Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera is under pressure from civil society organizations and other interested parties to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of misappropriation and other wrongdoing by the Rāvaya newspaper, especially its founder editor and Chairman of ‘Rāvaya Publishers (Guarantee) Ltd’ Victor Ivan.
Civil society activists as well as individuals who had contributed to a fund launched by ‘Rāvaya Solidarity’ (to keep the newspaper afloat) have petitioned Samaraweera to act swiftly on these allegations.
Colombo Telegraph learns that Samaraweera had initially tried to sidestep the issue, claiming that the matter was not under his purview. He has since changed his mind and is considering appointing a one-member commission of inquiry, most likely a retired judge. This was after it was pointed out that the matter comes directly under him. First, it is a newspaper and mass media is one of the subjects he handles. More importantly, Rāvaya Publishers is registered as a company and comes under the Registrar of Companies, who comes under Samaraweera in his capacity as Minister of Finance.
Although these developments come in the wake of what has been described as an editorial coup whereby Ivan orchestrated the appointment of Wimalanath Weeraratne as Editor after K.W. Janaranjana was forced to resign, it is not a question of editorial independence, according to sources among those pushing the minister to act in this manner.
One of the reasons is that the Registrar of Companies is still to investigate or give a determination on a complaint filed two years ago regarding Ivan’s misappropriation of money to the tune of Rs 10 million. Ivan has claimed that he sold ‘shares’ whereas a ‘Guarantee Limited’ company, by definition is a not-for-profit entity.
Rāvaya being a Company limited by guarantee and operating as a not-for-profit organization, much like an NGO, does not and cannot have provision for Ivan or anyone else to claim monies that have been collected for a fund of this kind.
The relevant conditions are enshrined in Section 34 of the Companies Act:
“Where the Registrar is satisfied that an association about to be formed as a company limited by guarantee is to be formed for promoting commerce, art, science, religion, charity, sport, or any other useful object, and intends to apply its profits, if any, or other income in promoting its objects, and to prohibit the payment of any dividend to its members.”
Sections 32-34 are the applicable Sections. And here’s the Section that specifically exempts shares, debentures etc from companies limited by guarantee;
THIRD SCHEDULE [Section 35 (1)] PROVISIONS WHICH DO NOT APPLY TO COMPANIES LIMITED BY GUARANTEE
Part IV (Shares and Debentures)
Sections 93 to 98 (Minority buy-out rights)
Sections 99 to 101 (Interest groups)
Section 123(1)(b) and (c) (Company to maintain share register)
Section 124(1) and (3) (Place of share register)
Sections 198 to 200 (Disclosure of director’s interests in shares)
Section 220 (Duty of directors on serious loss of capital)
Furthermore when ‘Ravaya Solidarity’ solicited contributions it was not disclosed that part of the fund would be used to pay Ivan.
As has been demonstrated by Colombo Telegraph, Ravaya received millions of rupees from NGOs and INGOs as well as politicians such as former president Chandrika Kumaratunga and Lalith Athulathmudali. Ivan and the Ravaya were also supported by Mahinda Rajapaksa through advertising and the freezing of taxes amounting to approximately Rs 10.2 million during a period when Ivan chose to go soft on the former President.