SLPA tariff schedule breaches RTI Act

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The Right to Information Commission (RTI) has ruled that Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) charging USD for information requests is not in conformity with the RTI Act.

The commission said the SLPA application of its 2022 tariff schedule, which levies charges in USD for information requests, is not in conformity with Section 32 (4) of the RTI Act, No. 12 of 2016.  

It also ruled that the SLPA’s manner of application of its own tariff schedule is against the RTI Act.

The ruling came following an appeal filed by this writer, after he was charged USD four (Rs 812) with VAT amounting to Rs 64.12 by the SLPA for two additional pages of information requested under the RTI act. 

The payment had been made in Lanka Rupees equivalent to USD. Till the ruling by the RTI Commission, with regard to information requests under the RTI Act, the SLPA had provided certified copies of documents up to four pages free of charge. Thereafter, it had levied two USD for every additional page with a separate Value Added Tax (VAT).

The Gazette Extraordinary No. 2004/66, dated 3 February 2017, introduced a specific fee schedule for providing photocopies and printouts under the RTI Act.

Accordingly, for photocopying, two rupees is charged per one side and four rupees for both sides while for printouts, the fees are fixed at four rupees and eight rupees respectively.

However, the Gazette also states where there exists, a previous fee schedule prescribed or issued by public authorities by way of circulars or regulations, that fee schedule shall continue to operate notwithstanding the fees prescribed by the Act.

Accordingly, the SLPA claimed the fees were being charged as per the booklet titled ‘SLPA Tariff 2022’ published with the approval of the Minister in charge. It also claimed it had followed the procedure stipulated in Section 37 of the SLPA Act by obtaining approvals from the subject Minister and the Ministry of Finance to impose the tariffs, but said it was not in a position to trace all the approvals obtained from the line Ministry during the last 43 years.

The commission, looking into whether the tariff schedule applied by the SLPA was either ‘prescribed or issued’ by way of ‘circulars or regulations’, noted that the SLPA admitted it does not possess all the approvals obtained from the line Ministry for revision of charges or introduction of new charges as required by Section 37 of the SLPA Act. 

Accordingly, the commission found, in the absence of mandatory ministerial approvals of both the 2021 and 2022 tariff schedules, it indicates non-compliance of the SLPA with the duties imposed on it by that Section.

The commission also held that perusal of the various tariff schedules of the SLPA, in respect of levying fees for ‘certified copies of SLPA documents’, indicates irregularities in conforming to Section 37 (1) of the SLPA Act. 

It added that by providing four pages free of charge and levying a fee on additional pages the SLPA had followed the Commission’s Fee Schedule in part and its own tariff schedule in part, in a manner that is patently irregular.

But despite the ruling, a source from the RTI Commission said, however, the commission does not have the power to order the SLPA to reimburse the excess fee levied.

BY Rifthi Ali