By Gamini Jayaweera –
Current “Interim” government led by “Interim” Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Mr. Navin Dissanayake as the “Interim” Minister for Sports to administer the Ministry of Sports and introduce policies of “Yahapalanaya” during the 100 day programme which was approved by the overwhelming majority of Srilankans on 8 January 2015. We have placed our hopes in the new administration to uphold the free press, freedom for all citizens and national institutions to conduct their affairs without interference or intimidation from the governing party. To have the freedom to carryout day to day activities without any political interference and express ones views about the policies of the governing party without fear of intimidation is more important than living in a so called “developed” country with high speed motor ways, supermarkets, high rise buildings, and “beautified” cities.
Honest and Honourable
Sports bodies are independent organisations which are run by officials who have been appointed through the ballot box by their membership for a period of time as stated in their constitutions. Prior to 1980 most of these institutions were administered by honest, honourable people whose main aim was to maintain the integrity of these institutions by openly demonstrating accountability and transparency though they did not succeed in producing world class athletes due to lack of exposure to the outside world and non-availability of latest best practices, tools, and latest technology to assist srilankan sports institutions. Political interference was hardly visible. They lived by principles, understood their abilities and tried their best to create the climate for sports to flourish with limited available resources.
Since 1980 successive Sports Ministers used their authorities to politicise the sports institutions either by direct intervention or supporting their political supporters to run these organisations at any cost. The talented impartial officials were sidelined and these sports institutions were used as part of party organisations to enhance their political carriers and propaganda work. No Visions, no Strategies, no Objectives were in place to develop sports from grass root levels. Only occasion they had a Vision and implemented a Strategy was when Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe served as the Minister of Education where development of sports was introduced with limited available facilities to all schools throughout the country. Grass root level development coupled with the introduction of National Sports Festival open to all schools in mid 80s by the Ministry of Education resulted in producing world class athletes such as Susanthika Jayasinghe, Damayanthi Darshana, Sriyani Kulawansa, and Sugath Tilakaratne. We must also not forget the invaluable service provided by Mr. Ana Punchihewa, former President of the SLC for implementing a well thought strategy to win the Cricket World Cup in 1996.
Sports under “Yahapalanaya”
It is with great regret we learn that the new Minister of Sports has set up interim councils to run our sporting institutions. The reason given by the Minister clearly stated that he wanted to remove the alleged corrupt officials from these institutions and clean up sports administrations. It is true to say that majority of Srilankan did not agree with the way in which most of these institutions were carrying out their responsibilities during the last decade by various officials elected by the membership of these institutions. But it is also fair to say that on principle majority of Srilankans do not agree with Interim Committees appointed by the minister to administer these institutions because it is a violation of independence of these institutions. To date none of these alleged corruptions have been proved in a court of law. Let our Courts decide whether these officials are guilty of corruption or not. Can our politicians maintain the value of the ideal of “presumed innocent until proven guilty”? It is Ugly to hear when politicians try to pass judgments on matters for which they are not authorised or qualified to do so. If the minister wants to investigate these allegations I suggest that the minister should appoint a 3 member panel headed by a retired Judge to examine the alleged illegal activities instead of appointing interim committees. Once the allegations are proved action must be taken to punish those officials and fresh elections should be held to appoint new office bearers.
*The Minister of Sports in a recent press conference has vowed not to interfere with the affairs of the Interim Committee, adding that there cannot be individual agendas within cricket administration. But the political interference has already taken place in an independent institution like the SLC by appointing an Interim Committee consist of members of the Minister’s choice
It is very important that we maintain the independence of these institutions without political interference. That is what we have expected from the new President when we voted in millions in favour of his presidency.
It has been reported in newspapers that a member who has been appointed by the Minister to the SLC Interim Committee is currently investigated by the ICC for alleged match fixing. It is also reported that another member in the Interim Committee is a Supplier of cricket equipment to the SLC. Is the Sports Minister aware of these allegations? If these allegations are true the credibility of newly appointed Interim Committee is questionable. On the other hand some of these members have served in the SLC in the past under different sports ministers. Don’t we have any other talented people who are capable of running these institutions if the minister wants to appoint Interim Committees? Does this mean that we have not got people with Leadership qualities to run these institutions or the politicians like to work with “followers” rather than “Leaders”? Are the politicians still following the policy of “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours”? Haven’t they learnt anything from the defeat of former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa?
