The Secretary to the Ministry of Health has issued a warning letter to all health departments and officials, citing several provisions of the Establishments Code affecting public officials regarding making statements through the media, and warning that disciplinary action will be taken against all persons who provide information to the media regarding the health service in violation of those provisions. The Free Media Movement condemns the authorities’ attempt to cover up epidemic information in violation of the public’s right to information through various sources at a time when the Covid 19 epidemic is in full swing.
Such warnings violate the right of officials to express their views and the right of the media to obtain information from a variety of sources. It also adversely affects the professional rights of public servants as well as their right to organize. The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka that stands above the regulations of the Establishments Code. The right to information is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution and since 2016, a new vision regarding information policies has emerged through the Right to Information Act. Therefore, the provisions of the outdated Establishments Code should be logged as those that need to be changed immediately and should not be used to repress officials who disclose their information with the public interest.
Disclosures of information, issues, and suggestions by various trade unions and leading personalities in the field of health regarding the control and management of the Covid 19 epidemic are done. If health policies are not implemented properly, they should be detected and put in the right direction in such an epidemic situation which has become the most important issue affecting the people and the country. The country is facing a situation where outdated provisions have to be revised in the interest of the public and all officials have to act with social responsibility. As the Secretary has informed says, there is no point in concealing the factual information from the public breaking their trust. Therefore, the Free Media Movement urges the Health Secretary and other authorities to refrain from (mis)using provisions of the Establishments Code by accusing the health sector trade unions to suppress factual information and other officials who provide accurate information and data to the media.