Freedom of Information Bill soon in order book

The UNP’s deputy leader, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya, has given notice of a Private Member’s motion to present a Bill providing Freedom of Access to Official Information which will be in Parliament’s order book by next week, officials confirmed yesterday.

``The Bill has been sent for gazetting and the proofs would be returned to Parliament for checking. Once that is done this week, it will be in the Order Book seven days thereafter,’’ he said.

This Bill, formally titled as ``An Act to provide for freedom of access to official information’’ specifies grounds on which access may be denied and provides for the establishment of the Freedom of Information Commission, appointment of its officers and sets out procedures for making requests for information and matters connected therewith an incidental thereto.

Cabinet approval for this legislation, as set out in the Bill Jayasuriya has presented, was obtained during the Ranil Wickremesinghe government of 2002 but that government was defeated before it could be brought before Parliament.

Thereafter, then Justice and Law Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda agreed to support the legislation, commonly described as the Freedom of Information Act, and set up machinery, including assistance from the Legal Draftsman’s Department, to refine and improve the original draft.

Moragoda, however, was not re-elected last April.

Several UNP MPs, including party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, signed the Private Member’s Bill now going into the order book but objections from the parliamentary secretariat about more than one MP signing a Private Member’s motion resulted in it being presented under Jayasuriya’s name only.

``We don’t agree with the contention of the secretariat but didn’t want to waste time arguing about it,’’ a spokesman from the opposition leader’s office said.

Even though the motion appears in the order book, what priority it will be given on the order paper is uncertain. Government which normally initiates legislation has given no indication yet on its thinking on a Freedom of Information law which exists in most South Asian countries and has been very effectively used in India in combating corruption.

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