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Right to Information Bill presented to Parliament

The long awaited Right to Information Bill, another pledge of the Yahapalanaya government, was presented to Parliament seeking the approval of the House to provide for the right of access to information. 

The Bill presented to Parliament by Parliament Reforms and Mass Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka also seeks the approval of the House to provide for to specify grounds on which access may be denied, to establish a Right to Information Commission, to appoint Information Officers and related matters.

According to the Bill, every citizen shall have a right of access to information which is in the possession, custody or control of a public authority except for several areas specified in the draft Bill.According to the Bill, the Act will have effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any other written law. 

Accordingly in the event of any inconsistency or conflict between the provisions of this Act and such other written law, the provisions of the Right to Information Act shall prevail over.

According to Bill the right of access would be denied where the information related to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, of which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information or the person concerned has consented in writing to such disclosure.

In the same manner, the right would be denied where disclosure would undermine the defence of the state or its territorial integrity or national security; would be or is likely to be seriously prejudicial to Sri Lanka's relations with any state or in relation to international agreements or obligations under international law, where such information was given by or obtained in confidence; would cause serious prejudice to the economy of Sri Lanka by disclosing prematurely decisions to change or continue government economic or financial policies relating to exchange rates or control of overseas exchange transaction; the regulation of banking or credit; taxation; the stability, control and adjustment of prices of goods and services, rents and other costs and rates of wages, salaries and other income; or the entering into of overseas trade agreements.

The Bill also provides for the setting up of Right to Information Commission which would consist of five persons appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. In making such recommendations, the Constitutional Council shall recommend one person nominated by each of the following organisations or categories of organisations (a) Bar Association of Sri Lanka, (b) organisations of publishers, editors and media persons and (c) other civil society organisations.

According to the Bill, the commission shall appoint a director general who shall be chief executive officer of the commission, officers and other employees as it considers necessary.

The duties and functions of the commission shall be to monitor the performance and ensure the due compliance by public authorities in facilitating the general public seeking information.

Every public authority shall appoint one or more officers as information officers to provide information to the public.

Any citizen who is desirous of obtaining any information shall make a request in writing to the appropriate information officer specifying the particulars of the information requested for.
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