The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon individuals with severely compromised integrity to be on a panel tasked to discuss the proposed Right to Information Act.
One of the panelists invited, all powerful and patently unaccountable Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, is a man under a heavy cloud for stubbornly refusing to part with relevant documents pertaining to irregular financial transactions, all of which were highlighted in Colombo Telegraph. Saravanamuttu’s behaving in this regard has been highly suspicious and marked with strange delays, promises to reveal, long silences etc.
The President of the Bar Association, an ardent critic of the previous regime duly rewarded with a high post immediately following Maithripala Sirisena’s electoral victory, himself is severely compromised, according to Colombo based human rights activists.
When questioned about Jayantha Dhanapala‘s lack of integrity in continuing to sit on the board of Dialog even as that company was complicit in the then Government’s moves to block Colombo Telegraph, Jayasuriya had pointed out that he, Dhanapala had resigned.
Inviting to be a panelist of the today’s Public Forum on Right to Information organised by the BASL, its Research Manager wrote to Colombo Telegraph editor Uvindu Kurukulasuriya; “Professor Camena Gunerathna, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Dr. Mario Gomez have confirmed their participation in the panel.”
The invitation said:
“The audience will include Judges, Academics, Media Personnel, Members of the Bar and we intend to invite the embassies, Chamber of Commerce, Members of the OPA and other civil societies who regular participate for BASL Public Forums.
“We take pleasure in inviting you to make a brief 10 minute presentation at this public forum and we will share the agenda and the official invitation soon.
“The event is on Monday 16th March at 3.30pm (SL) time.”
When asked “Do you not agree that when speakers are selected, they must be persons of outstanding integrity? i.e. How can Saravanmuttu be there, since he himself is covering up reports we request? How can he talk about RTI?”
The BASL research manager replied; “The objective of our symposium was to obtain the views of a wide range of stakeholders. Whilst we do respect your views we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
When pointed out that BASL president Upul Jayasuriya’s earlier conversation with Colombo Telegraph neither Upul nor BASL Research Manager has replied to CT communications on the integrity issue and therefore the moral right of the BASL to even broach the subject of the right to information is questionable.
We publish below the relevant part of the conversation we had with Upul Jayasuriya;
Q; Are the Public Forums announced to be held by the BASL part of this initiative?
Q: How many of such forums have already been held and where?
A; We have held two Forums. In Colombo and Kandy.
Q: Who are the resource persons for these meetings? Can you provide a list of such speakers?
A; Dr. Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Jayantha Dhanapala, Dr. Savithri Gunasekera, OPA President Ganesh, Dr. Thamilselvam Selvam, Dr. Deepika Udugama, Mr. KD Janaranjana, Saman Ratnapriya, Najith of inter university Federation, Mr. Chandra Jayaratna
Q; Is it not true that Mr Jayantha Dhanapala was a resource person at one such meeting of the BASL held under this programme recently?
A; That’s correct.
Q: Do you not agree that when speakers are selected, they must be persons of outstanding integrity
A; Of course.
Q: Are you aware that Mr Dhanapala recently stepped down from the Board of Dialog in an implicit acknowledgement that it was wrong for him to serve on the Board of a company blocking internet sites in Sri Lanka while simultaneously being a member of groups such as the Friday Forum which issues public statements on protection of human rights?
A: We have implicit trust and regard for Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala. As a member of board of Directors what he discusses at the board of directors is confidential. There could be disagreement among the board members. Even if when one opposes or disagrees on any issue that may come up at a meeting of the board of directors, he cannot and shall not divulge the same to a third party. If the Company persists in continuing with any stand that does not agree with a certain member, the only alternative that is left to such Director is to tender resignation.
Q: Are you aware that Mr Dhanapala stepped down not of his own choosing but after a sustained campaign by Colombo Telegraph on the unethical position that he was taking in this regard?
A: If he had stepped down as a result of the “sustain Campaign” by Colombo Telegraph it only goes to prove that he had bowed to the public opinion in keeping with his conscious, for which he has to be respected.
“I think Upul’s answer to that last question (Jayantha Dhanapala) is utterly dishonest. Dhanapala should have stepped down of his own accord, not because CT pressed the issue. Upul’s post-election acceptance of the BOI chairmanship anyway shows the extent of the problem.” Colombo based HR activist told CT.
The reference is to an interview with Jayasuriya on an ongoing CT’s investigation about how the BASL is using USAID money as well as other BASL activities.