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.