By Sabapathy Krishnakumar –
I am very happy that President Maithripala Sirisena and other members of the government have been repeatedly calling on expatriates to return and contribute:
- My Government will establish a special bureau under my directive to coordinate the expatriate Sri Lankans who wish to return to the motherland and we will offer a red carpet welcome to them. I would like to remind them that now it is time for us to work in unity for the betterment of the country, casting side political differences – President M. Sirisena, Policy Statement from Parliament, 1 Sept. 2015.
- President Maithripala Sirisena from Thailand has called on Sri Lankan expatriates to return home and render their services as democracy has been restored. (TNLRN News Radio, 2 Nov. 2015)
- Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Thursday invited Sri Lankan diaspora to return to the island as dual citizens. (Lanka Business Online, June 12, 2015)
- The PM also joined the chorus at the dual citizenship ceremony on 17 Nov.
However, laudable policy remains empty words as the government’ own officials undermine policy. We badly need the services of expatriates. With the education budgets promised a huge increase, we will have only new buildings and landscaped staff without teachers to teach as remarked by Rajan Hoole in his article on the scandalous state of our universities (Colombo Telegraph, 29 Oct. 2015). That well-intended money will be money down the drain unless the UGC wakes up and the President notes how he is being undermined.
The North-East more than any other needs rebuilding and for that we need expatriates to return. But till recently, many ordinary persons were ensconced in powerful administrative positions for which they did not qualify. We now badly need bright outsiders to come in.
What I write, I write as person who was once Dean of Applied Science at the University of Jaffna. At that time, I saw no future and preferred to move to the South after seeing tussles over a period of 2-3 years when supporters of the then government were recommended as computer applications assistants but they could not pass the qualifying test insisted on by the staff. The VC was keen to appoint them, we were not. This was reported on, in The Sunday Island by Dasun Edirisinghe (31 July. 2014).
The Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association produced a well documented report on the illegal appointments (also Island, 31 July, 2014). The then UGC Chairman promised to inquire if it were reported to her but when that was done, she did nothing. The new UGC Chairman repeatedly denied having been given the report and when repeatedly sent the report has JUSTA states did nothing.
Today, I see opportunity to rebuild the North-East, however, despite the change of government on January 8, the old patronage system continues in Jaffna because academic officialdom will ensure that brighter people do not come into the system. To demonstrate this, I am writing this based on my personal knowledge and information vouched for by my friends and former colleagues still on the Council in Jaffna but too scared to speak up. Outsiders are just not welcome and the President’s noble ideals are being undermined as the following examples show:
- Dr. Murugar Gunasingam from Australia applied for the chair in history as did an internal historian. Only the latter’s application was processed and presented to the Council on 31 October, 2015 for approval by the VC. Things exploded when a Council member who had been informed by Gunasingam asked if there had been other applicants. The VC claimed that it had been done based on a circular and she has now been asked to produce it.
- Dr. Nagulan Ratnarajah of the National University of Singapore applied for a CS/IT position and was not called for the interview by the administration. Last June a member of the new apolitical council appointed by the new government caught this and stopped the process. Now the Council has decreed that all applicants must be listed for the council. But we see this being honored in the breach as in Dr. Gunasingam’s case.
- Professor S.R.H. Hoole, my doctoral supervisor, has been knocking on our doors for years. The VC and her Selection Committee after 3 years of processing (which is illegal unless a new advertisement is done after 18 months inviting new applicants and allowing updating of the old application) found him short of points in teaching, in research and in national contributions. The USAB had ordered his appointment in Computer Science but the VC is still arguing that settled case. Even then, how was he short in national contributions after all that he did here? Indeed I am aware that he has more indexed journal papers in computer science than any other academic in Sri Lanka. (This was reported among the JUSTA cases and explicitly in the Colombo Telegraph on 6 March, 2014). He then applied last June for a Senior Lecturer position in Engineering since in another 3 years he would be well past his retirement age if he applied for professor. To this date he has not heard. It is 3 months since he returned to Sri Lanka on the government’s invitation, and, despite being the only person with a D.Sc. London degree in Sri Lanka, remains unemployed(except for the part-time appointment this week to the independent Elections Commission which recognizes his pioneering work for good governance, but still leaves him without full-time work, facing criminal charges).
Outsiders will stand no chance in this system. A grossly illegal tactic is to deny points saying proof was not given. The Method of Application in UGC circular 916 merely asks for a statement on various activities, and asks only for books and papers in three copies for evaluation. The Selection Committee interview is to check certificates. But what Jaffna does is to mark as zero all service items and then say there aren’t enough points so there will be no interview. Aspects of this problem apply at our other universities too. I am aware that when Dr. Dushyanthi Hoole applied for professor, the then Head of Chemistry/Jaffna vouched that she had supervised a Jaffna University student. The points were awarded and then taken off later by the VC for lack of proof. Marks by subject experts are so altered unlawfully by the VC and her obliging Selection Committees, and the Council is shown only the candidates’ claims but never the marks awarded. On what grounds?
Three promotions to professor were approved by Selection Committees and presented to the Council by the VC for approval on 31 Oct. 2015. All three had papers in what are called “Predatory Journals.” These are defined in the formal literature as ““corrupt and exist only to make money off the author processing charges that are billed to authors upon acceptance of their scientific manuscripts.” One candidate had bought his papers jointly authored with his Dean who served on his selection committee. All three promotions were approved and await only approval of minutes at the next meeting.
The President’s ideals are reduced by theses officials to mere speeches when external candidates are not processed and internal candidates receive favorable illegal evaluations that are blind to purchased credentials. Such purchases make good sense when professorial salaries approach Rs. 2 lakhs a month. Paying to have a paper printed costs only about Rs.50,000 and can be done in 3 days. Ten such papers will get one 50 points, almost half-way to professor. The other half will come from routine activities. And then, one gets almost Rs. 2 lakhs each month as professor!. FUTA must take an interest in this to defend the well-deserved high salaries of genuine professor.
*Sabapathy Krishnakumar, Ph.D. -Open University of Sri Lanka