By G.S.L.J.S. Dias –A.A.L
It was my serious concern that SLBFE operating police powers without any legal framework especially in relation to arrest and detention at the Airport
I queried the legality of a Government bureau preventing people leaving the country and obstructing their right to movement.
Last week I have been able to experience SLBFE again at the Airport and for my dismay it was only a just a calling by the SLBFE People in two occasion they call me "excuse me Sir" and I purposely ignored their calling as I know they have no powers to either stop me or talk to me, as Lawyer I knew that I don’t need to obeying them legally. But I saw many other innocent poor travelers listened to them and disclosed their travel documents to these People. And as usual some of them were penalized. I was come in to their notice as I purposely behaved like a fearful person and amateur to the Airport. Otherwise they will not notice me or call me.
Still the issue is what will be the screening methodology that SLBFE is going to follow towards identifying migrant workers at the airport. My continuation challenge even this time , is based on a serious news that appeared in the Sunday Times newspaper that SLBFE is seeking Police powers. Then some other newspapers also carried the same news items in detail and some said that the amendments will bring to parliament near as 24th September 2009.
Even though this is late we need to see the gravity of the amendments that going to discuss at the parliament. Police powers are serious authority over civil people. It has rights to arrest, detain and submit people to the judiciary. The news items are not details enough, up to what extend SLBFE is seeking Police powers, but Daily news reports as below;
" In a bid to curb illegal acts perpetrated by both legal and rogue overseas job agents, the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) is seeking sweeping powers including permission to arrest without warrant any person violating regulations.
Also under the new proposals, the failure of a job agent to keep his promise to send an eligible migrant worker abroad would come under a fine ranging from Rs. 1500 to Rs. 20,000.
These powers are sought under the proposed amendments to the SLBFE Act, which are to be presented in Parliament shortly. "
The details given is interesting and positive many angles and building hopes for better Foreign employment services but also raise eyebrows as there are fishy areas too. Its very much known to every one that Job Agents charge exorbitant amounts and fees and usual amount is above 50,000 , so charging maximum of 20,000 for those who breach promises will put the migrant workers in to further problem as any body can charge huge amounts and promise a job but the failure will only end up with 20,000. As most of the Job agents won't give the receipts no body will be able to proof any misdeeds. Yesterday a woman called me for errant job agent where she was given a job after pay 70,000. She was asked to leave after 6 months and now she is looking for redress. She even didn’t know what to do and where to complain. I told her to complain to SLBFE and bring the reference to me to follow up. In such situations the new amendments doesn't mean any thing but leaving big loop holes.
The main topic still the police powers with other minor issues. At the moment few department has Powers to arrest people. Such as Excise Department, Customs, Police and Security Forces and immigration and bribery. Except for bribery rest are departments and even bribery was a departments and now is a commission under a parliament act. This is the first time a bureau of this nature is going to have police powers and the records of SLBFE doesn't support such powers. It can be easily abused and there we need more other restriction instead of police powers. The poor migrant workers will face sever problems as travelers and uneducated public. Even torture can be taken place in such detention places and its not clear whether Government Bureau is covers by the torture act. If not this is a licensing structure out of government to torture. This will not provide a good precedent.
The other factor that civil society and the parliamentarians need to concentrate that is the political appointments that are taking place with the bureau and irregularities that often we hear. With the police powers many thing can be covered and those who are voices against them can be silences with false charges as they have Rights to arrest people with out a warrant. This kind of powers to an organization with poor reputation and political appointments can bring the behavior of wild ass and it seems that the issues in the foreign employment sector wrongly identify and wrongly redress.
The amendments are very serious and it's so sad as those amendments are going to discuss at the parliament with out any public discussion and judicial check and balances. Leaving to a job is a personnel Right and personnel decision, but we need regularity body as its practiced in mass scale and there for regularities are also mass scales. Regularities don't mean suppression or violations of personnel Rights. I always stand for taking legal actions against any body do crimes but not through the repressive laws that can be extremely harmful to the wider population in this case directly around 6 Million People. Migrants are helpless group of our society, we as rights defenders need to protect them and their rights. Otherwise they will be victims by the same laws that came to their protection.