Colombo Telegraph

TISL Gets Knickers Twisted Over Good And Bad Whistleblowers

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), in a classic case of ‘what’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander,’ has taken to task the Customs Department for sending Assistant Superintendent W.M.R.P. Wijekoon on compulsory leave on allegations of leaking information to the media, citing Section 40 of the RTI that protects whistleblowers.

TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere

TISL has expressed concern that the said provision has not been considered prior to disciplinary action being taken under the Establishments Code. The provisions of the RTI, however, override all other written laws including the Establishments Code.

The Sunday Times reported on May 7, 2017 that “Mr Wijekoon and his team from the Customs Central Investigations Bureau (CIB) (had) recently raided an unauthorised vehicle reassembling yard in Minuwangoda after obtaining a court order. The importer had allegedly made a false declaration to the Customs and was bringing dismantled vehicles in containers, declaring them as used vehicle parts. This was apparently to pay less as Customs duties.

The officer was reportedly sent on compulsory leave “for violating the Establishments Code by using a trade union as a conduit for providing information to the media“.

Section 40 of the RTI Act – the whistleblower provision – reads as follows:

Notwithstanding any legal or other obligation to which a person may be subject to by virtue of being an officer or employee of any public authority, no officer or employee of a public authority shall be subjected to any punishment, disciplinary or otherwise, for releasing or disclosing any information which is permitted to be released or disclosed under this Act”.

TISL, accordingly, has urged authorities to reflect on the provisions and principles of RTI and consider the whistleblower protection clause in the case of Assistant Superintendent W.M.R.P. Wijekoon.

What is remarkable about the position taken by TISL in this case is that TISL itself has shown scant regard in for the whistleblower protocols it campaigned for in general and Section 40 of the RTI in particular. TISL recently punished three staff members (Jagath Liyanaarachchi, Shan Wijetunga and Ananda Jayasekera) after they had employed the whistleblower provisions to complain about numerous malpractices that were rampant in the organization.

It is ironical that the moralizing on the Customs Department issue has come in the form of a communique signed by the very officer who was instrumental in showing the above mentioned staff members the door, namely Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere.

The following is the statement issued by TISL:

Customs Whistleblower: TISL Flags Protection Clause in RTI Act

Reports that a senior Customs investigation officer Assistant Superintendent W.M.R.P. Wijekoon has been sent on compulsory leave on allegations of leaking information to the media, have raised concerns over the protection of whistleblowers.

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) is concerned that the provision within the Right to Information (RTI) Act which seeks to protect whistleblowers, has not been considered prior to disciplinary action being taken under the Establishments Code.

The provisions of the RTI Act override all other written law, including the Establishments Code.

According to The Sunday Times report of  7 May 2017, “Mr Wijekoon and his team from the Customs Central Investigations Bureau (CIB) recently raided an unauthorised vehicle reassembling yard in Minuwangoda after obtaining a court order. The importer had allegedly made a false declaration to the Customs and was bringing dismantled vehicles in containers, declaring them as used vehicle parts. This was apparently to pay less as Customs duties.”

The officer was reportedly sent on compulsory leave for violating the Establishments Code by using a trade union as a conduit for providing information to the media.

TISL believes that due consideration has not been paid in this matter to Section 40 of the RTI Act – the whistleblower provision – which reads as follows;

“Notwithstanding any legal or other obligation to which a person may be subject to by virtue of being an officer or employee of any public authority, no officer or employee of a public authority shall be subjected to any punishment, disciplinary or otherwise, for releasing or disclosing any information which is permitted to be released or disclosed under this Act”.

TISL highlights the importance of expediting the process of amending the Establishments Code to reflect the provisions and principles of RTI and urges authorities to consider the whistleblower protection clause in the case of Assistant Superintendent W.M.R.P. Wijekoon.

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