RTI Bill poised to take off
Minister of Parliament Reforms and Mass Media,
The implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI) is due to be
carried out in stages, Minister of Parliament Reforms and Mass Media,
Gayantha Karunathilaka revealed. The government plans to seek approval
from parliament to first implement the system at National level and then
at Provincial and Local levels, after the Bill is approved by
parliament, the Minister said. The Bill which is a main feature of the
100-day program of the government will be taken up for debate and vote
next week. In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Observer Minister
Karunathilaka assured that the strength of the bill will not be diluted
in any form due to changes that may be accomodated during Parliamentary
Q: How confident are you about the vote on June 24?
We are very confident. There were some concerns about the composition
of the committee we propose to appoint. Besides that, everyone was happy
with the bill. We conducted a workshop for all the parliamentarians to
give them an idea of the contents of the Bill, and the attendance was
more than satisfactory. We expect changes which will be minor. But I can
assure you that none of it will dilute the strength of the law laid down
in the Act. We won’t let the RTI face the same fate as The National Drug
Q: Other than in urban areas, people are still not aware of the
importance of the Right to Information Act (RTI). How would you describe
the importance of the Act?
Not every government is keen on bringing an RTI Act because it gives
the citizens the right to access information, and also to question the
government. The State is run by people’s money, so they have every right
to know what is happening. Most importantly, it will make the government
responsible for their actions, which is a good thing. This is what we
promised when we came into power, i.e. an open and transparent
Q: Has the government planned how they propose to make people aware
of the Act?
We have planned to get young people involved, to reach the public, by
making them ‘RTI Activists.’ So, they can go, educate people on the
importance of the RTI Act, which is one of the mainstream programs
planned to educate the general public.
Q: How long will it take to put the system in place, after the
approval of Parliament is given?
It will take at least six months. The Act requires the system to be
in place within six months. So, we are trying our best to deliver it
within that time. However, some matters will take a little longer.
Training 8,000 government officials is a massive task.
Q: You said some matters will take a longer time. What are those
Once the Act is passed, a committee will be appointed to look into
the matters related. Also, we have to make bylaws, decide on regulations
and most importantly, appoint officers to provide information when a
Q: How do you intend to implement the system? Is there a specific
method the Ministry intends to adopt?
Implementing is a big challenge. We have to train officials in 4,300
government institutions. Therefore, we plan to seek parliamentary
approval to implement it in stages, probably at National, Provincial and
Local levels. Even in the instance of introducing the Act, we first made
the right to information a fundamental right. Then the mechanism was
brought in as the RTI Act . The next stage is to get parliamentary
Q: The RTI Act expressly prohibits the disclosure of information with
regard to several areas. For example, if such information is a threat to
national security, it will not be disclosed. Are there any exceptions?
Yes, there are prohibitions as regards releasing information.
However, according to the Act, if there is a huge public outcry
demanding information with regard to some matter, such information could
be disclosed, at the discretion of the committee.
Q: What changes does the government expect to bring about with the
One of the most important changes would be to change the mindset of
the government officials.When a person asks for information, they will
be required to provide such information. If they deny, it will amount to
an offence. For example, if a child is denied school admission, by means
of the Act the parents have the right to know on what grounds the child
was rejected, and about the process how selections are made. We expect
citizens to play an active part in this.
Q: How important is this to the Media industry?
There is a misconception that the RTI is only helpful for the media,
which is not true. It is for every citizen. But, once the Act is
enacted. the media will benefit immensely, because then they have a
credible source to refer to. There’s no need to rely on gossip or
The Act will make their jobs easier. Although they won’t get the
requested information immediately, in three weeks time, the information
they get will be authentic.