Sri Lanka: Dire Need for Public Interest Disclosure Law

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Despite promised for good governance with due regard and respect to the Rule of Law now it is learned that Ranil Wickramasinghe administration has blatantly violated its own promises and resorted to interfere with number of major customs revenue fraud investigations, where the value of the subject matter running into hundreds of millions of rupees.

Watchdog for Social Justice can reveal that this abuse of power by the new regime, has effectively forced the Customs Officers, who suffered heavily under the previous administration and longed for Rule of Law under the new administration, to suspend the investigation into number of major revenue frauds.

Strict orders to stop enforcement action during 100-day ‘sensitive period’

  1. Suspension of Prima Flour Mills revenue fraud

This is a case detected by the Central Investigation Bureau of the Customs Department, within days after the new Sirisena administration was elected to office.

Watchdog for Social Justice can boldly reveal that the Director General of Customs Jagath Wijeweera, a subdued man carried out all unlawful orders of MR regime, has directed the officers conducting this investigation ‘to initiate no further revenue fraud investigations during the sensitive period of 100 days’. The officers have also been directed to abandon the investigation already initiated against the Prima Flour Mill, the suspect company alleged to have evaded the payment of several hundred million of customs levies.

  1. Canwell Logistics Lanka Ltd – 176 million rupee copper scam

This is another case being inquired into by the Customs Revenue Fraud preventive Directorate under the supervision of the Chief Assistant Preventive Officer, Sudath Silva. In this case the suspect company involved is Canwell Logistics Lanka Ltd, and the value of the production (11 container loads of Copper scrap declared for Customs purposes as Plastic Hangers) is over 176 million rupees. The person who has a financial interest in this case is described as Ravi Wettasinghe, a very closed associate of Wickeramasinghe administration.

It is learned that on 13th February 2015 (last Friday) the Director General of Customs, Wijeweera has summoned all three officers involved in conducting of the Customs Inquiry (Case No PREV/FPO/261/2014), namely the Inquiring Officer Mr M Ravindrakumar, the Prosecuting Officer, Mr Sudaththa Silva and the Chief Investigating Officer Mr Sudath Silva before him and given strict instructions to conclude the inquiry without invoking the provisions for mitigation as provided by the Customs Ordinance (Section 163 of Customs Ordinance) against the suspect. The officers allege that this direction clear amounts to abuse of office by the DGC who apparently intends to misuse the provision of the Section 163 to release the production together with the mitigation of the forfeiture of the goods and further forfeiture that the suspect company could be imposed at the conclusion of the inquiry.

Take right initiative to enact Public Interest Disclosure Law

In this backdrop, particularly in a era where the new administration has decisively assured to the people that it would restore the Rule of Law, the officers of Customs believe that this is the most opportune time to demand the enactment of a Public Interest Disclosure Law, along side the Freedom of Information Act, affording the officers to expose the names of those who abuse public office for improper purposes, in the public interest.

All leading democracies recognise the Public Interest Disclose Laws

This is not a new phenomenon in the modern world. Even India has enacted Public Interest Disclosure Act in 2011, with adequate safeguards to protect the whistle-blowers with an adequate legal protection to expose the corrupt elements through the media that represents the voice of the people, considered to be the 4th pillar in democratic governance.

In the UK, Public Interest Disclosure Act was enacted in 1998. It provides legal protection to all public officials likely to victimize by employers for “blowing the whistle” about wrongdoing at work. The peace of legislation which has been described as the most far-reaching “whistle blowing” legislation in the world, provides clear protection to the officials who are dismissed or subjected to any form of persecution for making certain categories of disclosure which includes disclosure of information concerning all forms of abuses such as commission of criminal offences, breaches of legal obligation, miscarriages of justice, health and safety dangers, environmental risk or any “cover-ups” relating to these matters including public finance.

If disclosure is made through the media, where the matter is exceptionally serious and not raised in the workplace because of fear of victimisation for exposure of cover-up, or where the matter was pursued internally or with a prescribed body but not dealt with properly according to law then the such disclosures are duly protected under this law.

Further where a worker has made a protected disclosure and is either dismissed or subjected to any other form of abuse or persecution including a constructive dismissal by his or her employer as a result of the disclosure, the employer’s action will be treated unlawful and the worker would be paid compensation if subjected to any form of abuse including reinstatement.

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  • Making the Mockery of Law!

    In this country, where the legal proceedings are taken against any person holding public office for a criminal offence the relevant officer shall be interdicted forthwith (Clause 27:10 of Chapter XLVIII of EC). However this proviso shall not apply to those appointed to the Public Office of Cabinet of Minsters by the Executive President (Article 54 of the Constitution).

    Therefore, as PM Ranil Wickramasinghe claims there is nothing wrong in appointing any accused charged for a criminal offence in his Cabinet (including any person indicted before the High Court by the Attorney General, having satisfied that there exists a prima facie case, like in the case of the Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake).

    In the event any public officer serves under Ravi Karunanayake’s Finance Ministry (Customs, Inland Revenue or Exercise) the law however permits this accused Minister to place any such officer under interdiction forthwith. This is a funny situation.

    Any right-thinking citizen may argue that this kind of unequal treatment of those holding public office has permitted the PM Ranil Wickramasinghe, who pledged to restore good governance to abuse the system, making the Rule of Law simply a mockery.

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