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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's Right to Information Bill nears reality

Improved transparency will strengthen the country's democracy, activists say

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Updated: March 30, 2016 10:13 AM GMT
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Sri Lanka's Right to Information Bill nears reality

The Right to Information Bill is part of a pledge made by President Maithripala Sirisena's government that seeks to bolster Sri Lanka's democracy and efforts to fight corruption. (Photo by AFP)

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Journalists in Sri Lanka say the country is one step closer to having a more transparent system of government after a long-awaited Right to Information Bill was tabled in parliament last week.

"The bill was pending for a very long time," said Seetha Ranjani, convener of the Free Media Movement which has been fighting for the bill since 1992.

Tabled in parliament on March 24, the bill will establish a five-member commission and the appointment of information officers at every public authority to assist people wanting to obtain government held information.

"As journalists, we consider the bill important for democracy in the country," Ranjani told ucanews.com.

Gayantha Karunatileka, Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, said the bill is a priority of the government and it will be one of the strongest in the world.

Thilina Alahakon from the Young Catholic Journalists movement and Colombo Archdiocese-run Ganartha Pradeepaya newspaper said the bill would make the government more transparent and accountable to the people.

"The bill will benefit all irrespective of religion and ethnicity," said Alahakon. "When the public gets a legal right to know all the things that's happening, there is no room for corruption and bribery and injustice," he said.

All nine provincial councils gave their consent to the bill in January and two councils have suggested amendments before it is to be granted parliamentary approval.

The bill was a key election pledge in the 100-day reform program put forward by the new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena.

The bill will deny requests for information if they are deemed a threat to national security, personnel information or a disclosure of information that may harm the country's economy.

Under the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa — which lost power in January 2015 — media freedom was restricted and journalists were intimidated through a variety of legal and extralegal means. According to the New India Express, Rajapaksa ruled out a Right to Information Bill while he was president.

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