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The Right to Information Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Sanjana, Sri Lanka Feb 22, 2003
Peace & Conflict , Technology   Opinions


However, the mere creation of websites of various arms of government will not help in access of information in Sri Lanka. Even if we ignore that many of these websites have very little information on policy making or on the decision making processes of tenders etc, such websites cannot be accessed my the majority of Sri Lankans, who neither have the connectivity to do so nor the language skills necessary to read and understand a webpage in English. What is needed in Sri Lanka is the right to information entrenched in every single ministry and public authority – a culture that facilitates the disclosure of information by handing out relevant information to citizens in the vernacular. The public in turn must learn to translate information into knowledge, and thereafter, how to use this knowledge to best effect.

Also alarming is the belief that the West is a tabernacle of faultless government, where FOI legislation has been passed without any hindrance. This has not been the case in the US, where many Federal authorities have been very reluctant to declassify documents despite efforts to expedite the process by former President Bill Clinton. In the UK, Tony Blair, though overtly in favor of the Freedom of Information has nevertheless made the actual application of legislation difficult. These should not be taken as excuses for Sri Lanka to be pessimistic or lackadaisical in its own legislative thrusts for the Freedom of Information. While lessons must surely be learnt from the experiences of these countries, the government must realize that there really is no alternative to the introduction and application of FOI legislation.

What the present government must also realize is that democracy is quintessentially about the adherence of government to the will of the people. This basic accountability is impossible unless the present government not only champions FOI legislation, but also commits itself to open and transparent governance. What is needed now is a spirited, informed public that creatively and constructively engages with government in policy making and a government which treats the right to information as the bedrock of good governance working together to forge a better future for Sri Lanka.

Sanjana Hattotuwa
4th February, 2002

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Sanjana Hattotuwa is a Rotary World Peace Scholar presently pursuing a Masters in International Studies from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. The views expressed here are his own. He can be contacted at hatt@wow.lk.
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