27 October, 2020

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Impunity In The Broader Sri Lankan Sense

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof.  S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Denial of Impunity a Must

Our everyday conversation focuses on impunity for the soldiers who are responsible for massacres. I am absolutely convinced that for proven crimes, punishment is a must. It is a deterrent and gives safety and assurance to victims and others that there will be no recurrence. It makes victims’ families feel they are equal citizens and promotes reconciliation. However, to be sure, that principle that crime requires punishment needs wide application and not just to errant soldiers.

In Sri Lanka – Impunity for all in Authority

If we look around, we will see that offering impunity to our bigwigs is our style of operation and it must change. In the church, at the Deaf and Blind School in Jaffna, when the Principal was caught abusing girls, a few priests are said to have hired a van and gone to Colombo to plead with the Bishop to spare the man. Thankfully, the police moved and he ended up in Jail. In Batticaloa, a senior priest used funds for refugees and orphans to build his empire and take a different orphan girl to Colombo on each trip to Colombo. Even after the police took him into custody, the elders of the church including many so-called progressives wanted him as the next bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. It only mattered that he had status. Thankfully, there is God above the princes and royal families of the church.

At the University of Jaffna, a senior lecturer in music and Department Head was harassing girls. He was protected by the VC for well over 4 years despite numerous complaints and a preliminary report by the Council wanting formal charges framed. The VC finally moved to charge him only when students tended to violence. And yet, at last week’s Saraswati Pooja festivities at a dance and music school on Navalar Road, this interdicted man was the Chief Guest. Status is all that counts. Your status guarantees immunity from prosecution.

Brazen Impunity at Peradeniya

As I have written before, in 2003 the Peradeniya VC-ship was vacant and three names from the applicant pool had to be sent to the President. By the closing date, only three applications were there – the incumbent VC Prof. K.G.A. Goonasekere, a Prof. P. Gopalakrishnakone (a Tamil settled abroad, with a D.Sc. and Ph.D.), and a cabinet secretary with strong administrative experience and perhaps the pull to get the president to appoint him. With only three candidates, all three had to be forwarded to the President. This was a problem. Gopalakrishnakone with his D.Sc. was more impressive with over one hundred international journal articles to the VC’s nil.

The Council then got two members, the Deans of Medicine and of Dental Science, to apply after applications had closed. They forwarded the names of Goonasekere, and the two Deans playing the dummy. The meeting where this was done was chaired by the Deputy VC who was the VC’s pick for DVC.

At this stage, as a matter of public good, I complained to the Ombudsman, Justice R. B. Ranaraja. In the meantime, the President reappointed Goonasekere as VC.

Immediately after this, the DVC who had arranged the successful nomination of his VC, was on the recommendation of the reappointed VC unanimously reappointed as DVC for a further 3 years (Council minute 318.12.1). However, a new problem was that the Universities Act requires the UGC’s prior approval for the DVC’s appointment, which had not been sought. Worse, the applicable ordinance required Peradeniya’s submitting 2 names to the UGC for its consideration prior to the appointment. Simply put, the DVC scratched the VC’s back, and the VC in turn scratched the DVC’s.

Justice Ranaraja, saying he did not have the power to revoke the President’s appointment, declared in his judgement dated 24 November 2003 that University of Peradeniya’s Council failed in its duty in the process of selecting three names to be forwarded to the President for appointment as VC and that the UGC should not have accepted the Council’s recommendations. He recommended that the UGC consider the weaknesses in the selection process of the VC and exercise the power granted to it to ensure an open and fair process by which the best possible candidate is appointed VC.

The UGC responded by issuing a new Circular, Circular 839, laying down a strict process for the selection of VCs that avoided all the illegalities identified by the Ombudsman. The UGC also pointed out to the Council the improprieties in the appointment of the DVC and suggested ways of rectifying the illegalities so as to not jeopardize decisions taken by him after his improper assumption of office.

Circular 839 was sent to the Ombudsman to show compliance. But when it went into effect, the first advertisement under it was by the Open University and it successfully attracted 15 applications whereas regularly just a few would apply because we all assume that only internal candidates would be considered like at Peradeniya. The CVCD (Committee of Vice Chancellors and Directors) panicked, I presume because they would find it difficult to engineer their reappointments. Under CVCD pressure, the UGC withdrew Circular 839 but the Ombudsman was never notified. I believe he still thinks it is in force.