The Minister of Sports in a recent press conference has vowed not to interfere with the affairs of the Interim Committee, adding that there cannot be individual agendas within cricket administration. But the political interference has already taken place in an independent institution like the SLC by appointing an Interim Committee consist of members of the Minister’s choice. We have taken lot of risks in supporting Mr. Maithripala Sirisena during the last election to oust the previous regime to restore the justice for all. People who voted in millions are no longer willing to support those who try to fiddle and fudge the facts.
National Sports Council
Recently the Minister of Sports has announced the names of the appointed members to the National Sports Council. Make no mistakes that some of the members are fine sportsmen, athletes, and coaches in their own fields of sports. It must be said that being a top sportsman, a sportswoman or a coach is not necessarily a qualification to become a member of an institution which needs to develop long-term strategies to raise various fields of sports to international standards. Top sportsmen, sportswomen and coaches are part of the strategy but not necessarily they become strategists in the National Sports Council unless they possess those qualities. Some of these people have managed similar institutions within their own fields of sports under various governments without success because they did not have one of the most important leadership qualities of looking at the “bigger” picture.
It appears that some of these appointments are based on their political affiliation to major parties, friendships, and relationships but lacks requirements to become leaders in their own fields of sports to come up with long-term visions, objectives, and strategies to solve the underlining problems in our sports. There are excellent sports strategists who are not politically affiliated to any political party have been ignored by successive sports ministers for political and personal gains. It appears that the new minister is following the same path. The voters have expected a Change to this malpractice when they voted in millions in favour of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. But continuation of these bad policies which have prevented us raising standards of majority of our sports in the past, may stave off the much needed development in sports. We expected our new ministers to use their wisdom to train their minds to change the grain of our political culture and support our new President, the Leader of SLFP to implement the long term vision of creating a new political culture in our country. As George Bernard Shaw once said “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
It has been reported that the minister of sports has instructed all sports institutions to delay their annual general meetings to appoint new office bearers through a democratic process because some of the current sports officials have served in these institutions for more than 4 years. It appears that the minister feels that serving more than 4 years in any of these institutions may lead to producing corrupt officials. On the other hand Minister has appointed some officials who have served more than 4 years in these institutions as members of the National Sports Council. It appears that there is no logic to this narrow minded policy. It has been reported that new regulations also allow the Minister of Sports to extend some officials’ term of office beyond 4 years if he feels that it is the right thing to do so. What criteria the minister will apply to grant these extensions? Will this kind of politicisation lead to paralysis in Srilankan sports? It is a well-known fact that most of our politicians are corrupt and they are in the parliament for “donkeys” years with the help from the politicians from both sides. If the Minister of Sports wants to implement this illogical way of choosing officials to these independent institutions can we apply the same process to select our politicians too?
The main problem is most of our politicians think that they already know everything. Remember the old saying “Everyone knows where the bridge is; few actually ever DO cross it”. The general public is fed up with the “business as usual” attitude. It is high time that we get rid-off “dead wood” from the ministry of sports to ensure that “Yahapalanaya” means real change from top to bottom.
It is not all Doom and Gloom, if the “Interim” sports minister is serious about reduction in corruption (never eradicate it) and develop long term policies to raise standards of our sporting institutions during this “Interim” period, I suggest the following among other things:
- Don’t politicise the sports.
- Do not appoint “Interim” Committees unless it is absolutely
- Appoint a 3 member panel headed by a retired Judge to carryout investigations into improper activities, if any, by these institutions.
- Look Forward, not backward.
- Learn from past failures.
- Stop the policy of “Jobs for the Boys”.
- Encourage membership of sports bodies to challenge the “Status Quo” and come up with innovative ideas.
- Give top level opportunities to talented “new” faces.
- Be sincere, honest and open about policies.
- Demand publishing 6 monthly progress and performance reports from each and every sporting institution to demonstrate their performances.
- Name and shame institutions which do not exercise their duties to the required expected levels.
- Carry out onsite Financial Audit every year.
- Demand policies to demonstrate Accountability and Transparency.
In conclusion, I feel that the Sri Lankan authorities have the necessary legal mechanism to deal with alleged corruptions, illegal behaviours and misuse of authorities given under the constitution. It is a matter for the Minister of Sports to take impartial action against any official irrespective of their status or political affiliation. “Interim” Committees are not the solution to the problems and they tarnish our sporting image in the international arena. It is reported that the International Cricket Council has already warned Sri Lanka Cricket of possible suspension over appointing an Interim Committee to run SLC. If the minister of sports continues with the appointment of “Interim” committees during this “Interim” period of government to run our sporting institutions, the world sports governing bodies may suspend Sri Lanka’s participation in international sporting events. If so, we may end up as “Losers” in the international sporting arena?
*The writer is a Fellow of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Business School, Oxford