By Lalanath de Silva (Posted: February 17, 2009)
This is a video story about how the Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL), a public interest environmental law organization in Sri Lanka activated the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and saved the only open ocean waterfront in the capital city of Colombo. The court also affirmed the right of the public to have access to information. If you cannot view the video from the video frame below you can do so by clicking here
The Galle Face Green had been dedicated to the public by an order of the colonial British Government in 1856. Since that time the Green had been used by the city’s public as a recreational area. The Urban Development Authority (UDA) had decided to hand over the public space to a private company to develop it as a built up amusement park. Although admission to the park would have been free, the amusements themselves would have to be paid for by the public.
The UDA had run an advertisement in a widely circulating national newspaper that the project was “More Transparent than Glass”. But when EFL asked the UDA for a copy of the agreement it had signed with the private company, it refused to give it a copy. EFL filed a human rights violation case in the Supreme Court. EFL argued that the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Sri Lankan constitution included the right to seek and receive information from the Government. Ms. Ruana Rajapakse, legal counsel who represented EFL shares her thoughts on this video.
The private company filed a copy of the agreement in court. The court decision affirmed the right of the public to have access to information. The court inferred that right from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. It ruled that the freedom of expression included the right to seek and receive information from the Government in certain situations. The court also annulled the agreement saying that the UDA did not have the power to hand over the Green which had been dedicated to the public. Subsequently, the new Minister for Urban Development and Sacred Area development, the Hon. Dinesh Gunawardene (also featured on this video) decided to establish a national steering committee to examine transparency, accountability and inclusiveness in the urban sector and to introduce public participation into local government budgeting and decision-making processes.