Rt. Rev. Daniel Thiagarajah, the Chair of the Boards of Directors of Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College and the Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India has sent a letter to the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds in Boston, USA as his response to the letter sent by the latter on the 5th of January 2017, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Even though the letter sent by the Bishop is not available, Colombo Telegraph is in possession of the response sent by the Rev. Richard Huleatt, the Chairperson of the Trustees on the 26th of February 2017 to the Bishop’s letter. It can be understood from this brief response that the Bishop on the 12thof February had responded to the letter sent by the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds in Boston, USA on the 5th of January 2017. Like the first letter sent to the Bishop, the Trustees have copied their response dated 26 February to 19 others including the Chief Minister and Minister of Education of the Northern Province and selected alumni of the two schools all over the world.
The Trustees in their response to the Bishop’s letter state that though they appreciate the Bishop’s perspective on the events that the Bishop describes in his letter, they cannot consider it as a response to the specific matters requested in the letter sent by the Trustees in January. The Trustees’ letter also states they continue to look forward to receiving an appropriate response from the Bishop before the March 15, 2017 deadline.
The Trustees in January decided to cut 5% of the funds allocated to Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College for the first quarter of the year 2017 citing various irregularities and malpractices in the general and financial administration of the two schools in the recent past. Failure on the part of the two schools to submit the audited financial statements for 2015, violence unleashed on the students who were protesting against the appointment of the new Principal at Uduvil Girls’ College last year, the administrators’ failure to hold those who were involved in the violence accountable, threats of physical harm and punitive measures, recruitment of under-qualified teachers to both schools in the recent past, abuse and misuse of power and the funds sent by the Trustees , intimidation and manipulation of the teachers and the board members placing their personal interests above the welfare of the students and the school are among the reasons cited in the letter for the reduction of funds to these two educational institutions in Northern Sri Lanka.
The Trustees in their letter copied to 19 individuals including the Chief Minister of the Northern Province Justice C. V. Wigneswaran, the Education Minister of the Province Mr. T. Gurukularajah, the Principals of the schools and members of the alumni all over the world had insisted that 9 major reforms ensuring transparency and fairness in the areas of administration, financial reporting, and recruitment of teachers and officers be implemented before the 30th of June 2017. These reforms include independent audits of the funds utilized by the schools and internal controls, prudent and open nominations for persons to serve as directors, appointment of qualified officers and teachers, disclosure of related party transactions, avoidance of cronyism and nepotism, and regular meetings of Boards and Committees, followed by public reports of deliberations and decisions. The letter notes that the changes that they require are “consistent with governance and reporting standards that are accepted and implemented by well-run organizations worldwide, including educational institutes”. The Rev. Huleatt also observes that for the Trustees “to act responsibly as fiduciary, [their] beneficiaries should provide [them] with transparent financial reporting, demonstrate responsible governance practices, communicate cooperatively with [them]”.
It should be noted that the Board of Directors of Jaffna College did not meet between the 5th of January 2017 and the 12th of February 2017. The alumni of Jaffna College express their anger that the Bishop responded to the letter sent by the Trustees without calling for a meeting of the Board of Directors. They note that this has prevented the Alumni Representative to the Board from presenting the alumni’s views on the Trustees’ letter to the Board. Many consider the Bishop’s decision to send a response to a letter that should have been discussed formally at a meeting of the Board of Directors an undemocratic act revealing the authoritarianism ubiquitous in the administration of the two schools.
The Bishop told Sunday Times in January that he would release his lawyers’ response to the Trustees’ letter to the public after it was drafted. But no such response has been released to the public or the media so far though a response has been mailed to the Trustees. Sunday Times reported that among the Bishop’s council was Attorney-at-law and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran. While Mrs. Savithri Sumanthiran, wife of Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran, is on the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College, Ms. Vijula Arulanantham, a close legal associate of Mr Sumanthiran, serves on the Boards of both Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College, in the former as its Vice Chairperson.
In the meantime, the Executive Committees of the alumni of associations of Jaffna College in Vaddukoddai, Colombo, Toronto, London, Melbourne and Sydney have unanimously welcomed and endorsed the letter sent by the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees to the Chairperson of the Board of Directors on the 5th of January 2017 demanding far-reaching reforms in the administration of their alma mater.
In addition to the reforms prescribed in the letter sent by the Trustees on the 5th of January, the alumni association of Sydney has requested the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds to demand the Board of Directors to adopt a conflict of interest policy for the officers, faculty and employees of Jaffna College that bars the latter from using the school as a venue for their private businesses such as catering, photography and construction work. Our sources tell us that some who are employed at Jaffna College as teachers and administrators are engaged in these businesses inside the school causing serious conflicts of interests.
The alumni note with disappointment and disgust that the Board of Directors of the school which include personalities well-respected in Christian circles in Colombo and Jaffna like Ms. Vijula Arulanatham (Attorney-at-law) and Dr. C.V. Selliah (Retired Principal of Uduvil Girls’ College) are indifferent to these malpractices and let powerful individuals to turn this prestigious institution into a breeding ground for corruption.
The Alumni Association of Sydney has also requested the Trustees to influence the Board of Directors to release to the public the current constitution of the Board of Directors and all relevant legal documents related to the moveable and immoveable assets of the College including buildings and lands.
In our last report on the developments at Jaffna College, we mentioned the appointment of a Deputy Principal to Jaffna College which surprised many members of the alumni as it was not discussed at the previous meeting of the Board of Directors. Now we learn that on the 23rd of January this appointment was confirmed via local newspapers in Jaffna. Initially this appointment was announced to the teachers of Jaffna College and some members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India as part of the Bishop’s birthday celebrations on the 9th of November 2016.
In addition to this announcement, two new cars were ‘received’ by the Principals of Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College from the Bishop, his wife and his brother. All three of them are members of the Board of Directors of Jaffna College. We could not confirm whether these cars were gifts by the Bishop and his family or the two schools should pay for these cars. Some wonder why the Principal of Jaffna College needs a new car as the school already has a HiACE vehicle for the Principal’s use.
At a separate function held on the same day, TNA MP M.A Sumanthiran declared open the newly built diocesan auditorium at Vaddukoddai. The name of the auditorium, SHILOH, besides its Biblical connections, is incidentally Mr. Sumanthiran’s daughter’s name too.
At a meeting of the alumni association held at Vaddukoddai in January, the Principal of Jaffna College finally accepted that the constitution of the Board of Directors was in fact changed and a copy of the amended constitution would be released to the Alumni Representative soon. When the alumni sought his clarification on this matter last year he was reported to be evasive in his response. While this statement by the Principal in January seems to resolve the mystery surrounding the constitution, it raises serious questions about the truthfulness of the statement made by Board members Dr. C.V. Selliah and Mrs. Suganthy Vairasinghe at the Annual General Meeting of the Jaffna College Alumni Association held in Colombo last year that no amendment to the previous constitution had been made. Old students of the school wonder whether the amendments were made without their knowledge or these two individuals hid this information from the alumni deliberately with a hidden agenda.
All these developments show that there is lack of democracy, transparency and accountability in the manner in which the Board of Directors of Jaffna College conduct their affairs. The alumni all over the world have lost faith in the current Board of Directors and are seeking stronger intervention from the Trustees to prevent further erosion of the values for which Jaffna College was founded in the nineteenth-century by American missionaries. The Trustees seem to be their only hope at present. With only a week left for the March 15 deadline for the Board of Directors, well-wishers of Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College are keenly awaiting the next move by the Trustees to set things right at these two illustrious institutions.