There was no punishment for or even a nominal reprimand of anyone. The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) under Elmore Perera filed several actions challenging illegal university decisions. One notable case, CA 1419/2004, followed the Ombudsman’s ruling, when Peradeniya filed charge after charge against me and refused to confirm or promote me to Senior Professor. I was the bad guy for exposing the crimes they committed.

Inquiring Officer Harendra Dunuwilla (previously Mayor of Kandy) threw out the charges and even congratulated me in his report on the charge of my teaching human rights to engineers. My promotion and confirmation were ordered by the Court of Appeal and the University fined Rs. 50,000 under the hand of the present Chief Justice K. Sripavan and Justice Eric Basnayake. Even after that, the VC had an arrogant sense of supreme impunity. The university did not comply with the orders. It was when we filed for contempt, that the Registrar was sent to me in Colombo with the letters of promotion and confirmation and a cheque for Rs. 50,000 in public money.

What happened to the VC who did all this brazenly? When his term ended, he was made VC of the University of Vocational Technology and put on the UPFA National List for Aug. 2015!

Much of this happened under a seemingly flawless Chandrika-appointed Council. It points to a deep flaw in our society when seemingly upstanding men and women can behave like this. In Jaffna, the VC and Deans from the old regime still run the show. As late as April 2015 the VC refused permission to academics for a discussion of the book Palmyra Fallen on these “University of the Premises.” It exposed both the arrogance and quality of Rajapakse VCs and the continued absence of good governance. Almost every month the Council approves professorial selections without marks, or by upping the failing marks given by experts to a pass without authority. They enjoy immunity because no one so far has been punished for fraud through appointing the unqualified to earn nearly Rs. 200,000 a month. Every Council meeting is a new nail in the coffin of our university system as the unqualified take permanent positions. So long as impunity prevails, good governance will evade us.

Impunity Everywhere

When priests, VCs, UGCs and the greatest in society are rewarded with impunity and honors after their most dastardly behavior, why go only after the soldiers? As for those who plead for the soldiers who murdered, are they not simply following our national tradition?

It is time to stop impunity wherever it reigns supreme among us – which is everywhere!

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Latest comments

  • 7
    2

    “It is time to stop impunity wherever it reigns supreme among us – which is everywhere!”

    What a statement! What a piece!

    Ratnajeevan Hoole for President!

    Will he run? As a fresh outsider to morally corrupt staus-quo? A common candidate of the people? He has my vote already.

    Cheers!

    • 8
      2

      Hoole for president? From a country that prevented Kadirgamar from becoming PM?
      A job that Premadasa described as being a “peon”?

      • 6
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        RobetR,

        Yes. Unfortunately Kadir was stopped.

        By personal ambitions of treacherous Mahinda Raja. Not by the country.

        It is not all gloom and doom in SL. There is hope.

        Cheers!

        • 4
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          Let us not lay all the blame on one man’s door for all the nation’s failures. There is plenty to go around.
          The buddhist clergy had some say in it too I believe. Has that changed ? I think not.

          • 5
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            Robert.R,

            Get real buddy. This is real world. Not Utopia. Racism and intolerance is a part of life. All we can do is to minimize it. True for Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims & Burghers.

            Buddhist clergy is pretty diverse. With wide ranging opinions. Just like any other religious group.

            What is your point exactly? The whole community has to be cleansed of any racism before we have a Tamil PM or President. Do you know any such society on the planet?

            No wonder Sri Lanka is where it is, with Queens of Whining like yourself, in ample supply.

            BTW, over 20 reception centers for Syrian refugees have been arson attacked by racists in Sweden, so far. What a welcome by so called highly civilized Scandinavia.

            So don’t be so pessimistic about SL, my friend. Always look at the bright side of life. We shall overcome.

            Cheers!

            • 7
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              A small but crucial difference between Sweden and SL. In Sweden the arsonists would most probably captured, tried and if convicted sent to prison.

              Remember BBS? Still free as I recall.

              I also suggest looking up ” Dumbula mosque attack” on youtube. The chief priest of Dumbulla temple is showing some exemplary behavior. Any chance he would be arrested for destroying a mosque?

              Any chance the monk who started the 83 pogrom in Borrella will be arrested any time soon? Its been 32 years and counting.

              We shall overcome? Like we have been since 1948? Get real. A failed state such as ours will never overcome.

              • 1
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                Robert.R,

                If you have so given up on SL, overcome by moving to Sweden.

                Pray your home will be safe from young Swedish arson attackers.

                Good luck!

        • 2
          1

          Ben Hurling

          “There is hope.”

