Information officers appointed against RTI Act, says information commissioner

Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur has said that information commissioners in most government offices have been appointed “against the spirit” of the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Azeez told newspaper Haveeru yesterday that the RTI law stipulates that information officers must not be a high-ranking official.

However, most information officers at state institutions were senior officials, the commissioner noted.

As the law requires a review committee comprised of senior officials, Azeez said there could be conflicts of interest.

Moreover, there were some offices that have yet to appoint information officers, the former Progressive Party of Maldives MP said, noting that these were mostly various departments operating under ministries.

Azeez said he was in the process of hiring employees for the information commissioner’s office and expected to begin work in the near future. The office was established by President Abdulla Yameen in early July after the RTI law came into force.

The commissioner’s tenure is five years and he has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR5,000 (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).


Majlis passes Right to Information Act

The People’s Majlis has unanimously voted to pass the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The act – first introduced to the Majlis in 2009 – was passed as presented by the Social Affairs Committee with minor amendments with the support of the 67 MPs.

Introducing the bill to the floor, the committee chair MP Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed said the committee had sought assistance from local media and international experts in revising the bill

The bill was first sent to the People’s Majlis in 2007 but was rejected. It was reintroduced to the current People’s Majlis in November 2009, and underwent a complete overhaul at the Social Affairs Committee.

Local NGO TransparencyMaldives (TM) which has advocated for the act for a long time described its passing as “an important step towards increasing transparency of the state institutions, ensuring greater accountability of public officials, and fighting corruption”.

“Transparency Maldives hopes that President Abdulla Yamin Abdul Gayoom will expedite the ratification of the bill.We call on all actors and institutions to provide their full support towards successfully implementing the law once ratified” said the organization in a press released issued today.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said the act was one of the best legislation  passed by the Majlis.

Once the bill is ratified, subsidiary regulations will need to be passed, an Information Commissioner will need to be appointed and a support structure will need to be implemented, Aiman said.

If ratified the act will bring about major changes to the Maldives access to information regime. Although the current RTI regulation introduced in 2008 through an executive decree applies only to government offices, the new act will apply to all state funded institutions including the parliament, judiciary and independent institution.

Other key features of the act include the establishment of an information office in all state institutions, instituting a seven day period of response for information requests and a thirty day period to proved the information or reason for failure to do so.

An independent Information Commissioner will also be appointed by the parliament from names proposed by the president. Issues with acquiring information can be appealed to the Information Commissioner.