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National Media Forum calls upon P’mentary Council to immediately appoint members to RTI Commission

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The National Media Forum called on the Parliamentary Council represented by government and opposition members to immediately appoint members to the Right to Information (RTI) Commission and to ensure the people’s rights guaranteed by the country’s Constitution.

In a statement the steering committee of the NMF said that the entire process of ensuring the public’s right to information as well as the appeals presented by the people to the RTI Commission have now come to complete standstill.

The statement said: The Right to Information (RTI) Commission, which was constituted under the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016, has been defunct for nearly two months due to the failure to appoint members to the Commission. According to the RTI Act, the responsibility of appointing members to the RTI Commission is vested with the Constitutional Council and the President. However, the Constitutional Council has now been replaced by the Parliamentary Council following the implementation of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

The RTI Act came in to effect on August 4, 2016 after then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya endorsed the piece of legislation. The five year term of the first group of members appointed to the RTI Commission came to an end on September 30, 2021. The Parliamentary Council has published a newspaper advertisement seeking nominations for the appointment of members to the RTI Commission. The deadline for the submission of applications concluded on October 19, 2021. At the time, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), media organizations and the civil society had submitted nominees for the Commission in line with Clause 12 of the RTI Act.

The RTI Commission consists of five members with one of the members being appointed as the Chairman of the Commission. The nominee of the BASL has to be appointed to the RTI Commission according to the provisions of the RTI Act. The Parliamentary Council has to propose names for the other four positions in the Commission to the President. The power of appointing the other four members to the Commission from the names proposed by the Parliamentary Council is vested with the President.

The Parliamentary Council has so far failed to perform its duties with regard to the RTI Commission. The Parliamentary Council consists of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa,

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Minister Douglas Devananda and MP Kabir Hashim.

The entire process of ensuring the public’s right to information as well as the appeals presented by the people to the RTI Commission have now come to complete standstill. Among the key appeals that are currently blocked in the process are the appeals made by the public on the Port City and the arbitrary acquisition of lands. Other processes undertaken by the RTI Commission include the inquiring of the veracity of information related to state institutions, introduce regulations related to providing information and the training of information officers.

The RTI Commission currently carries out only its administrative work without even a permanent Director General in place. According to the RTI Act, it is the Director General who also serves as the Chief Executive

Officer of the Commission. Clause 19 of the RTI Act stipulates that it is the RTI Commission that has to appoint the Director General as well as the staff members.

Former Chairman of the RTI Commission Mahinda Gammoning and the rest of the members of the Commission Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, S.G. Punchihewa, Selvi Thiruchandran and Rohini Walgama, who served in the Commission during the past five years have meticulously carried out their duties in the Commission and had also given several decisive decisions for the benefit of the people. These actions served to ensure the public’s right to information while also ensuring the rights encapsulated in Clause 14(1) of the Constitution.

Therefore, we call upon the Parliamentary Council represented by government and opposition members to immediately appoint members to the RTI Commission and to ensure the people’s rights guaranteed by Sri

Lanka’s Constitution.

The NMF Steering committee comprises Mandana Ismil Abewickrema, Gagani Weerakoon, Rajgopal Yasitharan, Vikum Basnayaka, Sisira Yapa, Ajith Alahakoon, Priyantha Wedamulla, Chathura Disanayake, Shalika Wimalasena and Ravindra Pushpakumara.



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Booster shots: Poor public response makes GMOA contemplate legal remedy

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Lack of enthusiasm among the public to receive the booster dose was disconcerting, given that Sri Lanka had a long-established and highly functional immunisation programme, the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

By 20 January 2022, 64.56% of Sri Lankans had been fully vaccinated, but only 22.47% had received the booster dose, the GMOA said.

“At the early stages of vaccination against Covid-19 the public response was favourable. However, the current waning of interest might be driven by the myths and rumours regarding the vaccines. It is important to take measures to counter such misinformation by raising public awareness of the ongoing vaccination programme.”

“Legal action against those responsible for the spread of communicable diseases can be taken under the Penal Code”, GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said. “Provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance can be used against persons who do not comply with directions given by the proper authorities under the Quarantine Ordinance,” he said.

The GMOA said that several countries had made it mandatory to have proof of vaccination for entry into public places. The same thing could be done in Sri Lanka to ensure that more people got vaccinated.

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Govt., SJB haggle over procedure to rescue country

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB on Sunday said that it was wrong for the President and the government to seek the assistance of the Opposition to steer the country out of the present crises without creating a proper forum to obtain such assistance.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the latter’s third Policy Speech in Parliament last week had sought the assistance of the Opposition. “His speech is full of excuses. He sought our assistance but there is no forum to offer our assistance. The government too has asked for the same several times. If the government needs the Opposition’s assistance, what it should do is to declare a state of national disaster situation so that the Opposition could make use of Parliament as the forum for our contributions. That has not been done so far. The President and the government could make use of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act No 53 of 2005 to form a disaster management committee comprising the government and opposition MPs.

The President is the ex-officio Chairman of the committee, the Prime minister and the Opposition leader are there with 24 government ministers and five opposition MPs. In addition to that there are provisions to the involvement of the Chief Ministers of Provinces in the committee. If the government genuinely needs our support it should have started forming that committee. There are laws enabling the formulation of mechanisms to help people the government does not make use of them. We have been repeatedly asking the government to appoint that committee.

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Lord Ahamad plants kumbuk tree sapling during visit to Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

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By Ifham Nizam

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK, planted a Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna) sapling at the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary last week.

The Department of Wildlife said Lord Ahmad had been joined by the British High Commissioner in Colombo Sarah Hulton, Hasanthi Urugodwatte Dissanayake, Acting Additional Secretary of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry, Saman Liyanagama, Wildlife Ranger of the Colombo Wildlife Range, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Professor Sevvandi Jayakoddy, Senior Lecturer of the Wayamba University.

The planting activity was followed by a brief visit to the wetland and Prof. Jayakoddy, and Liyanagama explained the importance of wetland ecosystems as well as challenges in conservation and maintenance, while Dissanayake briefed him on the Sri Lanka’s pioneering work related to mangrove restoration and conservation, both at policy level as well as at the ground level.

Hasini Sarathchandra, Publicity Officer, Department of Wildlife Conservation said British High Commission in Colombo with the International Water Management Institute Headquartered in Sri Lanka, had already launched a project under the Darwin Initiative at the Baddegana Wetlands.  Similar collaborations are envisaged involving the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary.

Wetlands play an important role in our natural environment. They mitigate the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. Colombo is a city built on and around wetlands. Despite progressive loss and degradation, wetlands still cover some 200 km2 of the Colombo metropolitan area and suburbs.

The wetlands are fundamental to the well-being of the people of Colombo and its suburbs. The wetlands can reduce extreme air temperatures and make the city more live able due to evaporative cooling. The wetlands provide a critical land-mass which helps to maintain the richness of Colombo’s biodiversity.

The Bellanwila-Attidiya wetlands was declared as a bird sanctuary on 25 July 1990, due to biodiversity of the area and its contribution to controlling floods. The wetlands, which span over 930 acres, host endemic species and is a paradise for migratory birds. 44 species of fish including 06 which are endemic to the country have been identified in the Bolgoda River which flows through the wetlands. The wetlands are also home to 21 reptilian species, 17 species of mammals and 10 butterfly species. Bellanwia-Attidiya sanctuary falls within the upper catchment of the Bolgoda river basin. The Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary.

Selection of the location was also due to the close collaboration that Sri Lanka has with the Government of the UK on conservation of mangroves and wetlands.

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