The Right to Information (RTI) is a right which allows citizens access to information held by Public Authorities, including information which might not be personally relevant to them.

People have a basic right to access necessary public information and, in Sri Lanka, the Constitution provides the Right of Access to Information under Article 14 A. The Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016 outlines the steps that need to be followed when requesting public information, such as which officials should be approached and what kind of information can and cannot be accessed.

The term ‘Public Authorities’ includes- government ministries, government departments, public corporations, local authorities, any institutions created by a Provincial Council, non-governmental organizations, institutes of higher education, private educational institutes and all courts, tribunals and institutions created  to serve justice.

The Act also requires that Public Authorities maintain up-to-date records so that information can be distributed to the public in a timely and efficient manner.

RTI promotes transparency among Public Authorities by holding them accountable to the public. In this way, by actively engaging with the Act and participating in governance on a daily basis, citizens can lead the charge against corruption.

Countries around the world have granted this right through constitutional provisions and as a legal right, although to various extents. However, they are all guided by the basic values which regulate Freedom of Information Law.

These values are:

1. The principle of maximum disclosure

2. The obligation of public bodies to publish key information

3. The active promotion of Open Government by public bodies

4. Exceptions should be drawn clearly and narrowly

5. The process should enable access

6. Excessive costs should not be used to discourage requests

7. Meetings of public bodies should be open to the public

8. Maximum disclosure should be ensured by amending or repealing laws that do not provide for it

9. Whistleblower protection must be ensured.

The RTI law is unique because although there may be certain kinds of information which cannot be revealed to the public, there are special provisions which may overrule this. The Public Interest Override ensures that, if the benefit of revealing information to the public is greater than the benefit of concealing the information, then the information has to be released. Therefore, there is a significant benefit to citizens’ who exercise their right by making a request.

RTI empowers the citizens of Sri Lanka to exercise their democratic right to public information and works towards reducing corruption among Public Authorities by promoting transparency and accountability, both of which are essential for good governance and democracy.

STEP BY STEP GUIDE FOR RTI PROCESS

STEP 01

1. Find the Information Officer in the Public Authority

Visit www.rti.gov.lk  for more details of Information Officers.

 

 

STEP 02

2. Make a request in writing to the Information Officer. You can request for any amount of information

Download: Visit RTI FORM 01 

 

STEP 03

3. Get a receipt for your request from the Information Officer

Download: Acknowledgement form 

STEP 04

4. The Information Officer must respond to your request within 14 working days of the date of your receipt

Download: RTI FORM 4

Download: RTI FORM 5

 

STEP 05

5. If the decision is made to give the information, information must be given within 14 days of the date of agreeing to give the information. Reasons must be given if the Information Officer does not agree to give information

STEP 06

6. If you’re not satisfied with the decision of the Information Officer, then appeal to the Designated Officer of the same Public Authority within 14 days from the date the decision was made

Download: RTI FORM 10

 

STEP 07

7. If you’re not given the information by the Designated Officer, then appeal to the Right to Information Commission within 2 months of the decision of the Designated Officer

STEP 08

8. If you're not satisfied with the decision of the Commission too, then appeal to the Court of Appeal within 01 month of the decision of the Commission

END

RTI IS NOW YOURS!
HOW CAN YOU USE IT?

INFOGRAPHIC :
RTI PROCESS

Click above image for view full version of Info-graphic chart for Right to information process.

DO

Keep it simple

Keep it short and precise

Ask as many questions as you like – but only if necessary.
Try not to end your request with a question mark. Attempt to phrase your requests as statements and always request for documents or records

Ask as many questions as you like – but only if necessary. Try not to end your request with a question mark. Attempt to phrase your requests as statements and always request for documents or records

Do some background research and make a targeted request to the most relevant Public Authority or Authorities. E.g.: visit the website of the Public Authority you think is relevant and find out more details as to whether the information you require will be available there.

Ask for information that should be on record

Provide information that will help the Information Officer to identify the requested information

Only give reasons if you need the information within 48 hours because it is necessary to safeguard the life or liberty of a person

Only attach documents if there is a compelling reason to do so (so as not to intimidate)

Think of how a Public Authority may try to evade the request, when formulating your request

If the information requested is information that should be proactively disclosed, mention this in the request

DON'T

Don’t Phrase your requests as queries

Don’t attach too many documents and submit a bulky request

Don’t feel compelled to give reasons for your request

Don’t request for ideas, opinions and intentions that are unlikely to be recorded

Information Officer is the officer in a public authority who has the responsibility of providing information in response to a RTI request.

