In a landmark decision the Right to Information Commission (RTIC) directed the Presidential Secretariat to disclose the declaration of assets and liabilities of Ranil Wickremesinghe in his role as Prime Minister for 2015 and 2016. The Order was made pursuant to the initial request filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) on 3 February 2017.
This decision would enable TISL to publicly release the asset declaration once received, as it has been obtained under the RTI Act. The RTIC noted that any parts of the declaration relating to third parties may be redacted and determined that the grounds raised by the Presidential Secretariat – including that the information should be private – do not stand.
TISL welcomed the order and encourages citizens to use asset declarations as a tool to publicly examine allegations of wealth accumulation and to counter corruption. The RTI Commission in their decision noted that “the RTI Act enables a powerful check to be exercised on even potential corruption as this would deter those otherwise enticed to amass public wealth for themselves”.
On TISL’s request for access to the Asset Declaration of President Maithripala Sirisena for 2015 and 2016, the RTIC held that the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law does not include the position of President. However, the Commission noted that “the increasing trend among Heads of State is to proactively disclose their assets and liabilities to foster a practice of transparency and public accountability”. The RTIC recommended that this lacuna in the law be redressed, as it would advance “a culture of public accountability and good governance as envisaged by the RTI Act”.
Whilst TISL recognises the ability of the Presidential Secretariat to appeal against the decision of the RTI commission, TISL wishes to note that such a challenge would undermine the President’s stated commitment to transparency, accountability and the public’s right to access asset declarations.
Speaking on the decision of the RTIC, TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere said “this marks a major victory for RTI and the campaign to get asset declarations into the hands of the people. We expect the Presidential Secretariat to take action to furnish a copy of the Asset Declaration as directed by the RTI Commission, which we will immediately share with the public”. (Colombo Gazette)