'False' GDP data row: Sri Lanka to sack officer for leaking confidential info

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's main statistics office on Wednesday said a senior official who denounced alleged government pressure to inflate economic growth data would be sacked after he was found guilty of leaking confidential information.

Accounts director H.S. Wanasinghe faced two separate disciplinary hearings after he complained to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and an opposition lawmaker that the government was manipulating data.

"We have recommended to the PSC (Public Service Commission) to sack him and it will be done soon," census and statistics chief D.C.A. Gunawardena told reporters in Colombo.

Mr Wanasinghe alleged that he was ordered to increase GDP growth rate for the first quarter of 2013 to 6 per cent when his calculations showed it was only 5.4 per cent.

Sri Lanka's main opposition last month read out a statement by Wanasinghe narrating how he was under instructions to change national accounts to suit the government, an allegation that the authorities deny.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) said the senior officer should be treated as a "whistleblower" and be protected instead of being sacked.

"What we see is a systematic approach of a cover up rather than an investigation into what he has revealed," TI Sri Lanka chairman J. C. Weliamuna told AFP. "Sacking a senior officer for raising this issue is completely unacceptable."

Statistics chief Gunawardena denied that he was under pressure to change economic data to suit the government which relies heavily on foreign borrowings.

"It is a funny joke," he said of the allegations. "People can talk about any rubbish, but the department of Census and Statistics has no political agenda."

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also the finance minister, told parliament in November that he expected the economy to grow 7.5 to 8 per cent in calendar year 2014, up from a provisional 7.2 per cent in 2013 and 6.4 per cent in 2012.

The economy recorded 8 per cent-plus growth for two straight years after the end of Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war which saw troops crush separatist Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said in August last year after a visit to Sri Lanka that the country under Mr Rajapakse "is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction."

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