Sri Lanka’s Right to Information (RTI) Act provides the mechanism for citizens to oversee the decision-making and actions of public authorities. The RTI Act first expresses that it is the operational mechanism of the substantive right of access to information as recognised in Article 14A of the Constitution. Section 3 of the RTI Act outlines the scope of the right to information as an entitlement of every citizen to the information in the possession, custody or control of all public authorities. Section 43 of the Act provides a very broad definition of ‘public authority’. Therefore, citizens will not be entitled to the right to information from any other entity that is not a public authority.
The engagement of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in RTI Activism dates back as far as 2003, with its involvement in the drafting of a Freedom of Information Bill, which was approved by Cabinet in and tabled in Parliament in 2004, but never debated due to Parliament being dissolved prematurely. Since then, it has engaged in sustained advocacy for enacting a RTI regime in Sri Lanka, including in pushing for the right to be included in the Nineteenth Amendment and in advocating for the passage of the current RTI Act. Since the Act’s passage, CPA has undertaken numerous community outreach activities, trainings and research exercises to educate and empower Sri Lankan citizens to exercise their right to information fully.
The main objective of this study is to evaluate, investigate and identify weaknesses of the practical procedure stipulated in the RTI Act for public authorities and to make recommendations to strengthen the people’s right to information. In addition, the study seeks to shed light on the attitudes of officers in public authorities regarding RTI and the practical difficulties faced by citizens in seeking of information under the Act.