For Civic Responsibility and Good Governance
“Small victories are the sweetest” says Lional Guruge of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) as he talks about the group’s Right to Information (RTI) education project.
The concept of RTI isn’t alien to South Asia. We’ve seen movements in this and other parts of the world rise up and demand more accountability from governments. The rationale for the need for such an Act is: it facilitates citizens to exercise their fundamental right to information guaranteed by the constitution. It ensures that the government, and other public and private entities which impact the public life are answerable to the citizens. The cry from Sri Lanka was finally heeded in 2016! The Right to Information was recognized by the Constitution of Sri Lanka as a fundamental human right through provisions in the 19th Amendment to the constitution and Right to Information Act No.12 of 2016 came in to being.
On the face of it the act and its ambit seem simple and straight forward. However, CPA notes that presently a majority of the country’s citizens remain uninformed regarding the full scope of the RTI Act. The historical difference and divide between the interaction of the state and the people has created an environment in which the public is not comfortable using the provisions of the act to address their problems. The effectiveness of RTI as a weapon for human rights promotion is thereby diminished.
“Hard to create enthusiasm”
The project works closely with local government officials, civil society organizations and citizens and aims to increase their capacity to mobilize communities to execute civic responsibility and promote good governance. CPA together with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) Sri Lanka has organized a series of awareness-raising programs aimed at empowering communities by educating them on the RTI Act. It’s been extremely hard to create enthusiasm among citizens to question the authorities”, says Lional Guruge of CPA. According to our partner, many Sri Lankans argue their basic needs were met and they don’t see the need for questions. And then there is the fear factor: “If we ask we may get in trouble”, the Senior Researcher of CPA echoes a popular sentiment.
Throughout CPA went on to submit requests for information from a variety of public authorities during a specific time period and analyzed the responses to these requests. An interesting fact which was ascertained from the requests was that the majority of requests were with regards to property rights and environmental issues.
Initially CPA sent a total of 203 information requests to various public authorities. Of these,187 (92%) received responses whilst 16 (8%) did not. The detailed report was launched by the Outreach Capacity Building Team of the CPA at the Government information department in September 2018 and can be accessed here for further reading.