The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that freedom of expression includes the ‘right to seek, receive and impart information’. Right to information is therefore a fundamental right and an essential component of a democratic society.
In Sri Lanka, the right to seek and receive information is a constitutional right guaranteed under Article 14A of Sri Lanka’s Constitution. The Right to Information (RTI) Act which came into full effect by 2017 provides the legal framework within which this fundamental right can be exercised. Unlike other laws that seek to increase the coercive or regulatory power of the State, the Right to Information Act seeks to empower people. Its primary purpose is to shift the paradigm of governance from secrecy to transparency. Hence, the Act provides a key entry point for strengthening transparency and accountability within the government to address corruption and improve public participation in policymaking.
Further, as part of the UNDP’s ongoing support, a pilot project was undertaken to develop an online RTI application tracking system for RTI requests for the Central Environment Authority, with the broader aim of developing a central system accessible by all public institutions.
In addition, steps have been taken to restructure the websites of the Vocational Training Authority and the Department of Agrarian Services in accordance with the guidelines and internationally acclaimed standards relating to proactive information disclosure on the Right to Information.
Speaking at the launch, Sunil Samaraweera, Secretary of the Ministry of Mass Media highlighted: “Developing this manual would not have been possible if not for the support provided by UNDP. For the past three years, we have been training government officials on how to implement the Right to Information Act. And now we are working to create awareness among the public on how they can exercise this fundamental right.”
Adding the relevance of Right to Information in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Chamindry Saparamadu, UNDP Technical Consultant on RTI, mentioned: “UNDP works to ensure inclusive and participatory governance and human development in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The right to information is a prerequisite to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as it enables the public to participate and advocate for meaningful change.”
The launch was attended by Piyathissa Ranasinghe, Former Director General of Right to Information Commission, Chulangani Perera, Director General of the Vocational Training Authority, W.M.M.B. Weerasekara, Director General of Department of Agrarian Services and Hemantha Jayasinghe, Director General of the Central Environment Authority.