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‘Information officers not conversant with provisions of RTI Act’

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The panel comprising Jagath Liyanarachchi (RTI activist), Karu Jayasuriya (former speaker of parliament), Ashwini Natesan Weerabahu (researcher),  Dumindu Madushan,  Dulan Dasanayake (Right to Life)

Text and pictures by PRIYAN DE SILVA 

Journalist Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi, an avid user of Right To Information and has submitted over 1150 RTI applications, said that Information officers of government and semi government institutions were not conversant   with the Right To Information Act. He said so as a panelist at the International Right To Information day celebrations organized by Journalists for Rights at the Sausiripaya auditorium on Monday.

 Hettiarachchi said that only 174 of the 1150 RTI applications had been acknowledged but 312 institutions had provided the information requested for. He said he had made 588 appeals to these institutions and 150 appeals had been made to the RTI Commission.

 He reiterated that Information requested through RTI was never provided within the stipulated time and the use of emails at government institutions was very poor.

 Hettiarachchi also said that institutions were delaying providing information with the hope that the Right To Information Act would be repealed.

 Minister of Media Keheliya Rambukwella the Chief Guest at the event said that steps would be taken to encourage government institutions to be more transparent and make available information to citizens before they call for it through RTI. He also said that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution contained the Right to Information introduced by the 19th Amendment.

Lawyer Jagath Liyanaarachchi, a panelist, at the event pointed out that even though Right To Information had been retained in the 20th Amendment the Constitutional Council which named members to the RTI Commission has been scrapped and hence the RTI Commission would be no longer an independent entity as the commissioners were to be named by the President.

Former Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya joined lawyer Jagath Liyanarachchi and researcher Ashwini Nateshan Weerabahu who made a lengthy presentation based on an Analysis of the impact of decisions taken by the RTI Commission between 2017 to 2019 in reducing corruption and increasing transparency in the panel discussion that ensued.

A short documentary by UNESCO on the success of RTI in Sri Lanka was also screened.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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