Information Officers are expected to prioritize their RTI related duties over their normal duties.

If an Information Officer is absent from duty, the Head or CEO of the Public Authority will have to make necessary arrangements to carry out the duties of the Information officer.

DUTIES

Provide reasonable assistance to a citizen to fill out the request for information

Write down the request and obtain the signature or thumbprint of the citizen if a verbal request is made

Must attach a request sent by fax or email to the request form

Inform the citizen of any mistake in the way the request has been made

If the information requested is held by a different public authority, and the information officer is aware of that fact, should transfer the request to the relevant public authority in written transfer and inform the citizen within 7 days of the receipt of the request

Inform the citizen if the information requested is already publicly available, and indicate where the information can be found, within 14 days

Maintain a record of the information s/he is providing

RESPONSIBILITIES

When a request is received, an information officer should issue immediate written acknowledgment to the citizen

The requests received should be recorded in the register with a registration number

If the citizen will be granted the information, the Information Officer must inform the citizen within 14 days of the fact that the information will be received

If the request of the citizen is rejected by Information Officer, he/she must provide written notice of this to the citizen

If the Information officer requires days exceeding 14 days to provide the information that has been requested, he/ she should inform the citizen through a letter that the period has been extended by up to 21 days

The officer to whom the appeal would be directed to in the first instance if the citizen is dissatisfied with the information/ information officer.

YOU CAN APPEAL TO THIS OFFICER

If the Information Officer refuses a request made for information

If the Information Officer refuses access to information based on the list of exempted information

If the time frames provided in the Act were not adhered to

If the information provided was false, misleading or incomplete

If excessive fees were charged by the Information Officer

If the Information Officer refused to provide the information requested

If the citizen has reasonable grounds to believe that the information has be deformed, destroyed or misplaced to prevent him / her from accessing that information

The Right to Information Commission is a body consisting of 5 persons that are recognized for their knowledge, experience and expertise in the fields of governance, public administration, social services, journalism, science and technology or management.

The current members of the RTI Commission are Mr. Mahinda Gammanpila, Ms. Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, Mr. S. G Punchihewa,  Judge A. W. A. Salam and Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran .

Contact Details of the RTI Commission
Address – Room 203-204 BMICH Premises,
Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 07.
Telephone – 011 269 1625

DUTIES AND FUNCTIONS

There are certain duties and functions that are to be carried out by the commission as provided in Section 14 of the Act.

Ensuring that Public Authorities perform their duties
It has the duty to ensure that the Public Authorities perform the duties that have been assigned to them. This is to be done by monitoring the performance of these authorities. Also, it can provide general recommendations relating to all public authorities or recommendations to a specific public authority about any changes that can be made.

Specifying Fees
The Commission is responsible for specifying the amount of fees that you have to pay in order to obtain the requested information.
The Commission can specify the information that can be provided Free of Charge.

Publicizing the Requirements and Rights
The requirements under the Act and the Rights of Individuals must be publicized by the Commission.

Training of Public Officials
The Commission must undertake training of Public Officials to ensure that the Right to Information can be exercised without any obstacles.

Issue Guidelines on record management
The Commission also has the duty to issue guidelines to Public Authorities as to how internal records should be kept in a way that is easily accessible.

POWERS

When performing the duties and functions, the Commission also has the ability to exercise certain powers as provided in Section 15 of the Act.

To hold inquiries
It has the power to hold inquiries and to require any person to come before the Commission.
This person can be examined by the Commission under oath and be required to produce any information he/she may hold.

To inspect information
It can inspect any information held by a Public Authority, even information that has been denied to a person by the Public Authority under the Act.

To direct publication of information
The Commission can direct the Public Authority to provide the information in a particular form and also to publish any information that has been withheld from the public.

Power to hear appeals
It can hear appeals from a person who has been denied information, given the wrong information, information not provided at the time required by the person, charging excessive fees etc.

Power to direct reimbursement of fees
If the requested information has not been provided by the Public Authority on time, the Commission can direct it to reimburse the fees that had been paid by the citizen.

Power to direct disclosure of third party information
There is also a power vested in the RTI Commission with regard to Third Party Information. When a citizen requests for information that has been supplied by a third party who has refused to allow the information to be disclosed, the Commission may direct the disclosure of such information on behalf of the citizen who is requesting for information.
It can so direct disclosure if there is a greater benefit in disclosing the information than the private interest of non- disclosure.

