Jayantha Dhanapala, member of the Board of Directors, Dialog Axiata PLC, key co-signatory of the Friday Forum and much sought after resource person for workshops, seminars and conferences on good governance, has studiously dodged queries from Colombo Telegraph regarding his silence on the matter of Colombo Telegraph being blocked by Dialog. [Colombo Telegraph is being blocked by all internet service providers and mobile networks – private and state owned – in Sri Lanka.]
Dhanapala, one time Under Secretary General, United Nations, was specifically asked to state his position regarding the blocking of Colombo Telegraph given his many media communiques championing the freedom of expression.
Dhanapala, in his communications with Colombo Telegraph uses the word ‘alleged’, implying that he is not certain if indeed Dialog had blocked Colombo Telegraph. However, our investigations reveal that he had told his friends that he could not access Colombo Telegraph. This was 7-10 days prior to our first communication with him. The use of the word is inexplicable since Colombo Telegraph provided him with the technical report which clearly shows that Dialog was indeed blocking Colombo Telegraph. Dhanapala has claimed that he is a regular reader of Colombo Telegraph. As such it would be strange indeed if he, a Director of Dialog, was using another internet service provider to access the site.
He has explained the long delay to respond by claiming that relevant personnel in the senior management of Dialog had been abroad and therefore, presumably, unable to respond. This is strange considering the fact that Dialog is about fast and easy communications services. It is hard to believe that the said personnel did not enjoy roaming facilities or were uncontactable via text or email.
Dhanapala has taken pains to distance himself from the blocking by pointing to the fact that he is an independent, non-executive director of Dialog. He has intimated to Colombo Telegraph that he had been advised that responding to any external communications on company affairs is the sole responsibility of the Executive Management. He has, accordingly, requested Colombo Telegraph to raise issues with the same.
Colombo Telegraph, however, offers that Dhanapala was advised in all likelihood not by the Executive Management but by Chandra Jayaratne. Colombo Telegraph concludes thus considering the fact that Jayaratne, responding to a Colombo Telegraph query on the subject gave the same answer, word-to-word, that Dhanapala gave Colombo Telegraph. It cannot be a coincidence that Dhanapala, breaking a silence of almost a month, uses the same words that Jayaratne uses in an email to Colombo Telegraph, sent within a few hours after Jayaratne sent his observations.
When Colombo Telegraph inquired from Jayaratne whether he had in fact advised Dhanapala, the former did not offer a denial. This leads us to conclude that in Dhanapala has been extremely devious and deceitful in his communications with Colombo Telegraph, all the more disturbing because his conduct does not sit well with his rhetoric with regard to freedom of expression.
Colombo Telegraph reproduces below all relevant communications with both Dhanapala and Jayaratne so the reader can draw his or her own conclusions on the former’s behavior in this matter.
CT’s first communication – 17th of February 2014 –
We asked Dhanapala;
I understand you a board of member of the Dialog Axiata PLC.
Could you please clarify under what law you are blocking Colombo Telegraph? Please see the technical report below;
Looking forward hear from you at your earliest convenience.
He replied within one hour;
Thank you for your email
It is correct that I am a Non-executive Independent Director of Dialog Axiata and I am thus uninformed about operational details of the company.
The first information I have had about alleged Dialog interference with the Colombo Telegraph (of which I am a regular reader) was when I read of this in your blog. I will make inquiries about this and let you know what the position of Dialog is on this matter.
We carried this story;
Dialog one of Sri Lanka’s key telecommunications providers, has been surreptitious blocking access to Colombo Telegraph, over a period of time. Dhanapala was appointed to the Board of Dialog Axiata PLC on 3rd August, 2007, after serving as Under-Secretary-General of the UNO (1998-2003), among other high posts.
When reached for comment on this matter, Dhanapala stated, via email, nearly three weeks ago now, that, he was “uninformed about operational details of the company.” He went on to say that, “The first information I have had about alleged Dialog interference with the Colombo Telegraph (of which I am a regular reader) was when I read of this in your blog. I will make inquiries about this and let you know what the position of Dialog is on this matter.” We have not heard from him since.
The Dialog Axiata PLC’s 2013 annual report, however, is clear that: “The Board has separate and independent access to the Group’s Senior Management… ..The directors, especially non-executive directors, have access to independent professional advice in the course of fulfilling their responsibilities, at the Company’s expense.”
Dhanapala is an “Independent, non-executive” director of Dialog, and would in accordance with company policy, have “independent access to the group’s senior management”, and also “professional advice,” on the legal status of the blocking.
When contacted for comment on the ‘aims and objectives’ of the Friday Forum, a prominent member replied, that, it was committed to supporting the “rule of law,” “freedom of information and expression,” and “an independent media.”
While Colombo Telegraph has no direct information of the quantum of compensation Dialog pays Jayantha Dhanapala, the 2013 annual report of lists an amount in excess of 76 million Rupees, as directors compensation for the entire board of 8 members, who meet 7 times a year.
CT asked Chandra Jayaratne in a separate communication;
“Jayantha Dhanapal’s irresponsible behaviour in Dialog re CT blockade”
Chnadra replied March 8 ;
This mail is in response to your request for a comment from me.
