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RTI Bill should cover private sector and NGOs

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Activists point out

The government’s Right to Information (RTI) Bill should be expanded to cover private companies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), activists have pointed out.

It has been pointed out that the RTI Draft Bill, which is currently being discussed before being presented to Parliament, covers only ‘public bodies’ that are required to release information required by the public.

Editor of The Colombo Telegraph, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya told The Nation last week that the bill should apply to both the private sector and NGOs as well. “Even the RIT Acts in Bangladesh and Indonesia covered both sectors. South Africa has a better version” he said.

Highlighting the point Senior Legal Counsel for the London-based human rights organization ARTICLE 19, David Banisar, has been quoted as telling Colombo Telegraph, “It is essential to ensure that the right to information applies to all organisations, corporate or non-governmental, which are conducting public business or affect the rights of any Sri Lankan.”

As such, activists have pointed out that the RTI Bill would only force public institutions to disclose information while enabling private companies and NGOs to withhold information, even when that information is a matter of public interest. As such, it would enable such bodies to withhold information that might expose corruption or other irregularities. 

The view that the RTI Draft Bill should cover the private sector and NGOs had been expressed at a meeting between heads of media organizations, civil society and government officials held last week to discuss the draft bill, where it was favorably received, The Nation understands. 

The draft bill was supposed to have been presented to Parliament on February 20 according to the 100-Day program of President Maithripala Sirisena. Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, Karunaratne Paranavithana stated that though delayed, the RTI Draft Bill would definitely be presented to Parliament by March, where it is hoped that it will be immediately ratified.

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