Friday, March 25, 2016

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RTI bill : A vital step forward in democratic journey

By Gamini Abeywardane

Right to information Act is at last going to be a reality. The bill has already been presented in parliament and with whatever amendments it is likely to be passed soon. This is an important milestone in the democratic journey of our country.

We are one of the last countries in the south Asian region to introduce legislation recognizing right to information. These rights have been enjoying legal recognition in the western countries for quite some time. For us it is a case of being better late than never, and finally this government has come forward to fulfill one of its electoral promises.

Though it is often the journalistic fraternity who have been clamouring for right to information, it is something that is fundamental to all people in a democracy. They have a right to know how they are governed and availability of information is vital in this regard.

Freedom of information legislation reflects the fundamental premise that all information held by governments and governmental institutions is in principle public and may only be withheld if there are legitimate reasons, such as privacy and security.
It is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by the United Nations as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.

Governments over the years have taken cover under secrecy laws citing confidentiality etc, to prevent people getting to know details of various official activities affecting them. Where possible news media have been accessing such information through official and unofficial ways, but without the backing of any constitutional or legal right to seek such information.

Free flow of information will help enhance democracy by bringing to public arena vital details about all official acts well in time, thus eliminating or reducing opportunities for corruption. There have been enough allegations of corruption against politicians and officials in all governments present and past and one solution to the issue is to have more democracy and to empower people and free availability of official information is a vital aspect in this regard.


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