Retired Supreme Court Judge Upali Abeyratne Appointed Chair of the Right to Information Commission while Holding the Post of Office of Missing Persons Chairman Despite the RTI Act Debarring the RTIC Chairman holding any other post;New RTIC has two Previous and Three New Commissioners

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a new five-member Right to Information Commission (RTIC), with two previous commissioners reappointed and three new commissioners.

Letters of appointment from the Presidential Secretariat were hand delivered on Friday evening and yesterday, over two months after the RTIC ceased to function due to term lapses and resignations of the sitting Commissioners.

The new RTIC will be headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Upali Abeyratne. Other members of the Commission will be Attorney-at-Law Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, retired President of the Court of Appeal Justice Rohini Walgama, Attorney at Law Liyana Arachchilage Jagath Bandara Liyana Arachchi and Open University lecturer Dr. Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon.

Ms. Pinto-Jayawardena, who was nominated by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka for its seat in the RTIC, and Justice Walgama, who was nominated by the Sri Lanka Press Institute and its constituent partners, the Newspaper Society, the Editors’ Guild, the Free Media Movement and the Working Journalists Association together with its affiliated partner unions, served as members of the previous RTI Commission. Newly appointed RTIC Chairman Justice Upali Abeyratne is also Chairman of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP).

When contacted yesterday, Justice Abeyratne said he hoped to take up his appointment as RTIC xhairman, though he would not commit to when he would step down from his post as OMP chairman. Under the RTI Act, an RTI Commissioner cannot hold any other public office.

The RTI Act 2015 along with the RTI Commission’s Rules have been globally ranked among the best information regimes. In 2020, Sri Lanka was included as a country specific case study in the Global Report on the status of Right to Information regimes, ‘From Promise to Practice…’ presented by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to the General Assembly. The Report cited the high percentage of information (85%) disclosed by the Commission in its Orders as a majorly positive aspect.

During its last days of sitting in September 2021, the Commission released extracts of the 2016 Port City Tripartite Agreement on an appeal filed by Negombo fisherfolk and activists who complained that they were not informed regarding the Port City project which had negatively affected their livelihoods. Test reports in regard to the quality of milk powder imported to Sri Lanka were also released on a complaint by a consumer rights activist.

From 2017 to 20121, information asked for in appeals at the Commission included the assets declarations of politicians, information regarding the educational qualifications of Parliamentarians, use of state funds by the national and provincial legislative assemblies, investment of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), procurement and awarding of tenders by state entities, complaints filed to police stations, promotion and disciplinary procedures in state bodies, compensation payments for landowners on acquisition of their lands and admission criteria of children to schools.

About 10 Orders from some 4,500 Orders of the Commission have been appealed to the Court of Appeal under provisions of the RTI Act. The appeals are pending.

Courtesy:Sunday Times