The people’s right to know

With staggered power cuts being imposed in different areas and the country surviving on billions of dollars in debts, we need to stress again the urgent need for a Right to Information Bill.


Some years ago UPFA leaders were boasting about so many new power plants which would make it possible to supply electricity even to India. Now we see it as a case of lies, powerful lies and deceptive statistics. Until recently the Power and Energy Ministry and the CEB were promising there would be no power cuts whatever the weather conditions and water levels in the hydro-power reservoirs. It was another case of distorting the truth. As there was no Right to Information, the media and the people had no access to correct information until they were dealt a blackout blow on Monday.


It is the same in the case of the monstrous and scandalous public debt. The spin doctors at the Finance Ministry, the Central Bank and the Government continue to dole out figures about high growth rates, per capita incomes and other bloated stories about an economic boom. Here again the independent media and the people have no access to correct information, but reality shows the country is on the verge of an economic crisis with millions of people struggling to survive with the cost of living coming disturbingly close to the point where only the rich will have the right to live and the poorest of the poor will be left to die.


Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia and one of the few in the world without a Right to Information Law. Some years ago the Indian Government enacted this law after a campaign by hundreds of civic rights activists made billions of people aware about the urgent need for such a law. This virtually forced the Indian Government to enact this law though some corrupt ministers campaigned against it on the basis it might threaten national security but the real reason was that they wanted to continue to plunder the national wealth and resources, as seen to be the case in Sri Lanka. A Right to Information Bill was tabled by the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government during its reign from 2001 to 2004. But the Chandrika Kumaratunge administration staged a constitutional coup to take over the Government and a few months later parliament was dissolved, the Wickremesinghe Government was defeated, and the Right to Information went the wrong way.


The governments that followed had repeatedly promised to present this Right to Information Bill, but instead we have only seen the dictatorial 18th Amendment which gives the President absolute or unlimited powers and the right to suppress information as we see now.


We urge President Rajapaksa to rise to the level of a statesman, scrap the executive presidency and introduce legislation such as the Right to Information Bill.

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