There are several untruths in newspapers and websites about my daughter. Mawbina and Ceylon Today (20 and 21 May, 2020) lead the pack attacking my daughter and me. Journalistic ethics was abandoned in not seeking evidence or asking me before going to print. Ceylon Today and other newspapers too were so careless that they did not even get my daughter’s beautiful Tamil name right.
Elections are due. There is cheating usually. But when the Election Commission (EC) points out errors, politicians usually withdraw whatever it is that is illegal they are doing. Then they do it again. We write again. Etcetera. There is never any punishment. The exercise is a joke, a pretence at self-congratulating ourselves on our democracy.
For the first time, however, there have been attacks on those running the elections. It is as if to tell the Commission, “If you crack down on us, we will attack you, remove you from the Commission, slap defamation suits on you, etc. Prof. G.L. Peiris, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera and Angajan Ramanathan have taken the lead in threatening the Commission for doing its work.
The two offending articles of 20 and 21 May 2020 in Ceylon Today were written outside the organization and given to the editor Mr. Jayanth Sri Nisanka. His role is not particularly innovative and involves reprinting articles from Mawbina a newspaper committed to one side in the upcoming elections. I understand reliably that the article was given to him by those he cannot disobey, and he was told to print it. So when senior writer Ananth Palakidner interviewed me about the defamatory passages and wrote my responses, it was rejected. The article I questioned is sacrosanct. So I telephoned Sri Nisanka and asked him if I had no right of reply. He argued that Palakidner is just a journalist there. I then said I could write. He then told me to write and imposed restrictions. I hope my reply will appear.
The same stubbornness is seen in The Island of 19 May. It claimed very untruthfully that “EC staff protested against their [my daughter’s and my] presence; they claimed Hoole’s daughter had not undergone quarantine after returning from the UK [My emphasis]. Sources said that she had been allowed to undergo self quarantine at her Jaffna residence.” When I protested, on 21 May, the Editor, Prabath Sahabandu, obfuscated saying “Prof. Hoole is obfuscating the main issue. He does not deny our report. He admits that his daughter underwent quarantine only for two weeks.” On the contrary, his report said my daughter had not undergone quarantine. I venture that he knew that most readers will not bother to go back to the original to check. Journalism seems to have intellectually castrated the once honest editor who seems so keen to carry out the agenda of a particular political party orchestrating this campaign against me to curtail the freedom of the EC to conduct a free and fair election.
Enter Elilini into the Imbroglio
Elilini Hoole is my loving second daughter. Elilini means “She who has beauty.” Our children take pride in saying, say in Elilini’s case, I am Appah’s favorite second daughter, aren’t I?” and I agree.
Elilini is reading for her doctoral degree at Jesus College, Cambridge. She was stuck there with no classes but huge living expenses eating into her savings for studies. Then our High Commission wrote to all Sri Lankan students registered with them, asking if she would like a seat on one of two special flights they were arranging. She signed up. My only role was in paying the Rs. 225,000 airfare. She was quoted Rs. 7500 a night as hotel rate during quarantine. She agreed. One negative was that she who had had no COVID and had been in isolation at Cambridge was now packed in violation of the 1 m distancing rule and possibly exposed because every seat on the flight was occupied.
She landed on 4 May. On landing she had to stand in line close to others for 6 hours and undergo fumigation. She commented to friends on Instagram that she had been sandwiched like sardines and fumigated. The intellectual level of comments is such that the commenters thought she was complaining against the airline not serving her smoked salmon. Someone said they had google-translated fumigation and salmon.
The EC Chairman was in an imbroglio over allegedly asking government help to get his son down and talking to the President about election matters. Apparently after speaking to Uvindu Kurukulasuriya, he had forgotten to switch off his phone and as a result some subsequent conversations were recorded. So some thought I was in the same boat and reporters called me. I think they gave up on finding I had done nothing wrong.
Elilini was then taken to the hotel. The nightly rate was Rs. 12,500 a night. The surcharge was because the quoted rate of Rs. 7500 was for those sharing a room with another. Anyway, she was happy with that rate at Jetwing with its good food delivered to her door. She paid Rs. 175,000 for her 14 days.
Two-weeks later (18 May) she was released after a negative COVID-test and paying a hotel bill for Rs. 175,000.
Elilini was never told to self-quarantine. On the contrary, the certificate signed by Lieut. Gen. de Silva and Dr. Anil Jasinghe said “she underwent the necessary quarantine process.”
Anil Jasinghe’s Lack of Professionalism
As Elilini had been fully cleared by Dr. Jasinghe, from the hotel I took her to office where I had work. In Ceylon Today of 21 May, Dr. Jasinghe accuses me of lack of ethics for having gone to office with my daughter.
A note from Dr. Jasinghe on Health Ministry websites states that,
“If the Quarantine Centre is issuing a certificate when releasing from the centre, [the certificate] should mention that the person is subjected [sic.] to mandatory home quarantine for another 14 days under the supervision of Medical Officer of Health.”
Dr. Jasinghe and Liet. General de Silva have signed Elilini’s certificate against Jasinghe’s own rule with no mention of self-quarantining. They had also forgotten to complete the certificate with dates, making it worthless. Ten years from now with another COVID-19 outbreak (God forbid!) she can use the certificate to say she has been cleared.
