“I am confident that no one in the civil society in Sri Lanka approves restrictions on media freedom by State Sector or Private sector. I am also equally confident that without exception, the civil society condemns the blocking of the websites (including Colombo Telegraph) by the Government, directly and/or indirectly by giving unconstitutional directives to the regulator (TRC) and the service providers. Blocking of websites is among the series of challenges we face today, under an authoritarian setup.” JC Weliamuna, one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent Human Rights lawyers and activists, the former Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka told Colombo Telegraph.
As a member of the Civil Society group Friday Forum, he made above remarks when asked his opinion on Jayantha Dhanapala’s roles as a director of Dialog Axiata PLC and as a member of the Civil Society group Friday Forum. Dialog continues to block access in Sri Lanka to news websites critical of the government including the Colombo Telegraph. [Colombo Telegraph is being blocked by all internet service providers and mobile networks – private and state owned – in Sri Lanka.]
The Friday Forum, representing a group of distinguished Sri Lankans, publishes statements about democracy and good governance, and frequently, and in our view rightly, criticises the erosion of democratic rights including the freedoms of expression and information in Sri Lanka. The Friday Forum’s public statements that are often issued under the signature of Dhanapala.
“Re the specific issue of conflict of interest raised by Colombo Telegraph relating to Jayantha Dhanapala, I am sure that, in the course of his dealings with Dialog and its stakeholders, Dhanapala would follow the corporate best practices and principles of corporate good governance. Further, as required under the Company law and Codes of Conduct, I have no doubt that Dr. Dhanapala, being a person with high integrity, will address the instant issue within the framework of corporate governance and avoid any potential conflict of interest.” Weliamuna said.
“Every individual has a right to raise matters of conflict of interest and such matters are generally raised in the public interest (as opposed to private interests). Conflicts can arise in any sphere including private companies and even media organisations and therefore I believe that Colombo Telegraph, like any citizen, has every right to raise it in the public interest.” he further said.
The Dialog Axiata PLC’s 2013 annual report is clear that: “The Board has separate and independent access to the Group’s Senior Management… ..The directors, especially non-executive directors, have access to independent professional advice in the course of fulfilling their responsibilities, at the Company’s expense.”
Dhanapala is an “Independent, non-executive” director of Dialog, and would in accordance with company policy, have “independent access to the group’s senior management,” and also “professional advice,” on the legal status of the blocking.
When contacted for comment on the ‘aims and objectives’ of the Friday Forum, a prominent member replied that it was committed to supporting the “rule of law,” “freedom of information and expression,” and “an independent media.”
While Colombo Telegraph has no direct information of the quantum of compensation Dialog pays Jayantha Dhanapala, the 2013 annual report of lists an amount in excess of 76 million Rupees, as directors compensation for the entire board of 8 members, who meet 7 times a year.
History of Colombo Telegraph blocking
First -December 26, 2011 – We are blocked but we will not be stopped
Second – May 8, 2012 – Colombo Telegraph Blocked Again
Fourth – August 23, 2013 – Colombo Telegraph Blocked, How To Reach Us Now: Sri Lanka Telecom And Mobitel Joins The DPI Club!