In an unexpected turn of events, the Chairman of the Tea Board, Rohan Pethiyagoda has tendered his resignation, protesting against regulations that constitute an unlawful invasion of privacy over the mandatory disclosure of one’s human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status to ensure the official’s position in the institution.
Pethiyagoda who was appointed Chairman had expressed his protest over the request made by the Committee on High Posts to declare details of his assets and information plus his medical records, including HIV status.
Sources in the board said that Pethiyagoda had objected to the committee’s request stating that the Committee did not have any judicial power to seek information on assets and his medical reports and therefore he was not bound to declare such information.
Sources also said that Pethiyagoda had objected to this practice since it was only for a select number of high level officials.
By law, an officer of a government institution is required to declare his assets to his or her immediate superior, in this case, the Secretary of the Ministry of Plantations.
“In addition, according to public recommendations of World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) one need not declare his or her HIV status,” an official said.
While the Constitution guarantees equality and non-discrimination, the right to workplace privacy is recognized by the ILO. Mandatorily requesting such information unless one is a medical professional coming into contact with patients constitutes a violation of the individual’s fundamental rights.
The Ministry of Plantation Industries said that though the government and State policy could be deemed discriminatory or as some kind of discrimination based on the aspects of personal individual privacy, they had to abide by it and could not go beyond it while adding that it was the Committee’s decision to remove a person on the basis of failure to reveal such personal information.
Secretary of the Ministry of Plantation Industries, Upali Marasinghe pointed out that while no one had challenged the said policy up until now, the matter had been brought to the attention of the decision makers and the Ministry was at present awaiting a result.
“A resignation letter has been given by the individual in question to the Ministry. It is up to the person to divulge or submit such information or not,” he said. “This is not a reason for resignation. Even if a person had that kind of a problem, there is no provision that he or she cannot work as a government servant.”
He added that Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake had telephoned the Chairman of the said Committee, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in his presence.
“But the Speaker was in the Chamber at the time. What we propose is that a consensus be arrived at with the Speaker. A final decision has not been taken regarding the matter yet,” he said.
Deputy Secretary General of Parliament, Neil Iddawela meanwhile said that without the comprehensive medical report which is to be obtained from the Sri Jayewardenapura General Hospital, which also has to contain the results of a HIV test, along with the tax return report pertaining to inland revenue and the individual’s bio-data (curriculum vitae), the Committee on High Posts would not be clearing the individual in question.
The three reports must be completed and be in the possession of the Committee prior to the summoning of the individual before the Committee according to Iddawela. Iddawela further said that all of this is set forth in the rules of the said Committee and that the practices, traditions and precedents were followed by it since the inception of the Committee.
He added that though there were no Standing Orders of Parliament directly regarding the test and whether it was mandatory, there was a Standing Order outlining that it was the Committee that had to decide on the fitness of the individual concerned.
Iddawela also revealed that there had been an exchange of letters between the relevant parties regarding the matter.
“The information concerning the HIV test is included as part of the normal report. We do not disclose the information to the public. The purpose is to find out whether the individual is fit physically and is not of unsound mind and has not been declared bankrupt or is not a defaulter of a bank,”
Pethiyagoda and Minister Dissanayake were not available for a comment.