Moreover, even though Jasinghe now says a second quarantine is necessary, another part of the Health Ministry website says contradictory things about “Who should be home-quarantined/self-quarantined.” It states that
1. “A person who have [sic..] returned to Sri Lanka from overseas with in [sic.] the last 14 days” must self-quarantine.
2. A person who had maintained close contact with a suspected or diagnosed case of COVID-19 with in [sic.] last 14 days.
Elilini had returned more than 14 days earlier. She had not been in close contact with a suspected or diagnosed case of COVID-19.
She needed no self-quarantine according to Jasinghe’s website. Period. She had finished her quarantine according to the certificate he signed. Period.
Lack of professionalism is an ethics violation. So also is using ungrammatical language that people cannot understand. Untruthful claims that she had been instructed to self-quarantine when released also shows a lack of professional ethics. When Jasinghe himself signed an undated certificate that did not say anything about self-quarantining as he required, how is he so sure that his staff at Jetwing Blue followed his instructions on telling those released from quarantine that they should self-quarantine?
Medical opinion from those like Jasinghe will be key in deciding when to hold elections. However, consider that on 18 April 2020, Defence-Secretary Kamal Gunaratne stated firmly that until COVID is curbed, curfew cannot be lifted. He ruled out an early lifting of curfew. Additionally, Chairman Deshapriya had written to P.B. Jayasundera saying that for elections to be held in time for the new Parliament to meet on 2 June, election-preparations had to begin on 20 April. This is the same Dr. Jasinghe, who on 20 April, lifted curfew saying everything was fine even as COVID kept growing, apparently, as hinted by Deputy Inspector General of Police and attorney-at-law Ajith Rohana, our new heroes in Sri Lanka, the men of the armed forces (the navy in particular), are contracting COVID-19 in a big way. Sex workers and clients are at risk he says. Does this have a connexion to soldiers tending to visit prostitutes? Can we rely on the professional advice of those whose voice is their master’s voice in taking crucial election decisions?
I put in a memo to the EC on my concerns. The EC is mindful of seeking a wider opinion of medical expertise and decided at the meeting on 11 May as I recall to seek opinion from a wider range of medical expertise including the WHO on the conditions under which elections can be conducted.
I had Election Commission work in Colombo so I used our Jaffna-Office car (not the Jaffna Assistant-Commissioner’s car as Ceylon Today and many websites reported). I get a travel allowance but cannot use public transport as I usually do as there is none and there is COVID. Nor can I use my private-vehicle during curfew. The Constitutional Council recommended special transport for me; the EC by resolution asked me to use the Jaffna or Kilinochchi car. Ceylon Today calling this corruption is defamatory.
Elilini’s certificate completely cleared her: “She underwent the necessary quarantine process.” Hence when going to work, I took Elilini with me. It triggered unnecessary, horrible panic – a sad state for a Commission that needs balanced, rational thinking. The Chairman knew that Elilini had been in quarantine. I had told him of the Rs. 175,000 we had to pocket out for the hotel. When it was alleged by staff that she had come skipping quarantine, he could have corrected that. Surely spraying the whole office needed high-level permission. He now says no one asked me to leave office. True, but what does it mean when everyone upon seeing me runs away? What does it mean when Rizan Manzil, the Chairman’s Coordinator, conveyed to me from the Chairman that we, including our driver, had to go into quarantine? Effectively we were told not to come back. I did go back long enough to pick up my computer and leave a copy of de Silva’s and Jasinghe’s certificate for the Chairman.
I was told that the meeting of 20 May was being cancelled. I went straight to Jaffna, stopped multiple times en-route by soldiers with our number plate and instructions to check us. That information must have come from the Commission. Chairman Deshapriya later informed me it was a misunderstanding, but it was too late for us to return to Colombo.
The morning after arriving in Jaffna, many police-officers, the MOH, and PHI came home. The police party included Jaffna’s HQI Fernando. He must have been involved on orders from Colombo – unless he visits the home of every Tom, Dick and Harry who comes from Colombo. According to the MOH, quarantine is under his purview, yet the police insisted we home-quarantine. Apparently if we had stayed in Colombo home-quarantine would have been unnecessary, but a Jaffna rule on district-crossing kicked in and Elilini is in self-quarantine. But not me. Inconsistencies galore!
Strangely, the police took my driver away from my home to the police station and asked him over three-hours where and where I had gone in Colombo. The DIG was blasted by the Chairman asking if they wanted to interfere with the Commission. On the Chairman’s demand the driver was taken in a car to his home in Changaanai.
Where is the ethics that Jasinghe talks about? Where is ethics when an editor is ordered and he complied with the order to print libel? Where was ethics when the editor of Ceylon Today imposed restrictions on my article to counter his two slanderous pieces sent to him from the top? Where is ethics when the Editor of the Island twists what was written to cover-up his reporting of false gossip? Where was ethics when the media prints sensationalist, fake news spurring racist backlash against government officials as seen in the comment pages of websites? Where was ethics when Dr. Jasinghe signed Elilini’s quarantine-clearance certificate and then said that Elilini, who has followed Ministry-procedure, was unethical? Indeed where is ethics where party considerations affect professional opinions?
The Election Commission at its meeting of 20 May took sad note of the defamation of a Commission Member and resolved to explain the correct situation to the media and public. The Chairman was asked to draft the note and send it out. Unfortunately it has gone only to Divaina. It has not reached the wider public, particularly those who read in English or Tamil. I obtained a copy and give it below, even though I cannot read it.