Court of Appeal to hear first RTI case | Sunday Observer

Court of Appeal to hear first RTI case

The appeal by the Presidential Secretariat against the order by the Right-To-Information Commission (RTIC) in December, last year to disclose the Assets and Liabilities declaration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be taken up in the Court of Appeal tomorrow (6).

Transparency International of Sri Lanka (TISL), a forefront Non-Governmental Organisation in Sri Lanka filed two Right-To-Information (RTI) requests in 2017, demanding the Assets and Liabilities declaration of the President and the Prime Minister in 2015 and 2016.

In the absence of providing information, the TISL complained to the RTIC, and all stakeholders were summoned and finally the Presidential Secretariat was ordered to release the Assets and Liabilities declaration of the Prime Minister.

However, the RTIC agreed on the Presidential Secretariat’s claim on its inability to provide the Assets and Liabilities declaration of the President, as he is not bound to disclose his Assets and Liabilities under the provisions of the Assets and Liabilities Act.

The Presidential Secretariat also delayed in providing the Premier’s Assets and Liabilities declaration and filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal a few months ago. “If the TISL or anyone else needs to get information with regard to the Premier’s Assets and Liabilities declaration, they could submit an affidavit under the provisions of the Assets and Liabilities Act of Sri Lanka. However, they requested that information under the RTI and it was somewhat suspicious,” an official at the Presidential Secretariat told the Sunday Observer on the condition of anonymity. “An Assets and Liabilities declaration consists of some personal information including bank account numbers and deed numbers. That is why we decided to appeal against the RTIC’s decision. Moreover, it would be a bad precedent,” he added.

Executive Director of TISL Asoka Obeysekere told the Sunday Observer that they have not yet been officially notified about the case to be taken up in the Court of Appeal. “Firstly, we have not been ‘noticed’ of the case, therefore, we don’t even know on what basis they are even attempting to appeal. We have only been told informally by someone who was in Court on the date. Hence, procedurally this is highly problematic,” said Obeysekere.

“We would be happy if they redacted digits from the bank account and deed numbers, to ensure data security, while still being publicly accountable. Already there are six Assets declarations of MPs which have been made public, with digits removed from bank account numbers,” he added. Several MPs who represent various political parties unilaterally publicised their Assets declarations with the help of the TISL on February28, 2019, which was hailed by the civil society of the country as a new political culture of the country.

“If we truly want to change our political culture, elected officials need to be accountable to the public. The public are the key players in anti-corruption as they are the only authority who will fearlessly hold politicians accountable. This public driven accountability far exceeds the results we can realistically expect of any state authority. As soon as we get the assets declaration, we will upload it on to the existing page www.tisrilanka.org/MPassets for public access and scrutiny,” added Obeysekere. 

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