PHIs on poll duty: PHIs say decision on withdrawal today

Health Ministry’s request for more time ends
Printing of health guidelines gazette delayed

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The Public Health Inspectors’ Union (PHIU) is to take a final decision today (1) on whether or not to withdraw from election-related Covid-19 duties, after a meeting with Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, PHIU Secretary M. Baalasooriya told The Morning.

The union will meet the EC Chairman today to discuss several matters with regard to the upcoming parliamentary election, and the delay in issuing the gazette empowering the PHIs would also be discussed at the meeting, Baalasooriya said.

“We have waited for the Health Ministry to issue the gazette notification, but it seems that it is never going to happen,” he stressed.

“Therefore, we can’t put our officials at risk by engaging in duties without having powers to take action against those who violate the guidelines,” Baalasooriya noted.

At the last meeting held with Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, she asked the PHIU to give her two or three days to finalise the amendments with the Attorney General (AG)’s Department in order to gazette the election-related Covid-19 health guidelines. “But she failed to do so until today (yesterday, 30),” Baalasooriya stressed.

However, as learnt by The Morning, at last week’s meeting, the Minister had informed the PHIs that a sudden decision on vesting them with more powers couldn’t be made; that it could only be done after seeking the opinion of the AG.

Last week, the PHIU said that a decision on whether to quit its participation in Covid-19-related duties would be taken this week, after having postponed trade union action that was scheduled at the time.

At present, there are about 2,650 PHIs in the country. Under the “Health Guidelines for Conducting the Election amidst the Covid-19 Outbreak”, PHIs are assigned to supervise all election booths prior to and on election day.