Right to Information Bill and the PP James’s 50 year life in prison

The main Opposition united National Party (UNP) has exposed the duplicity of the ruling coalition, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the right to information issue, by way of moving a Bill in Parliament on June 21, in granting the citizens the right to information that they deserve.

The ruling coalition defeated the Bill that, if passed, would have been a milestone in good governance and granting of a basic right to the people, using the two thirds majority power in Parliament that had been granted by the same people some 14 months ago. Going by the track record of the UNP it was obvious that the UNP wanted to trap the ruling coalition to expose the latter’s duplicity on this issue. And it is not clear as to what would the UNP have done had a similar Bill been presented to Parliament by some other party at a time when it is in power.

 This was the second time the Bill was presented in the House by one of the two Deputy Leaders of the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya. He presented it for the first time in March this year and withdrew it following assurance by the government that it would present its own Bill for the same purpose. When it was clear to the Opposition that Government was dragging its feet in keeping the promise Jayasuriya again moved the Bill in Parliament last month only to be defeated by the Government.

Interestingly, the Government again reassured, after defeating the Bill, that it would bring its own Bill soon to the House, a promise that was soon proved to be not genuine by none other than the leader of the UPFA President Mahinda Rajapaksa. During a meeting with the Editors and the heads of the media institutions on June 28 President said that there is no need for a Right to Information Act as people in the country can have access to whatever information and in a lighter vein and shrewd flattering had said that “no information can be hidden from you (media)”

 One might infer as to why the ruling party is opposed to a piece of legislature that would give the people the right to information; that  it is the fear of those who are involved in corruption being exposed. However, people have the right to know how their tax money is being spent although none expects the information pertaining to national security to be open to all.

It was alleged that the war against the LTTE was one without witness. True. But had the war theatre been open to media and the NGOs the LTTE might still be exploding bombs in Colombo, killing men, women and children in villages bordering to the northern and eastern provinces, conscripting Tamil children for the war and people in the war prone areas might still be in trenches or bunkers in fear of air raids by the Air Force.

War is nothing but killing. Whoever kills more human beings most probably would win the war. Whatever is preached in public forums no ethics are followed in war, whether it is fought in Mulivaikkal or Kandahar in Afghanistan or Basra in Iraq. Peter Arnett might have shown the world the US missiles flashing through the night skies of Baghdad during the first Gulf war, but had failed to show more than 6000 Iraqi soldiers being buried alive as plough-equipped tanks dumped tons of earth and sand onto them.

 Apart from the issues pertaining to national security and privacy of persons, there cannot be anything that a government has to hide from the people. For instance, Prime Minister DM Jayaratne on Wednesday said in Parliament that there were politicians who were involved in narcotic drug mafias in the country. Needless to say that the people have the right to know who these politicians are, as it is the sons and daughters of the people are being addicted to drugs.

Leave alone the national issues, what a lot of people are suffering at the hands of some unscrupulous officials in the public sector when they go to government offices to get a birth certificate or a death certificate or their pension files? They have not been given the right currently to know as to why their certificates or files are not issued to them on time or what has happened to them. However, in India ordinary people use the Right to Information Act to get such things done.

PP James was in jail as a remand prisoner for fifty years until 2008, as authorities had forgotten him. Doesn’t he now have the right to know as to who are the officials responsible for the ruination of his life?   

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