RTI Commission Order on Port City Tripartite Agreement
April 7, 2023
RTI COMMISSION ORDERS THE MINISTRY OF INVESTMENT PROMOTION TO RELEASE TRIPARTITE AGREEMENT ON COLOMBO PORT CITY TO CEJ AND OTHERS
After a 4 year hearing process, today on 6th April 2023, Right to Information Commission ordered the Ministry of Investment Promotion to release the Tripartite agreement which was entered in 2017 between the Ministry of Megapolis & Western Development, the UDA, and the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd on the Colombo Port City Development Project.
The Port city project was launched without adequate public consultations and a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment process. The Centre for Environmental Justice in 2018 requested a copy of the above agreement from the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development of the “Yahapalana regime” at the time which was denied on the basis of the presence of confidential clauses. In November 2018, CEJ appealed to the RTI commission requesting the release of the agreement. The RTI commission accepted the appeal and the hearing process continued for 4 years. This is one of the longest hearings held by the RTI Commission. Over this period public authority (PA) was changed to the Ministry of Urban Development, Water Supply and Housing Facilities and then to the Ministry of Investment Promotion in 2022. In between Port city Economic Commission was established through a new act. On 20.07.2021, at the request of both the Public Authority as well as the Office of the Presidential Secretariat, the Secretariat was added as an added respondent to this appeal.
Further to the CEJ, Mr. Feisal Mansoor on behalf of the All-country Fisheries Society also had requested a copy of the agreement through the RTI Act. Both cases were heard together.
Delivering the final order, Commissioner Miss Kishali Pinto Jayawardena of the RTI commission said that the PA was unable to establish which clauses should be kept confidential and the TriPartite agreement signed in 2014 for the Colombo Port City development is in the public domain through the judiciary process. (First agreement was made available to the CEJ through the Appeal Court case number CA/Writ/112/15 filed by CEJ in 2015.) Therefore, the commission stated they don’t recognize the necessity of keeping the document out of the public domain.
This hearing process was very time taking and the government bought several excuses such as change of government and the necessity to seek direction from their higher officers to keep denying access to this information to the public
Finally, after several requests by the commission, PA agreed to release some of the information in the agreement to the appellants on 29th September 2021. However, this information was not sufficient to clearly understand the full impact of the project. Therefore, the appellant (CEJ) requested the full agreement.
Mr. Hemantha Withanage, Senior Advisor of the CEJ said that “Although it was a long procedure, it creates a precedent that the government should release all information related to the agreements between GOSL and foreign parties unless they effectively prove why they need to keep them confidential”. This would be an achievement of the Centre for Environmental Justice on behalf of the affected communities and the environment.