More than a third of government offices and organizations funded by the state have failed to appoint staff to handle information requests, as required by the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act, passed in 2014 with the aim of improving public access to information.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICOM) said some 458 out of 1297 offices have failed to appoint information officers.
In a fourth warning yesterday, the ICOM ordered all offices that receive funding from the state to appoint information officers by October 27.
Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakr put the delay to a dispute in interpreting the RTI act and lack of resources.
“There is a dispute on what constitutes a state office or institution. For an example even political parties are considered state institutions because they receive funding from the state budget,” he explained. “It’s not that they are refusing to comply.”
He also noted that “some offices have just a couple of employees making it extremely difficult to designate an information officer.”
Discussions are underway with the Attorney General’s office to solve the RTI Act’s “teething troubles,” Azeez said.
The names of offices do not comply with the latest order will be published publicly, he added.
Expressing concern over the delay, Thoriq Hamid from Transparency Maldives, a rights group that lobbied for the RTI Act ,said: “It is very unfortunate that some state institutions have not complied with the RTI Act. This is really important as the information officer is the first point of contact to members of the public seeking information under the law.”
The RTI Act, ratified in January 2014, mandates information officers to comply with a request for information within 21 days and sets a thirty day period to justify the failure to provide the requested information.
The state may refuse to reveal information that has been designated confidential by law, that may adversely affect the government’s ability to manage or administer the economy and information that may harm the immunities of courts and the parliament.