By Panini Edirisinhe –
The best known of the “Thomian Schools” is the one by the Sea at Mt Lavinia. It has three Branch Schools, now in the doldrums. All four are administered by a fifteen member Board of Governors, headed by the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Dhiloraj Canagasebey.
This Board has been established in terms of the S. Thomas’ College Ordinance. Only an Act of Parliament can amend it. The Ordinance bothers nobody. The Board of Governors has made some Rules for itself, and how it breaks those very “Rules” has been a huge controversy since 2012.
The Bishop appoints nine Members of the Board and thus has absolute control; five are elected by various stakeholders of the schools. There is no provision for parents to be on the Board, and teachers are allowed no say despite the provision.
Cheating at Branch School Teacher Representative Election
It is for the Branch School Teacher Representative Election that the Headmasters of Bandarawela and Kollupitiya, Rev. Christopher Balraj and Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo respectively, will send two tractable staff members with instructions on how to manipulate back to the Board the current pliant and ineffective member who is long past normal retiring age.
1.5.2 One person elected by an electoral college under the Chairmanship of the Hony. Secretary of the Board of Governors consisting of representatives of the Staff made up as follows:
Two from the tutorial and administrative staffs of each of the Branch schools at Gurutalawa, Bandarawela and Kollupitiya
1.5.3 The following conditions shall be applicable to the aforesaid elections referred to in 1.5.1 and 1.5.2.
(a) The election shall be by secret ballot
(b) The persons nominated for election shall be members of the respective Old Boys’ Associations.
(c) The members of the staffs of the four schools shall not be eligible for nomination or election.
(d) The candidates for election shall be members of the Church of Ceylon or of a Church in communion with that church.
How do these people get over the secret ballot part of it? Why, the six representatives from the two schools will vote by secret ballot before the Secretary of the Board, Rajan Asiriwatham. This is what Rev. Balraj has told me. All other teachers are going to be kept unaware of the fake election taking place. Who is to question Asirwatham and where? Almost impossible – although he is a decent man. The Board think it is their duty to cover up for each other, and it is cosy being Colombo-centric.
Gurutalawa has made efforts in 2008, 2012 and 2016, to hold honest elections and can be expected to follow suit in 2020. Ironically, that school has suffered more than any other owing to non-representation for many years. Please note that owing to Rule 1.5.3, the Staff Representative must be a Christian.
Clean Elections for Three Mt Lavinia School Representatives
This (below) is the entirety of what is said about the election of a Staff Representative from the Mt. Lavinia School.
1.5.1 One person elected by the tutorial and administrative Staff of S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia.
There has been no cheating in these elections. In 2016, Mr Channa Asela de Silva, a “just retired” Old Boy teacher, was elected uncontested, because he was so popular. He was a fine English Medium Maths teacher and was able to earn his living as a Private Tutor. I have had an hour’s chat with him last week and am amazed to find that he is no longer on the Board. He has resigned and is teaching again at STC, Mt Lavinia. I can think of no action more affirmative of the importance of teachers than this. The current Interim Teacher Representative, chosen by the teachers, is a Mr de Chickera.
From 1988 to 2012, the staff had chosen to have first Merrill Aluwihare and then Mohan Abeynaike as Staff Representative. There were contests on some occasions, but usually these were uncontested elections. The teachers were always in control of the choice. The result is that the staff are united and derive satisfaction from the excellence of their school.
Mt Lavinia OBA Representation
Below (1.3) is the entirety of what is said about the election of the OBA Representatives for the Mt Lavinia School.
1.3 Two representatives of the S. Thomas’ College Old Boys’ Association, Mt.Lavinia, elected from among its members.
I voted in 2016. There were six candidates. That election, for me, represented a perfect exercise of democracy.
Branch School OBA Representation
The Branch School OBA Representation is more complex, but despite the difficulties most of the time it has been clean.
More pertinent would be querying how one individual could represent three schools having little in common. When this system came into being these were schools that catered to different age groups so that an Old Boy had usually studied at two of the branch schools, and at Mt Lavinia. Questions as fundamental as this cannot even be discussed given the under-representation of the Branch Schools.
1.4 One Representative from the Old Boys’ Association of the Branch Schools at Gurutalawa, Bandarawela and Kollupitiya elected by those Associations from among their members in the following manner.
The Presidents and Secretaries of the Old Boys’ Associations of each of the Branch Schools will meet together as an Electoral College under the Chairmanship of the Hony. Secretary of the Board of Governors to elect a single member to represent the Old Boys’ Associations of the Branch Schools.
Where the Head of the School is also the President of the Old Boys’ Association, the Senior Vice President will serve on the electoral college in place of the President
Note that nothing is said here about the religious affiliation of the OBA Representative. Note also that the Head of the School (an employee) is not allowed to have a say in electing one of his supervisors.
Thomian Election Programme for the 1st Quarter of 2020
That is the background. The five current elected members will cease to hold office at the end of March 2020. New BoG Members will be elected between the 1st of January and the 31st of March 2020. The election of four of the five will be clean. The OBAs of Bandarawela and Gututalawa have already decided at their Annual General Meetings in 2019 that the candidature of the nominee of the Kollupitiya Old Boys’ Union will be supported by them.
In 2016, the Kollupitiya Headmaster asked the sister-in-law of the Bishop, Mallika Fernando, and one other to pretend that they represented The Staff. The Bandarawela Headmaster, having failed to find more credible “volunteers” at a brief early morning gathering of Senior School Academic Staff, finally sent down a retired non-commissioned military man working in the school office, Steven Tambimuttu, and a teacher, Sunanda Ratnayake, to “do the needful” as the saying goes. Tambimuttu was later rewarded by the BoG by being appointed to the specially created position of Administrative Manager. Will there be a repeat in 2020? Four years ago, the teachers who were first asked refused to co-operate, despite the dangling of carrots, and the inspiring of divisions. Unfortunately, I do not think that there will be one teacher in the three schools who will be fool-hardy enough to publicly voice disenchantment.
So, I have once more decided, as being possibly the only person who has an overview of the issues, to appeal for public opinion to persuade the Bishop to be the guardian of the “Rules” by which the Governors operate. Four years ago, this is is how I had presented my friendly request to the Bishop. It failed then, and my August 2019 appeal to the Bishop has also been rejected. So a feeble old man will be manipulated once more to stifle fresh thinking. The two Uva Schools will, in effect, be unrepresented on the Board for the next four years. The BoG itself could change its own Rules, provided that they conform to what is decreed in the S. Thomas’ College Ordinance of 1930. The effect of the Ordinance is to stipulate 80% Anglican Membership of the BoG.
Fair play is necessary in all public matters and ensuring that public opinion revolts at the thought of cheating by these clerics is what is needed. The schools run with very few Christian children in them, and with no accountability by the Church. There is corruption everywhere in the country, and so it is in the Anglican Church. Ensuring that this Teacher Representation Election takes place bereft of fraud will be a significant step forward.