Can you request information regarding assets and liabilities of public representatives under the Right to Information Act?

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The Sri Lanka Press Institute conducts monthly public polls on social media platforms with the objective of educating the public on the Right To Information Act, its importance and to enhance understanding of the RTI Act. The poll questioned whether the Assets and Liabilities of People’s Representatives be claimed under the Freedom of Information Act? ‘ Ninety-one percent of social media users said they could request information under the RTI Act, while 9% said they could not.

Is that information really available to obtain through the Right To Information Act?

The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act No. 1 of 1975 (as amended in 1998) emphasizes on the statuses of the declaration of assets and liabilities of public officers and public representatives. Its main purpose is to prevent public offcials from engaging in bribery and corruption and to wipe out the possibility of amassing ill-gotten wealth and property. 

The declaration of assets and liabilities shall be made in the following manner:

-Members of Parliament to Speaker

-Speaker to the President.

-Ministers and Deputy Ministers to the President.

-Mayors and Chairpersons of Local Government Bodies to the Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government 

-Members elected to Local Government Institutions to the Commissioner of Local Governments

-Candidates contesting to elections to the Commissioner of Elections.

Here are the relevant government officials / public representatives, their spouses and their dependent children

  • Details of his / her salary and monthly allowance if employed (spouse only)
  • Details of property held by another person on behalf of the above persons, its size and location, date of its acquisition and expenditure incurred
  • Details of Accounts (Current Accounts, Savings Accounts, Fixed Accounts, etc.) of any bank in Sri Lanka or abroad, including Post Office Savings Bank and National Savings Bank
  • Details of money invested in savings or tax reserve certificates or government securities
  • Details of loans and borrowings
  • Details of holdings, shares, or negative sheets in possession
  • Details of the money invested in the business
  • Overseas assets, name of the country where the assets are located, the nature of the assets, their value and the date of investment
  • Details of bank vaults
  • Details of gold or silver jewelry and cut / uncut gemstones
  • Details of motor vehicles belonging to the above persons
  • Details of all types of real estate belonging to the above persons

Assets and liabilities should be mentioned in the declaration and should be submitted within three months of appointment and then annually to the relevant officer.

If there is any inconsistency or suspicion in the disclosure of such assets and liabilities, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) is vested with the power to inquire into such matters under the Act and they may make an inquiry to any of the relevant declarations of assets and liabilities only when a complaint is made claiming that there is an error.

In order to make such a complaint, those assets and liabilities should be made public .Then the public will be made aware of the assets held by government officials and public representatives. The public is given two opportunities to access those asset and liability statements.

They are,

  • Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act No. 1 of 1975 and
  • Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016

Of these, the Assets and Liabilities Act allows the person concerned to make use of the relevant asset and liability declarations but does not have the power to make them public. However, those limitations do not apply when asset and liability statements are explored using the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, the best and most effective tool available today is the RTI Act.

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