By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Radhika Coomaraswamy is no ordinary person. The public perception is that she is a person of high integrity and competence in her field of expertise. This leads to the further perception that she is suitable to hold any high office locally or globally in her field of expertise. She has at various times been (i) Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies from 1984 to 2006 (ii) Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka from 2003 to 2006 (iii) Member of the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka from 2015 to 2018 (iv) UN Under Secretary General and Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict from 2006 to 2012 (v) UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women from 1994 to 2003 (vi) Presently a member of the investigation team appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to probe the alleged abuse of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar security forces. It is seen she is much sought after globally and in Sri Lanka to hold high positions of public accountability.
The Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka was purportedly set up to depoliticize key public service appointments such as inter alia the appointment of Supreme Court and Appeal Court judges. Could not one question whether it was appropriate for Radhika Coomaraswamy to be a civil society nominee in a 10 member Constitutional Council made farcical due to 7 members being Members of Parliament?
She has now moved into unchartered territory for her by being appointed as an ‘Independent Non-Executive Director’ of John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH) with effect from 1 October 2018. JKH is arguably the country’s most diversified conglomerate with top tier market capitalization.
This writer in not suggesting or implying any wrongdoing by Radhika Coomaraswamy.
This article is written in good faith in the global and Sri Lanka public interest to seek Radhika Coomaraswamy’s clarification on the damning allegations given below:
“Simply Signed Anything”
Subsequent to the media report of the dismissal of Dr. Rama Mani from the position of Executive Director of International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) for alleged “financial problems”, a “Police entry” for the alleged “removal of documents” was also reported. The need for a “thorough examination of ICES finances over the last five years” was also mentioned.
The appointment of Dr. Rama Mani was due to Radhika Coomaraswamy who was Executive Director of ICES of from 1984 to 2006 having to resign prior to her UN appointment. It was reported that it was Coomaraswamy who “was responsible for introducing Dr. Mani to ICES”.
In regard to the alleged “financial problems”, the media has made the following damning disclosure attributed to Radhika Coomaraswamy which apart from her own interest, in the larger interest of the pivotal international and Sri Lanka positions she holds she must clarify:
“Dr. Coomaraswamy, in accepting responsibility for some losses, has claimed that she simply signed anything put in front of her by the Financial Controller, who she thought was not competent.”
One could perhaps stretch a point (albeit not acceptable) if the Financial Controller was “competent”. Here we have Radhika Coomaraswamy allegedly stating the Financial Controller was “NOT COMPETENT”!
To the best of this writer’s knowledge she has to date not denied this media report.
Should this not be of particular interest to John Keells Holdings PLC (JKH) of which she is now an ‘Independent Non-Executive Director’? JKH claims in its Annual Report 2016/17 :
“The John Keells Group is and has always been, a benchmark of corporate excellence in Sri Lanka” (emphasis mine)
JKH & ‘Panama Papers’
Radhika Coomaraswamy’s brother CBSL Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy was a JKH Board Director for more than 5 years from 7 February 2011 until his resignation on 3 July 2016 subsequent to his appointment as CBSL Governor.
It is now more than two years since the ‘International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ in a worldwide exposé named persons in several countries including Sri Lanka allegedly linked to offshore companies in tax havens. This seems to be of no concern to Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy who has ignored my exhortations to him also in the public domain to address this issue in the interest of the country which has been designated by the European Union as a ‘high risk country for money laundering’ subsequent to the ‘Financial Action Task Force’ (FATF) placing the country on its ‘grey list’ from November 2017 for which Dr. Coomaraswamy who has been CBSL Governor since 3 July 2016 for 16 months prior to this ruling must bear some responsibility.
While not suggesting or implying that the mere listing of names and entities in tax havens is indicative of wrongdoing, it must be appreciated that until the accounts are determined legitimate, they will remain suspect and the persons concerned ‘not fit and proper’ to hold any position of Trust involving the Public. Tardiness on the part of CBSL does injustice to those who have legitimate accounts.
A name included in the ‘Panama Papers’ is an erstwhile colleague of the CBSL Governor on the Director Board of JKH who is also Chairman of a Bank controlled by JKH. This person is expected to be elevated to the position of JKH Chairman next year. There is speculation that ‘conflict of interest’ may have a role in the inaction of CBSL’s Bank Supervision Department.
Will Radhika Coomaraswamy now a JKH Director raise this matter with her brother who is CBSL Governor notwithstanding this same person being primarily responsible for her appointment?
