Harassment imbroglio at CMC | Sunday Observer

Harassment imbroglio at CMC

A council member at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) has leveled harassment allegations, (including those of a sexual nature) against female staffers at the local authority, in writing, while the ruling party claims the complaint is making a partisan attempt to bring the ruling UNP administration into disrepute.

The issue has brought the harassment of women in the workplace into sharp focus, despite the counter-allegations. Municipal Councilor Sharmila Gonawela, a member of the new party- Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, lodged the complaint with Colombo Mayor Rosy Senanayake on September 27. The complaint has also been lodged with the Police Women and Children’s Bureau.

According to the complaint the female staffers had allegedly been subject to ‘death threats’, verbal obscenities and improper suggestions that they report for work before the scheduled time.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Western Province Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara said he had appointed a committee to monitor a basic investigation on probable threats and harassment of female staff members at the CMC by senior officers. ‘We have appointed a committee to conduct the investigation on these allegations,’ he said.

The three member committee consists of Maxwell Paranagama (Chairman), Attorney-at-Law Shyamini Madhurasinghe and Attorney-at-Law Bhagya Manori. They will start investigations next week, the Governor said.

According to Gonawela, after Senanayake became the mayor of Colombo, she had formed a special sub committee on Women and Children. ‘I spoke to some of the victims personally. But they didn’t have faith in any possible change of situation. They are afraid of further pressure and transfers. I informed the Governor in order to do justice to these people. I also submitted copies of the complaints by women staff members’ Gonawela said. CMC female workers who have been subject to this alleged harassment had already complained to their heads of department, the Municipal Commissioner and also the police, Gonawela noted.

The SLPP Council Member claims the Municipal Commissioner was already trying to paint the story as fake. ‘If it is fake, there can be no records of these incidents at the Police Women and Children’s Bureau’, she charged.

Commenting on the allegations, V.K.A. Anura, the Municipal Commissioner of CMC said that complainants should follow the law and go to the police.

‘I have never received this kind of complaint and I don’t believe them. We see this as a story plotted by a lady councilor who tries to be popular. They should go to the police and follow due legal procedure. There is no point in taking it to the media’.

Dismissing Gonawela’s allegation that he did not conduct an investigation, the Commissioner claimed she had never informed him about the complaints. ‘If she had informed me, I would have asked her to lodge a police complaint,’ he claimed.

Asked if there was a system to conduct internal investigations on harassment complaints within the CMC, the commissioner claimed he was not aware that such a system was necessary. ‘As the chief of this institution, I don’t follow such a procedure, because I don’t have the power to do that. If a lady complains to me about abuse, I would ask her to go to the police,’ he reiterated.

Meanwhile, another letter carrying the signatures of 15 senior officers of the CMC including the municipal commissioner has been sent to Mayor Senanayake. In the letter the officials have claimed damage to the professional reputation of officials at various levels of the CMC, and requested action to be taken to rectify the situation.

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