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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Deeds Not Words – re right to information bill

”The founder Editor of this newspaper was brutally killed by hired goons over two and a half years ago. The resultant investigation has been played out like a soap opera. The Cabinet spokesperson ventured as far as to give definite dates when the culprits would be brought to book”

The recent defeat of the Right to Information (draft) Bill presented to parliament by the Deputy Leader of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya, needs deep thought and address by the people of this country.

The government using the two thirds they possess within their ranks to defeat this bill without even a by your leave, raised many an eyebrow. It does not take an Einstein to delve into the thought process of those within the ruling group, to comprehend the reasons for shooting down this piece of legislation. Fear of exposure.

Let us not forget that the Executive and the Legislature are elected by the people for an agreed period of time, as their trustees, to govern in the best interests of all the inhabitants of Sri Lanka. The constitution of the country specifies that the powers to these two pillars are drawn by the people and consequently they hold such powers in trust, on behalf of the people. That is the first and last commandment of democracy.

The majority of the people who extend this right to the Executive and the Legislature do not comprehend that they possess this power, but think quite the reverse. Most people in the rural areas have little or no understanding of their rights, save for voting when elections are called. The politicians of this land have perfected the art of playing on this ignorance to their benefit whilst using the sovereignty of this majority to cover their misdeeds, corrupt practices and manipulations. The draft bill on the Right to Information was defeated and we have yet not heard a whimper of protest by the “majority” spoken of in this article. Why? Because, they do not understand that it is in their interest. Why do they not understand? Because, our system of education does not enlighten them of modern thinking that is wafting across the developed world. They have been  kept in a cocoon to be manipulated. Or, are we to believe that the majority are a bunch of lotus eating sloth?

The ruling politico would propagate that the Right to Information Bill would be of vicarious use to journalists and no other. The truth is anything but that. A Minister was heard to say that this Bill is not required.  He said, a journalist could pay some government servant to release documents in their possession. Need one argue any further?  The experiences of the so called “common man” in India would expose this theory as a blatant untruth. The Bill would make it a cost effective method to seek information and secure the rights of the poorest of the people instead of having to resort to expensive modes such as litigation and trekking to government offices, ad nauseam. True, the proposed draft of Karu Jayasuriya may not have been perfect. Yet, that was a good first effort and a great opportunity for the government to show their sincerity. The fine tuning of the draft could have been done. Remember, our constitution has been changed and / or modified eighteen times.

Judicial documents could be obtained on application and so it is with the Hansard. It is the Executive that has barriers to access of information, by the people. The President should have pushed his team to accept this Bill without any reservation. That, would of course  require sincerity, accountability and no fear of being transparent.

It was only last week that this newspaper sought a clarification from the office of the President. The Secretary to the President could not be contacted but Director Media, to the President, Bandula Jayasekera,  was available and the information sought by e-mail. A week’s time was required by him to supply the sought for information. The resultant article saw an irate President vent his anger including a veiled threat on the Chairman of this Company in the belief that the article had been of a personal nature. It was not. No, Sir, not by far. The President by law is invulnerable.

The rest of the people are not. This power should be used in a benevolent manner. We did point out last week in a column when dealing with the hedging fiasco that the Chairman of the Petroleum Corporation had misunderstood the separation of the office of the Chairman with that of the Corporation. The President too is a separate entity to that of the nation.  If this divide is blurred it blinds the holder of such powerful office.

The founder Editor of this newspaper was brutally killed by hired goons over two and a half years ago. The resultant investigation has been played out like a soap opera. The Cabinet spokesperson ventured as far as to give definite dates when the culprits would be brought to book.

None of that happened. It was Lasantha who wrote to President Rajapaksa recording the gist, when he used threatening words on the phone over an alleged story which was never printed in this newspaper at the time. It was the President who said to a select band of Editors that Lasantha was a double agent and he even had recordings to prove that fact. Of course none of that has seen the light of day. It is strange that none of the murders or attacks on journalists have been solved by the Police. For good governance, for democracy to thrive, elimination of corruption and for transparency of the Executive, positive action will speak louder than words. The Right to Information Bill being passed would be one step in the right direction

Blaming Sarath Fonseka for Lasantha’s murder would not suffice. If it was so, CHARGE HIM


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