          Keep hope alive.

      • 5
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        Yes, let’s raise the cry:

        “Hoole for President!”

        This has been a powerful article from a man whom I’ve never met. Just before deciding to comment, I’ve called Shelton Ranaraja’s ever cheerful sister, Sunethra, but didn’t go in to this question of whether “Justice Ranaraja” is another brother. Suffice to know that Minister Shelton Ranaraja was the one UNP member of parliament who didn’t vote to throw Appapilai Amirthalingam out of parliament in 1983, thus paving the way for Prabhakaran and Jayawardena to start the “Eelam Wars”, which some Sri Lankans are proud of because it made Lipton’s Tea Garden known to the world to be a country of fierce nationalists.

        But the question is: which Hoole? Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, who has written this wonderful article, or elder brother, Dr Michael Richard Ratnarajan Hoole, who never became a Professor because he was in hiding (in Sri Lanka) for 15 years, and thus lost seniority?

        I know “Michael” pretty well, having been his classmate for four years, in boarding schools that were relatively small those days, so that students knew one another very well. He has posted an equally compelling article just after Jeevan. Well, he’s a bit older than our current President, the father of pretty Chathurika Sirisena, “in whom I am well content” – I mean in the father!

        So, it may be that it has to be Jeevan Hoole for President! He will have the votes of at least some “Sinhala Fellows” like me!

  • 3
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    Prof:Hoole.

    I remember the days when we as students in A/L classes read about a Committee that was appointed by the Govt:of the day to probe into the affairs of Peradeniya when Sir.Nicholas Attygalle was VC.The probe team comprised members of the Elite Ceylon Civil Service[Retd:though].Sir Nicholas,ofcourse referred to them as Three Blind Mice! Anyway,he appeared before this committee.He was asked why he appointed W.S.Karunaratne as Prof:Buddhist Philosophy outside the normal procedure.Pat came the reply from Sir.Nicholas……
    Well,I appointed him because I liked him!
    Impunity has been there right along in our University system.

  • 4
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    Dr Hoole,

    “Your status guarantees immunity from prosecution.”

    To some extent it does but we have lately seen some of the VVIPs charged. A charge of course does not mean that the accused is guilty or ever will be convicted.

    In the cases you take up the victims themselves apparently did not make police complaints.

    Talking about church in Jaffna we should not forget the “unusual” election of the current CSI bishop and all the rumours about what is going on in CSI and the different schools it owns. What I hear is that the schools and CSI are collapsing. There have been external audits financed by the foreign trustees thatr still send money but the results have never been published and the same management continues. Very sad.

    Why don’t you write about CSI and the institutions it controls?

    • 3
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      Dirty Hari,

      “There have been external audits financed by the foreign trustees thatr still send money but the results have never been published and the same management continues.”

      When the principal of Jaffna College retired recently the Trustees for Jaffna College in the USA sent about a dozen auditors from Colombo to Jaffna to conduct an audit of accounts and administration. This took about a week and involved interviews with the staff and going thru book keeping.

      The resulting audit report has never been published but there have been “leaks” of money having been paid out without receipts, work done for excessive amounts of money or not done at all.

      The principal and his wife retired. The rest continues as before.

      • 3
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        Old Boy,

        “The principal and his wife retired.”

        After retirement the former principal and his wife bought a house and brand new car. Many have asked where the money came from.

  • 6
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    some more example of impunity practiced by Sri Lankans:

    -Ranil W. defending Arjun Mahendran and keeping him employed despite serious allegations of wrong doing

    -Rosy S.’s daughter getting placed in diplomatic postings, despite civil service qualifications

    -parents who pay bribes to principals to get their kids into specific schools

    -rich people who cause injury and death to poor ones in road accidents getting way scot free

    -upper middle class and rich people, abusing their servants, while preaching human rights to others

    need I go on?

  • 0
    1

    This particular VC who manipulated the system to become the VC a second time was rejected in his first application for a professor post. Then he started his own journal called journal of agricultural engineering and published a lot of trash in his own journal and because of this he was successful in his second attempt.

  • 0
    0

    academic,

    If you check Dr Hool’s google scholar profile, he got 1000+ citations from his research publications and about 30 of those papers got more than 10 citations. I don’t see any of those papers were published by his journal that you were referring to.

    https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=zK59uroAAAAJ

    Citations 1081
    h-index 15
    i10-index 28

    In my opinion, it’s an impressive achievement for a Srilankan born scholar. Don’t you agree? You seem to have some personal issues with him.

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