To make rules
The Commission has the power to make rules under Section 42 (1) on matters relating to
(a) the form and manner in which appeals may be made to the Commission;
(b) the procedure for holding inquiries;
(c ) fee schedule in respect of providing information;
(d) the format of the reports that have to be annually prepared by the Public Authorities and submitted to the Commission [Section 10]
(These reports are to contain information such as the number of requests received during the year, the fees collected during the year, the number of requests rejected, and any suggestions to improve transparency.)
Other Powers
The Commission is also responsible for determining the form in which the reports that are to be published by the Ministers biannually are to be prepared.

ction 14 of the Act.

Ensuring that Public Authorities perform their duties
It has the duty to ensure that the Public Authorities perform the duties that have been assigned to them. This is to be done by monitoring the performance of these authorities. Also, it can provide general recommendations relating to all public authorities or recommendations to a specific public authority about any changes that can be made.

Specifying Fees
The Commission is responsible for specifying the amount of fees that you have to pay in order to obtain the requested information.
The Commission can specify the information that can be provided Free of Charge.

Publicizing the Requirements and Rights
The requirements under the Act and the Rights of Individuals must be publicized by the Commission.

Training of Public Officials
The Commission must undertake training of Public Officials to ensure that the Right to Information can be exercised without any obstacles.

Issue Guidelines on record management
The Commission also has the duty to issue guidelines to Public Authorities as to how internal records should be kept in a way that is easily accessible.

OBLIGATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE

To provide reasons for decisions
The Commission is required to provide reasons for its decisions in writing to the citizen, information officer and the Public Authority.[ Section 32 (3)]

To prepare reports
The Commission is required to prepare reports of its activities as often as necessary and definitely at least one report per calendar year. Every such report is to be tabled before Parliament and will also be sent to the President. [Section 37 (1)]

To inform a disciplinary authority of relevant matters
The Commission is required to inform to the relevant disciplinary authority, any situation where an Information Officer refuses to receive an application, refuses the required information without reason, and stipulates excessive fees and so on, [Section 38 (1)]

Illustrated below is the journey of a successful RTI request. Requests made to different public authorities take differing routes due to various factors, but this is the basic, standard route a successful application will take. Through TISL’s experience of filing RTI requests, the most successful request was the one made to the Elections Commission. Upon submitting the request on the 7th of February 2017, the EC has adhered to all the relevant timelines and provided us with the accurate notices and acknowledgements through their Information Officer.

START
FEB 09

SUBMISSION

We identified the information required and decided to request for the financial reports of all registered political parties in the last 5 years.

We opted to write our own request letter where we described the information we required.

We then hand delivered the request letter to the Elections Commission.

They prepared and provided us with a receipt of acknowledgement immediately.

FEB 20

RESPONSE

We then Received a notice mentioning that our information will be provided with the fees specified.

FEB 22

PAYMENT

We paid the due fees in cash.

MAR 15

INFORMATION PROVIDED

We were informed that the information requested can be collected.

We obtained the financial reports of 8 political parties in the last 5 years as per our request.

END
FORM SIZE NO. OF PAGES AMOUNT
Photocopying A4 size First Four pages Free of charge
A4 and smaller One side Rs 2
Both Sides Rs 4
Legal size One side Rs 4
Both Sides Rs 8
Any size large than above Actual cost
Printout A4 size First Four pages Free of charge
A4 and smaller One side Rs 4
Both sides Rs 8
Legal size up to A3 One side Rs 5
Both sides Rs 10
Any size larger than above Actual cost
Copying on to Diskette, CD, USB, or similar electronic device provided by the citizen Rs 20
Copying on to Diskette, CD, USB, or similar electronic device provided by the Public Authority Actual cost
Study or inspection of any document or material or inspection of a construction site 1st hour – free of charge
Over one hour – Rs 50 per hour
Samples or Models Actual cost
E-mail Free of Charge

If the Public Authority has a prescribed fee schedule that has been issued by circulars or regulations, that schedule will continue to be applicable.

Mode of Payment:

  • In cash paid to the Information Officer
  • Bank Draft addressed to the Accounts Officer of the Public Authority
  • The possibility of taking notes, copying extracts, photographing the material with a phone or handheld camera, will depend on the discretion of the Public Authority and where the prescribed fee for accessing the information is paid in full.
  • If the citizen feels that the fee charged by the Information Officer is excessive, he can appeal to the designated officer within 14 days.
  • The making of an appeal to the designated officer or the commission does not require the payment of a fee.
  • If a citizen is successful in making an Appeal either to the designated officer or to the commission, he is entitled to receive the information requested by him/her free of charge.
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