I am compelled to write this in response to an article penned by Groundviews editor Sanjana Hattotuwa. His article is titled “Response to article in Colombo Telegraph”.
Colombo Telegraph recently reported that Hattotuwa was removed from the CPA’s senior staff after verbally abusing a female co-worker. We also reported that Hattotuwa had asked the Coordinator of CPA’s Media Unit to put down expenses incurred at the Gallery Cafe of Paradise Road Galleries as ‘travel expenses’. Documents in our possession show that Hattotuwa spent Rs 20,865 on food and alcohol for a night out with friends using foreign tax payers’ money.
Instead of answering the allegations Hattotuwa alleges that I kept the said bills for ten years and asked why they appear only now in the public domain.
This is completely untrue. The truth is that I first saw part of that evidence only towards the end of 2011.
He says, “I find it curious that the article refers to the Media Unit coordinator, who isn’t named, as a male. The last time CPA’s Media Unit had a male coordinator was before 2004. Since 2004, the institution has had two female coordinators – one from 2004 to 2012, and the other from 2012 to date.”
If that is the case, the truth is that CPA’s Media Unit had a male coordinator until October 2007.
Hattotuwa says, ‘In 2009, a series of email exchanges with the then coordinator of the Media Unit, CPA’s Executive Director and the Editor of Colombo Telegraph, an erstwhile employee of CPA, also clearly alluded to allegations along the same lines as that which is now in public.’
The above is partly true. Yes in 2009, I wrote to then coordinator of the Media Unit, CPA’s Executive Director regarding this allegation as well as their double billing expenses scandals. i.e getting grants from two donors to do the same task and duplicating receipts/ hotel bills and other bills to submit to donors. Hattotuwa was involved in that exchange although he has not mentioned the fact. He is correct in that when I wrote to the trio I was a still a CPA employee – a researcher and the co-editor of the Media Monitor magazine. There was no website called Colombo Telegraph. I had no proof in my possession at the time. I wrote because I was concerned about what I’d heard at that time.
The reference to the 2009 exchange is very important. It raises the question why Hattotuwa did not refer to it in his initial response to Colombo Telegraph. He claimed total ignorance and suggested that the issue be taken up with Saravanamuttu, the Executive Director of CPA.
Also, by referring to the exchange Hattotuwa clearly contradicts Saravanamuttu’s claim that he (Saravanamuttu) had no knowledge whatsoever about this matter.
We specifically asked Saravanamuttu whether he was aware of any transgression perpetrated by Hattotuwa and whether, in his opinion, it is standard practice in the CPA or in other NGOs he works with or whose activities he is acquainted with to obtain project monies to cover expenses incurred in activities not related to the relevant projects. He said, ‘The answer to both your questions is no’.
Hattotuwa’s article shows that Saravanamuttu is lying because the latter knew about this at least as far back as 2009.
The truth is that both Hattotuwa and Saravanamuttu were well aware that questions were raised about Hattotuwa’s spending habits.
Here are other facts which Colombo Telegraph invites Hattotuwa to comment on.
I only managed to get a part of that bill on September 07, 2011. I forwarded it to CPA’s Executive Director Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu but he never responded. I only managed to speak to the then Unit Coordinator in February 2014 to get confirmation, but we couldn’t find the full documents. We only managed to get them two weeks ago.
As the Colombo Telegraph team is very well aware, we managed to get the second part of the Hattotuwa’s Gallery Café bill only yesterday. After we received it, naturally we had to change the amount and the text of the draft article. We also had to contact various people regarding this issue.
While living in exile investigating this kind of stories is a very difficult and costly exercise. Hattotuwa’s allegation that I held on to bills for ten years is a falsehood and is misleading.
It might be useful to state the context in which I raised such issues at that time. I was then a Director of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) and the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL), a Council Member and and Executive Committee Member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), and Co-Convener of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (Saravanamuttu was the other Co-Convener). I had just resigned from the Free Media Movement as its Convener. This was just after Sunanda Deshapriya was sacked from the CPA after being found guilty of financial malpractice.
Interestingly in one of the emails written in 2009 on this matter I specifically wrote that it was not only Sunanda who has been engaging in such practices. I indicated that there was more to come. Perhaps it is because Hattotuwa has remembered all this after initially claiming ignorance that in his article he says he expects attacks to continue.
Let us assure Hattotuwa that the issue at hand is financial malpractice in organizations that advocate transparency and accountancy that we are concerned about. Naturally, individuals advocating the same within those organizations as well as in public forums, open themselves to questions if they transgress. We have provided Hattotuwa enough opportunity to clear his name on both the issues (verbal abuse of a female co-worker and claims for personal expenses that had nothing to do with work).
It is strange that he is now questioning the quality of discourse featured on Colombo Telegraph! Hattotuwa could clear the matter up once and for all if answered the following questions instead of beating around the bush.
Did you or did you not “verbally abuse” a female coworker at the CPA?
Did the CPA remove you from its senior staff?Can you tell us what words you used to abuse her?
Did or did not Dr Saravanamuttu move to stop you from being sacked from the CPA?
Have you on any occasion attempted to secure or secured money from the CPA in order to defray costs incurred personally, i.e. to pay for goods and/or services unrelated to projects?
Have you prevailed upon any CPA official to mark expenses under project line items that are not relevant to what was purchased?
In your opinion, is it standard practice in the CPA or in other NGOs you are working with or whose activities you are acquainted with to obtain project monies to cover expenses incurred in activities not related to the relevant projects?
We would appreciate a comprehensive response at Hattotuwa’s earliest convenience, in line with the principles of accountability and transparency which he frequently champions.