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Details for a difference

The learning team meet project partners and discover some surprising outcomes of Sri Lanka's recently-enshrined Right to Information law.

Posted on 31/07/2018
By Anita Nzeh

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) are implementing a Grants funded project on the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2016.

In June the Foundation’s Knowledge, Learning and Communications (KLC) and Grants team went on mission to Sri Lanka to learn more about our partner’s work.

We met with RTI civil mobilisation coordinators from different districts in Sri Lanka who shared both stories of positive change and resistance. We observed an RTI awareness raising and RTI filling training session in Nonagama and we spoke to elderly community members in Matara who consider themselves torch bearers of the RTI Act.

Before the Act came into law, TISL advocated for its adaptation to the Sri Lankan context.  This involved representations in the drafting committee’s final meetings and working with parliamentarians to sensitise them and broaden their understanding of what RTI is about. Post-enactment of the RTI Act, TISL have adopted a watchdog role to ensure compliance.

On the advocacy side of the project the RTI team provide feedback and advise the government on how best to implement the law. This includes work with the RTI Commission who provide the Act’s guidelines and the Ministry of Finance and Mass Media who raise awareness of the Act. In addition to this TISL have worked to ensure that other legislation does not interfere with right to information laws. A recent examples is the National Audit Bill which, while still in drafting stage, has certain provisions that prevented information disclosure.

Above: Project manager Sankhita Gunaratne. Hear her account of the project here
Above: Community flag bearer of the RTI act. Flag bearers assist other citizens in filing information requests.

In Sri Lanka people file RTI’s for many reasons. Amongst the most common are:

  • Land e.g. public property, land permits, development licences, paddy land for citizens and canal cultivation permits;
  • Development activities e.g. Construction delays and procurement;
  • Social welfare e.g. law enforcement, police, army;
  • Health and Education e.g. school admissions process and educational facilities.

Awareness raising around the RTI Act is key to the project’s success. TISL’s RTI team, led by Sankhita Gunaratne conduct awareness raising in the form of street dramas (in local languages of five districts), press advertisements and newspaper articles. In addition to the RTI van, a dedicated website called RTI Watch and a film on RTI has been created; providing personal stories that have been be shared with wider audiences.

Although outcomes for citizens are overwhelmingly positive, it is clear that some information requests are not being dealt with in the correct way. Pushing for the full realisation of the RTI Act in practice is the task ahead for the TISL RTI team.

Please use this link to read more about TISL RTI teams work Right to Information: a success story from Vavuniya, Sri Lanka written by Sankhita Gunaratne.

Anita Nzeh is Senior Programme Officer for Knowledge and Learning at the Commonwealth Foundation.


Promoting effective implementation of the right to information act

Promoting civic-state engagement is essential to support effective implementation of the Right to Information Act in Sri Lanka.