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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said that institutions were delaying providing information with the hope that the Right To Information Act would be repealed.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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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP

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By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms

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Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations

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… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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