MALE, Maldives – The President's Office has made an appeal against a High Court ruling that mandates the disclosure of receipts related to the President's 2021 trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The appeal, made at the Supreme Court, signifies an ongoing conflict over the disclosure of potentially sensitive information and the public's right to transparency.
This dispute started when Dhiyares Media, utilizing the Right to Information Act, sought access to these receipts in an effort to verify the government's official statement on the cost and number of participants in the President's trip. Initially, the President's Office declined to provide the requested information, arguing it would infritably infringe on the privacy of the participants and could pose threats to the President's personal safety.
However, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICOM) upheld Dhiyares Media's request, instructing the President's Office to disclose the information with any necessary redactions made for privacy and safety. Dissatisfied with this, the President's Office sought the High Court's intervention.
In a unanimous decision, the High Court sided with the ICOM, underscoring that the interpretation of the Right to Information Act should be in alignment with its broader policy and objectives. The High Court emphasized the Act's intent to offer the public comprehensive access to information about state agencies.
Addressing the President's Office's concerns over personal data, the High Court clarified that withholding information based solely on the presence of personal information could considerably obstruct the public's right to access information. The Court found that the President's Office failed to provide a valid legal justification for withholding the receipts after redacting personal details.
Moreover, the Court noted that to interpret the law as permitting the withholding of documents based on personal information would be inappropriate. It ruled that if a document contains information that cannot be withheld under the law, it should be released after removing such data.
Despite the unanimous ruling by the High Court, the President's Office remains adamant in its stance.