I must first make a response regards your assertion reading ; “Jayantha Dhanapal’s irresponsible behaviour in Dialog re CT blockade”
I trust that you will kindly review the following in holding JD to account for any alleged behaviour of Dialog;
1. JD is a non executive director and is not involved in Executive or Operational management of Dialog
2. His responsibility and accountability are determined and limited by Company Law, Articles of Association and best practices of governance and codes of conduct linked to best board room governance practices
3. His role and responsibility is limited to inquire from the Executive or Operational management of Dialog any reported issues linked to best principles of Good Governance raised by you
4. Any determinations made by JD following the review of Executive Management responses and leagl and other advise independently obtained, as well as any consequential further review of the alleged issue from a policy, policy implementation and governance perspectives, and follow up actions, must be handled by JD as a non executive director within the board processes and collective decision making of the board
5. Any response to external communications on behalf of a company can be made only by executive management duly authorized by the board as a Company spokesperson
I remain confident that JD will as always, including in relation to this issue, will stand by the best practices of good governance within accepted Codes of Conduct and in line with his unquestioned integrity, high principles and values and uphold his valued commitments as a benchmark civil society leader held with respect by many including myself.
I have no objection to you including above as a response by me
Within a few hours Dhanapala ( after nearly a month since his first reply) replied;
I refer to my email of 17 February.
A reply from the Dialog senior management was received by me later than I expected since the relevant personnel were abroad.
I wish to reiterate that I am an Independent non-executive director of Dialog, not engaged in any way in operational level management of the company.
I have been advised that it is the sole responsibility of the Executive Management to respond to any external communications on company affairs.
In view of the foregoing, I have to request you to raise any issues or clarifications you require directly with the Executive Management of Dialog.
The same day we carried a story;
Jayaratne Says Dhanapala Will Stand By Best Practices, Dhanapala Pussyfoots On Illegal Web Blocking
In an email to Colombo Telegraph, received a few hours ago, Dialog Axiata PLC Board member, a Friday Forum’s key co-signatory, former UN under secretary general Jayantha Dhanapala has advised that, “it is the sole responsibility of the Executive Management to respond to any external communications on company affairs,” says further that, we should “raise any issues or clarifications… directly with the Executive Management of Dialog.”
He does not, it would appear, to have any plans to resign from the Dialog board.
The issue at hand is blocking of internet access to the Colombo Telegraph website, which Dhanapala, has characterized as an “allegation.” It has been long established that CT’s website are being blocked by a number of Sri Lankan broadband providers, through uncontradicted tweets by Colombo editors and journalists like BBC’s Charles Havland, Groundviews’ Sanjana Hattotuwa, and Nalaka Gunawardene, as far back at March 30, 2013 and December 25, 2011. Further, the US State department human rights report for 2013, does clearly state that, “ The government periodically blocked access to the Colombo Telegraph’s website…”.
Surprisingly, Dhanapala, who is a “regular reader,” of Colombo Telegraph claims he only learned of what he calls an “alleged Dialog interference with the Colombo Telegraph.” after reading Colombo Telegraph.
In a much longer communication with Colombo Telegraph, Chandra Jayaratne, former CEO of a major Sri Lankan corporation, chairman of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, and Friday Forum member stated, “I remain confident that JD [Jayantha Dhanapala] will as always, including in relation to this issue, will stand by the best practices of good governance within accepted Codes of Conduct and in line with his unquestioned integrity, high principles and values and uphold his valued commitments as a benchmark civil society leader held with respect by many including myself.”
However, there seems to be little worth in these statements. Colombo Telegraph maintains that the blocking of its web servers through a variety of surreptitious means, is illegal and unethical. What is at stake is not, who “respond(s) to any external communications on company affairs,” but whether it is ethical member of the board of the company, who advocates freedom of expression and a free and independent media, as a key member of a vocal civil society group to remain in that position.
Civil Society activist group Friday Forum so far has not condemned or issued a statement explaining its stance on ongoing illegal blocking of web-based media.
CT also wrote to Chandra at the same time;
Thank you so much for your reply,added it to this followup story;
Have you advised JD ? I got a reply from him after your email, I assume it is from your point 5. Any response to external communications on behalf of a company can be made only by executive management duly authorized by the board as a Company spokesperson
it is pity he is acting like an employee. By the way what the Friday Forum stance on this on going illegal web media blockade?
I have discussed with Jayantha Dhanapala, a friend and highly respected colleague, (from the back drop of my long years of experience and deep study of board room governance best practices), the responsibility, accountability and best practices of governance within applicable codes of conduct, expected of a non executive board member.
I am willing to share with you what I believe is one of the best bench mark article on the subject of board room governance published in the Harvard Business Review- what makes great boards great- http://archive.excellencegateway.org.uk/media/FE%20Governance/What_makes_great_boards_great.pdf- (summary copy attached as well). Some of the principles articulated in this article have been what I have practiced over my long years as non executive director
The Friday Forum has not met together in session since your first note copied to me.
I wish to reiterate that I remain confident that JD will as always, including in relation to this issue, will stand by the best practices of good governance within accepted Codes of Conduct and in line with his unquestioned integrity, high principles and values and uphold his valued commitments as a benchmark civil society leader held with respect by many including myself.
CT replied to Dhanapala on March 12th ;
Thank you for letting me know your stance on this matter, but our investigations show that it was Chandra Jayaratne who advised you and not the Dialog. If you think I’m wrong please let me know.
We have not heard from Dhanapala since !!