Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, which is tasked with implementing the Act, to conduct more awareness regarding the RTI Act among the police and other Depts where issues still persist.

Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake meanwhile said, he aimed to use the RTI as a tool to try and expose corrupt politicians, irrespective of which party they are from. If the public are to also use the Act to its full potential, Mr. Ramanayake said, “It won’t be long before “people begin to see just how dirty some MPs and local government politicians are, despite the milky-white clothes they wear.”

The Deputy Minister, however, acknowledged that some of the details he was seeking may not be available for him under the RTI Act. “When it comes to assets of politicians, we will have to strengthen laws regarding assets and liabilities to obtain details. That is something we have to look at,” he opined.

Police follow up on B’caloa RTI requests on DIG’s orders

Police this week followed up on the Right to Information (RTI) requests submitted on February 3, by a group of women from Batticaloa, seeking information on their missing relatives.

This followed a directive from the Deputy Inspector General’s (DIG) office in Batticaloa to police stations in the areas where the information seekers reside, to follow up on their RTI requests and provide information to them. However, confusion still remains due to lack of awareness regarding the Act.

Acting on instructions from the DIG’s office, local police stations have been contacting the women by phone. Tamil speaking officers have been sent to the women’s homes to personally meet with them, while those who are willing, have been asked to come to the station.

Amalraj Amalanayagi, a mother of three, who is seeking answers regarding her husband’s whereabouts, confirmed that two police officers had visited her at her home following the DIG’s directive. She, however, said the officers seemed unaware of what was expected of them.

“What I was seeking through my request was an answer to what happened to the police complaint I lodged eight years ago, after my husband disappeared,” she explained. “The officers who arrived at my home, while courteous, had not understood this,” she said. Instead, they had tried to record a fresh statement from her regarding her husband’s disappearance. “I tried to explain to them that I was interested in what happened to the original complaint, and did not need to give another statement. However, as they seemed clueless about this, I relented and gave yet another statement.”

Mrs. Amalanayagi said it appeared that, while the DIG had issued instructions as per the RTI Act, to follow up and provide the information requested, these instructions seem to have been misunderstood by some officers at police stations, who believe they constituted orders to interview them to record fresh statements in probing these cases. She attributed this to the lack of awareness that still exists in the police regarding the RTI Act. “But I am still hoping there will be a response to my request within 14 days,” she added.

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