The Right to Information Act No.12 of 2016 has given the fundamental right to information to the people of this country. It gave the people an opportunity to test the transparency of public authorities in particular. As citizens in a democratic state, they are allowed to be aware of government policies and decisions that directly affect them and to question them where necessary. For instance, the information Act has allowed the public to request relevant information on issues related to health, education, development, etc., which are directly related to them in day-to-day life and request to refer to the digital/printed copies or relevant samples of that information.
However, the act itself restricts access to information relevant to certain specific areas due to personal and national security concerns as well as for a number of other reasons. Although the act does not emphasize that such information ‘can not ever be requested’ but, the Act itself has empowered the responsible authorities to refuse those requests. Section 5 (a) to (o) of the Act indicates what subjects can be denied such information. That information is as follows:
- Information that unnecessarily exposes one’s privacy
- Information that could pose a threat to national security and territorial integrity. would be or is likely to be seriously prejudicial to Sri Lanka’s relations with any State, or in relation to international agreements or obligations under international law, where such information was given by or obtained in confidence;
- Kind of information that will impact on the economy by disclosing future agreements of the country
- Disclosure of information, including trade/trade secrets and intellectual property protected under the Intellectual Property Act No.36 of 2003, if such information adversely affects the competitiveness of any third party
- The type of information required to disclose a person’s medical records, (Unless the person is authorized to disclose relevant information)
- Disclosure of information that exchanged between a professional providing service to a professional and a public authority, including the exchange of information between the Attorney General and any official who professionally assists the Attorney General and a public authority
- The information is required to be kept confidential by reason of the existence of a fiduciary relationship;
- Information that harms an investigation of a crime, the arrest or the prosecution of suspects and kind of information that reveals the identity of a confidential source of information for national security and law enforcement.
- Information believed to be contempt of court or detrimental to the impartiality of the judiciary
- Information that is believed to infringe on the privileges of parliament or a provincial council
- Information that is believed to be detrimental to public confidence regarding an examination conducted by the Department of Examinations or an institution of higher education.
The above-mentioned areas are some of the areas where the information request is rejected. Read the trilingual RTI Act uploaded on www. slip.lk for more information on the rejection of information requests.
A request to get one of the above information can not be refused by the relevant authority at once. Once a person requests information on the above subjects, he/she may refuse to provide relevant information only after considering whether any of the provisions in the Act are being challenged. But the Act makes it clear that such instances should be considered if the person requesting the information is doing so solely for the public benefit. That is, although the provision of any of the above information is generally denied, it has been suggested by section 5(4) of the Act that the public welfare by disclosing relevant information is considerably greater than the damage can be caused by the disclosure of that information, that should be disclosed.