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Sri Lanka: Law to protect the actions of whistleblowers is a must

Nagananda Kodituwakku from London - Attorney at Law & former head of the serious fraud investigations [Customs]

In Sri Lanka, persecution of whistleblowers, who refused to give into illegal demands of the politicians is a matter for concern, particularly in a situation where the ministry of finance has conceded that some enforcement officers has left the country in fear of life. Whereas in the Europe there is a legal protection provided to protect the whistleblowers it appears that the civil society is unconcern about the importance of this matter, particularly where services of such people is badly required by the country.

Lesson to learn from Europe where the public opinion is respected

In the UK, Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, provides legal protection to workers who are victimised 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 detriment by their employer for making certain categories of disclosure, i.e. a disclosure of information which, in the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure, concerns:

" criminal offences;
" breaches of legal obligation;
" miscarriages of justice
" health and safety dangers;
" environmental risk; or
" any "cover-ups" relating to these matters.

Legal protection under this law is also provided if disclosure is made through the media, but only where the matter is exceptionally serious, was not raised in the workplace because of fear of victimisation or cover-up, or where the matter was pursued internally or with a prescribed body but not dealt with properly. The aim of the legislation is to encourage workers to raise their concerns through the appropriate internal channels.

Under this legislation, where a worker has made a protected disclosure and is either dismissed or subjected to any other detriment by his or her employer as a result of the disclosure, the employer's action will be unlawful and the worker may seek financial redress from an employment tribunal. Dismissal will be regarded as automatically unfair if the reason for dismissal, or selection for redundancy, is because the employee made a protected disclosure. There will be no limit on compensatory awards in cases of dismissal, a provision intended to ensure that employees at all levels of an organisation, from the shop floor to the boardroom, will be fully compensated if they lose their jobs for blowing the whistle.

Another important feature of this peace of legislation is that any term in a worker's contract, which purports to prevent the worker from making a protected disclosure will be void. However, a disclosure will not qualify for protection if by making the disclosure the person commits a criminal offence.

This act has put in place to end the "cover-up" culture, where workers fear victimisation if they disclose wrongdoing committed by powerful officials, which include politicians. The UK government believes that this legislation can help ensure that potential disasters are averted and could prevent financial loss.

What Sri Lanka can learn from this peace of legislation

Recently for the first time the government of Sri Lanka acknowledged that, so far, at least five Customs Officers had left the country in fear of life, in connection with revenue fraud investigations they refused to drop under pressure brought in by the politicos.
However, whilst admitting this damaging trend, in a circular issued to customs officers, the ministry of finance, has banned the customs officers from speaking to the media, in an environment where the revenue officers who perform their public duty without any fear or favour are targeted and eliminated by the powerful fraudster-politico-cheats. The government has failed to realise that none of these officers would have left the country had the government taken right measures to secure their life from the threats posed by the organized fraudster-politico-mafia. The only reason for the governments inaction to protect the officers, [those who were murdered and others left the country in fear of life] is that those officers refused to give into the illegal demands that came from the top to suppress the major revenue frauds, as powerful politicos were found concerned in most of the major revenue frauds.

In fact, in Sri Lanka it is well known that corrupt politicos openly condone those who are found concerned in wrongdoing, whilst the revenue officers who refuse to compromise with politicos are subjected to persecution. In these circumstances it is believed that people or political organisations that fight for the rights of the people should take the initiative. For in Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people, that include executive, legislative and judicial power. Therefore they have every right to demand for a similar legislation like in the UK to protect the interests of the whistleblowers who sacrifice their life in upholding the law and order.
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