President ratifies Right to Information Act

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has ratified the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act today.

Advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives has hailed the ratification of the act as “major step forward for good governance and transparency.”

The act (Dhivehi) aims to widen and improve the scope for the citizen’s rights to information in order to increase transparency and accountability.

Within six months of ratification, the president is mandated to appoint a Commissioner of Information to enforce the act, while the government is obliged to appoint an Information Officer at every government office to facilitate access to information.

The Commissioner of Information’s tenure is five years. The act also provides for the establishment of an Office of the Commissioner of Information.

The commissioner has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR5000 (US$324).

The commissioner may also fine any individual who destroys requested information, obstructs a public authority or the Information Officer’s from providing access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR25,000 (US$ 1621).

The act also provides protection to whistleblowers if the whistleblower publicises information regarding corruption or breach of the law.

Under the act, any public authority is obliged to comply with a request for information within 21 days. However, if the request is relevant to an individual’s liberty or protection of a person’s life, information must be provided within 48 hours.

Any request for information must state the request is being submitted under the RTI Act, details of the requested information, details of the applicant, an address for receipt of requested information, as well as the designated fee.

A request for information can be declined if the Information Officer deems the request to be incomplete, incorrect, or purposeless. However, the Information Officer must notify the applicant before declining the request and grant enough time and assistance to the applicant to revise their application

The state is not required to disclose any information designated confidential by law, or information that could cause legal action against the government for breach of confidence, or which could prevent future communication of such information to the government.

Furthermore, the state is not required to disclose information which could have an adverse impact on the government’s ability to manage or administer the economy or  information whose premature disclosure could put a person at an unfair advantage or disadvantage

Neither is the government obliged to reveal information that harms the immunities of the parliament and the courts, information of a closed trial, personal or judicial records which could harm the dignity of a child below 18 years, and information regarding victims of sexual abuse.