The RTI law which was enacted in 2016 allows citizens to access information that is of Public Interest. The general public is empowered to use RTI to get answers in the matters that affect their day-to-day life.
However some of the Information Officers appointed to practice the law do not adhere to the duties assigned to them.
Sandamali* a University student wanted to get some information on the Calido beach in Kalutara for one of her University assignments. Although she made her request through a formal letter and followed it up with telephone calls, all her attempts ended in failure.
In the meantime, Sandamali got the opportunity to learn about the RTI Act through a workshop conducted by Sri Lanka Press Institute with the financial support of USAID-SDGAP programme. Sandamali’s intention was to file an RTI application so she would be able to get an answer which can be used for her assignment. Hence, she sent an RTI application to the Information Officer in Kalutara District Secretariat requesting details about the Calido beach.
The answer she received was quite surprising. It read, “We are unable to provide answers for the information requested as you have requested them in question format”. This was the only answer that was provided for the questions that were raised.
Moreover, she received a telephone call from the District Secretariat asking whether it was she who requested information at an earlier occasion before filing an RTI.
Sandamali was in a confused state of mind as she had clearly adhered to the specified RTI application format. She did not receive a rejection but simply an answer that nullified her application. Sandamali’s dissatisfaction with the response received is based on the fact that it reveals that the Information Officer either refuses to adhere to the Act or do not have a clear understanding of the practise of it.
Her understanding is that the information officer got away with sending something as an answer as he was compelled to adhere to the guidelines in providing a response within the stipulated time. Sandamali said that she was not going to proceed with the appealing as her parents pressured her not to. She expressed her dismay over noncompliance of RTI Act by the officials. However, she said that she will use her RTI knowledge in the future and will use it communally so that it will be easier to follow up with the public officials as a group entity.
This update was prepared by participants of the Information and Communication Training Workshop conducted by the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) through a grant funded by the United States Agency for International Development through the Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project Activity.
“The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of SLPI and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.”