Government Information Centre as portal for Right to Information in Sri Lanka

Update, 19 October 2016: Got to learn that this idea was given Cabinet approval, and with a deadline of December 2017 to implement as part of the Government of Sri Lanka’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.

My responses to this announcement are below.

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I was recently asked for my input to a submission to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process around Sri Lanka’s Right to Information (RTI) framework. In the course of my research, I revisited the Government’s 1919 call centre and web based services, run by the Government Information Centre.

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When studying the 1919 framework, it was immediately evident that it could function, with suitable revisions and strengthening under the RTI Act, as the primary platform for RTI requests and responses. With improvements to workflow, reach, scope, training and access, the platform and service could act as a single-stop, innovative portal for citizens to really use the provisions of RTI, including those who are illiterate and without access to a smartphone or computer.

A presentation made for the informal RTI Task Force can be accessed here. Supporting documents can be accessed here, including that which is noted below.

Material around the GIC’s operation hasn’t been updated since around 2013, but the annual report from that year is useful to read. Also useful to read are the tens of thousands of calls the GIC already gets and around what departments. There’s also a manual for GIC’s operations, which is in effect the starting point for records management under a RTI regime.

A few years ago, I actually commissioned a photo essay on the GIC, which has some very interesting background research and insights into the 1919 operations. Access this content here.

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It’s interesting how 1919, even before RTI was passed in Sri Lanka, was doing a sterling service for citizens in helping them find information otherwise almost impossible to locate.

The presentation goes into the history of the GIC and what it is. From the GIC’s own reports, it paints a picture of what the situation was for an ordinary citizen before the 1919 service and website was introduced. It gives an overview of the focus areas, ministries, departments and agencies the GIC accommodates inquires around.

The presentation then locates GIC within the OGP schema for the implementation of RTI, including technical aspects around how the initiative can be geared to serve citizens under the RTI Act.

The presentation ends by highlighting the RTI portal in Uganda, which can serve as a template in the development of Sri Lanka’s own RTI platforms, moving forward, with no need to reinvent the wheel.

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