Even crucial issues of governance incidental to the egregious bond scam thrown up by witnesses at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing the issuance of Treasury Bonds by the CBSL which include – possible tax evasion, money laundering and bank malpractice are not even on the radar of the CBSL.
The Coomaraswamys have had a long innings at John Keells Holdings PLC. Her cousin Ms. Anusha Coomaraswamy who was JKH Finance Director resigned from this position reportedly for “personal reasons” in October 2002. Around the same time JKH Deputy Chairman Jagath Fernando too unexpectedly resigned also citing “personal reasons”.
Suntheralingam HRC Report
For this section of the article, the writer acknowledges the investigation carried out by ‘Colombo Telegraph’ subsequent to the handing over of the report on alleged grave human rights violations which include the killing of five students in Trincomalee to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRC) which had commissioned the probe.
The HRC Chairperson at that time was Radhika Coomaraswamy. The report compiled by the Special Rapporteur Suntheralingam led team confirmed involvement of some security forces personnel.
The ‘Colombo Telegraph’ investigation has revealed much controversy after the handing over of the report to the HRC at the time Radhika Coomaraswamy was its Chairperson. The ‘Colombo Telegraph’ investigation has raised serious credibility issues which demands clarification from Radhika Coomaraswamy.
The controversy stems from (i) The Suntheralingam report not being made public by the HRC or the government (ii) Coomaraswamy’s initial claim that the final report was not available prior to her relinquishing her position at HRC (iii) Coomaraswamy’s subsequent claim after the final report was reportedly published in ‘Colombo Telegraph’ that she had indeed received the final report prior to leaving the HRC and had “ordered” that it be published although she “had no time to read it”. This begs the question as to how anyone in authority would want a report published if it has not been read?(iv) The Suntheralingam report is alleged to be a glaring omission in the HRC2006 Annual Report.
The question also arises whether the other HRC commissioners inter alia concurred (i) with the Suntheralingam report not being placed in the public domain? (ii) the report being omitted from the HRC 2006 Annual Report? The other commissioners include incumbent HRC Chairperson , Dr. Deepika Udagama who also has a responsibility to clarify matters in the public interest.
Both Radhika Coomaraswamy and Dr. Deepika Udagama were colleagues in ‘The Friday Forum’ which claims to “uphold norms of democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society”.
Coincidentally Mr. Marzuki Darusman – Chairman of the 3 member probe team of which Radhika Coomaraswamy is a member to investigate the alleged abuse of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar security forces was previously Chairman of the UN panel of experts to probe alleged war crimes committed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.
Since Radhika Coomaraswamy holds key positions impinging on the public interest both in Sri Lanka and globally, should she not without any ambiguity clarify the following:
1) Is it correct that in regard to the alleged “financial problems” at ICES “Dr. Coomaraswamy, in accepting responsibility for some losses, has claimed that she simply signed anything put in front of her by the Financial Controller, who she thought was not competent.”?
To the best of this writer’s knowledge she has to date not denied this.
2) Was the Special Rapporteur Suntheralingam report on alleged grave human rights violations commissioned during the period she served as Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka not included in the HRC2006 Annual Report? If so why?
3) Did she protest if the report was omitted in the HRC 2006 Annual Report? If not why?
4) Did she change her initial position that the report was not finalized at the time she relinquished her position as HRC Chairperson with her subsequent claim it was finalized after it was reportedly published in the public domain by ‘Colombo Telegraph’?
5) Did she issue an “order” for the report to be published although she “had no time to read it”? Is this professional? Was it published by the HRC? If not why?
6) Was the endorsement of the Government of Sri Lanka necessary in some shape or form prior to her appointment by the UN to high profile sensitive political positions within the UN system such as (i) Under Secretary General and Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict (ii) UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women (iii) Appointment by the UN Human Rights Council to the three member investigation team to probe the alleged abuse of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar security forces. If endorsement in some shape or form was necessary, did she deny this to the ‘Colombo Telegraph’?
7) Will Radhika Coomaraswamy now a JKH Director raise with her CBSL Governor brother, Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy the need for CBSL’s ‘Bank Supervision Department’ to investigate the legitimacy or otherwise of the tax haven account of the JKH Director named in the ‘Panama Papers’ who is also Chairman of a commercial bank controlled by JKH? This person is expected to be elevated to the position of JKH Chairman next year. The writer emphasizes that the mere listing of names and entities in tax havens is not indicative of wrongdoing.
Radhika Coomaraswamy’s clarification on the issues raised in this article is awaited in the Sri Lanka and Global public interest.