While welcoming the move to appoint the members of the Right to Information (RTI) Commission, we, the undersigned civil society organization members, remain deeply concerned about the appointment of its chairperson.
The RTI Act sets out the criteria that should be followed when making recommendations to the Commission. Section 12 (2)(a)(i) requires nominees to be “persons who have distinguished themselves in public life…”. As such, individuals who have serious pending allegations against them should not be considered.
The appointment of retired Supreme Court Justice Upali Abeyratne as the Chairperson of the Commission, undermines the spirit of the law, as it ignores several allegations against him. These allegations include the alleged abuse of power, most recently in relation to his stint as chairperson of the controversial Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Political Victimisation.
Under his direction, the Presidential Commission went so far as to request court to pause ongoing cases, to recommend the discontinuation of cases being heard before the judiciary which was even objected to in court by the then Attorney General Mr. Dappula De Livera. The Commission further recommended taking action against law enforcement officials who had been involved in the investigations relating to such cases. The Presidential Commission’s actions drew considerable criticism due to their serious implications on the separation of powers. Given the several continuing allegations, the appointment of such an individual prior to those allegations being laid to rest, casts serious doubts on whether the appointment meets the very high threshold required by law, that such appointee should have “distinguished himself in public life”.
Section 12 (2)(a)(iii) additionally requires a recommended person to “not hold any public or judicial office or any other office of profit”. Justice Abeyratne is currently the chairperson of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), and as such, draws a salary as per Section 20 of the OMP Act. Therefore, the appointment of Justice Abeyratne is contrary to this requirement.
We also note with concern that the composition of the RTI commission fails to provide due representation to the minorities of the country, thereby falling short of upholding basic principles of equality and inclusion. Therefore, we call for steps to be taken to address this gap, in order to assure all citizens of Sri Lanka about the impartiality and balance within the RTI commission.
The right to information has been a widely used right by the people of Sri Lanka since its enactment, having transformational impact on their daily lives. An independent RTI Commission plays a crucial role as the main appellate and oversight body in relation to RTI.
Therefore, we call for reconsideration of the appointments to the RTI commission, to ensure that the statutory framework set out in the RTI Act for the appointment of commissioners is adhered to and to ensure diversity and public trust in the commission.
Nadishani Perera – Executive Director, Transparency International Sri Lanka
Rohana Hettiarachchi – Executive Director, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu – Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives
Sakuntala Kadirgamar – Executive Director, Law & Society Trust (LST)
Lionel Guruge -Senior Researcher, Centre for Policy Alternatives
Manjula Gajanayake – National Coordinator, Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV)
Philip Dissanayake – Executive Director, Right to Life Human Rights Centre
Maithreyi Rajasingam – Executive Director, Viluthu
Thilak Kariyawasam – President, Food First Information & Action Network of Sri Lanka (FIAN)
Nishantha Preethiraj – National Organizer, National Deshodaya Assembly