By Dayasiri Jayasekara
Right to information is one of the main characteristics of a modern democracy and in developed countries it helps society to be aware of the decisions taken by a government, which affect the rights of the people. Different countries under their respective constitutions have created laws acknowledging its citizens the right to information. Therefore these countries take decisions in a very careful manner and there is little opportunity to perpetrate fraud and corruption.
Formulating such laws shows a government’s transparency.
In the whole of South Asia, Sri Lanka ranks as a country where most deals which take place are tainted with corruption and lack transparency. Further the right to know about these transactions is detested by the government. A minister in the present government once remarked that there is no necessity of granting the right to information to the people as it will be unnecessarily used to investigate and hinder their activities.
It is no secret that most deals which take place in Sri Lanka involve paying huge bribes. From a Pradeshiya Saba official who’s permission is needed to pass a house plan to an officer in government; getting something done involves paying millions of rupees in the form of bribes. The present government came in to power in 1994 on the promise of ending a corrupt J.R. Jayewardene government which ruled for 17 years. When an election is around the corner it is no secret that parties aspiring to come to power make promises to bring in laws to end corruption or provide right to informatio. Putting aside these promises the government hides under the J.R. Model which they publicly detest. They accused J.R. Jayewardene’s administration of selling an acre of land for a rupee or two but have provided title deeds to land sold to foreigners. They accused Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government of selling this country and protested the selling of land to foreigners in the Galle fort. In 2004 they imposed a 100% tax on land purchased by foreigners. Now they are in the process of repealing these laws. I was shocked to find out the other day how the Matara Pradeshiya Saba had leased out two businesses. The matara rest house has been rented to a close associate of the Rajapaksa regime for a monthly rental of Rs.60,000/- for a lease period of 33 years. In the year 2044, he will only have to pay a monthly rental of 60,000/-. But the public toilet at the Matara bus station has been leased out for RS.261,000/-. The Matara guest house which is spread over a quarter acre of land is an economic asset. The public toilet which is only around 400 square feet though not economically important provides a important service to the people. A number of corrupt and under hand deals, is the norm of the day and recording them would fill the newspapers. In this context the right of information bill in our country is more import than in any other developed country. I have received truthful answers at most times to the questions I have raised in parliament but the options of taking remedial actions are few. If the right to information bill had been passed and established the people would have been aware of the true facts. Considering these facts the United National Party Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya proposed a right to information bill in parliament where the debate was postponed twice and finally when it was presented in parliament, was defeated. In the upcoming Colombo Municipal Election the ruling party mayoral candidate Milinda Moragoda in his election manifesto has mentioned his plans to implement the right to information for the residents in the city of Colombo. There is no bigger joke than this. When the present government killed the right of information bill in parliament can Millinda Moragoda provide this right to the residents of Colombo? To do so he has to be the President of this country or higher. The government is trying to appoint a puppet leader to the Colombo Municipal Council to implement the government policy.
As the economic development minister from 2001- 2004, he was held responsible for a number of dubious transactions by the COPE committee headed by Wijedasa Rjapakshe. The report was submitted to the bribery commission. With out facing the charges Milinda Moragoda, switched to the ruling party and was given a ministerial portfolio and thereafter the charges were never investigated. According to the COPE report Wijedasa Rajapakshe stated that a sum of Rs.1500 million was lost in terms of revenue for the government, under 26 state institutions. It is now normal for Persons who were responsible for dubious acts in past governments to occupy high positions in future governments. There fore if the right to information was established in the country then Milinda Moragoda would not need to give the right to information to the people of Colombo.
I kindly request Milinda Moragoda, who introduces himself as a gentleman in politics, not only to obtain the right to information simply for the residents of Colombo but to go further and obtain this for people beyond the city limits and be the first person to oppose those responsible for preventing the right of information bill from becoming law. My advice to Milinda Moragoda is; before you teach others, it is better if you can explain what steps you will take to encourage the government to establish the right to information, then your policies would be more believable.
Thus it is clear that the election manifesto is merely statements which do not carry any validity. It is distressing that the government, with the intention of winning the Colombo Muncipal Council is using Milinda Moragoda as a puppet in order to achieve its aim. The right to information and the right to information with regard to the Colombo Municipal Council is not two rights but a single right–this should be kept in mind.
This regime is the most corrupt compared to all previous regimes and we should unite to defeat this government action and help to establish the right to information.