By Amrit Muttukumaru –
It is becoming clearer by the day that those concerned in the top management of Sri Lankan Airlines rapped for alleged corruption and abuse of power by the Weliamuna Report will go scot-free. This is because it is highly unlikely (almost impossible) that the long standing auditors and then high profile directors will ever be held accountable for any dereliction of duty. From all indications, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna and his team have let them off the hook! This is the ground reality in Sri Lanka. It is nauseatingly apparent that it is ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ for all concerned.
The Weliamuna Report which confirms the corruption and gross abuse of power the public has long suspected, has been SELECTIVE in allocating responsibility for this. Weliamuna is the Chairman of Transparency International Sri Lanka and previously its Executive Director. The positive feature of the report is that it has described the alleged corruption and abuse in lurid detail.
Based on the Prime Minister’s statement (which Weliamuna has not refuted) the report which castigates Chairman, Nishantha Wickramasinghe, Kapila Chandrasena (CEO) and some others in top management, questionably neglects to state that this took place UNDER THE WATCH of long standing auditors – Ernst & Young and its then Board of Directors which included corporate bigwigs – Susantha Ratnayake, Nihal Jayamanne PC, Sunil G Wijesinha, Sanath Ukwatte and Manilal Fernando – many of them also in its Audit Committee – some even as Chairmen!
While recommending “criminal investigations” into instances of alleged corruption which includes the entire re-fleeting process with brand-new aircraft costing $2.3 billion and “noting instances” where former Chairman Wickramasinghe and some others in top management should be “prosecuted” the report is apparently silent on any proposed punitive action against the airline’s auditors and Board of Directors for ANY NEGLIGENCE of fiduciary responsibility inimical to the PUBLIC INTEREST.
By what stretch of imagination can purported advocates of ‘good governance’ baulk from DEMANDING ACCOUNTABILITY from the airline’s auditors and then directors – particularly members of the Audit Committee?
This is the ACID TEST for the CREDIBILITY of particularly ‘Transparency International Sri Lanka’ and ‘Friday Forum’ of which the key figures are Messrs. Weliamuna and Chandra Jayaratne respectively.
RS.250 Million: Accountability
I will not sidetrack the focus of this article by addressing issues such as the reported reluctance of Weliamuna to reveal the breakup of the Rs 3.5 million said to have been received by his four- member team (including him) or at the very least the fee paid to him for the Sri Lankan Airlines assignment.
My only comment is – this is not surprising since the public are yet to see the financial accountability for the whopping RS.250 MILLION foreign funded ‘SRI LANKA ANTI- CORRUPTION PROGRAM’ of which the main local partners were inter-connected NGOs – Transparency International Sri Lanka, Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Free Media Movement. Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of CPA was then a Director of TISL while Mr. Sunanda Deshapriya, then Convener of the FMM was then a Director of CPA! Mr. Chandra Jayaratne was also then a Director of TISL of which Weliamuna was then Executive Director (presently Chairman).
The ‘Free Media Movement’ is one of the four parties that established the private media controlled ‘Sri Lanka Press Institute’ purportedly towards an ethical media. The Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) is a crucial part of the SLPI.
Both Weliamuna and Jayaratne are also members of the ‘Friday Forum’.
My simple urging ref. e-mail of 27 August 2007 to also include on their respective websites
“project based donor information (inclusive of amount and source) together with concomitant expenditure appropriately broken down to also reflect administrative and personnel costs and payments to individuals” does not appear to have yet materialized.
The auditors of TISL, CPA, PCCSL and John Keells Holdings are Ernst & Young who are also the long standing auditors of Sri Lankan Airlines!
It is wholly untenable to maintain that NGOs are only accountable to their donors. Their accountability should ultimately and crucially be to the people of this country since all their efforts are purportedly to alleviate the ‘miseries’ of its peoples!
It is also crucial that the public push hard for a ‘MEDIA COMMISSION’ or any other appropriate mechanism (Ombudsman?) to be brought under the ambit of the 19th Amendment as an ‘INDEPENDENT’ entity to bring an acceptable level of integrity and credibility to our media.
These are all cogent reasons why the Corporate and NGO sectors MUST BE INCLUDED in the proposed ‘RIGHT TO INFORMATION’ legislation which has still not been placed in the public domain!
No doubt these proposals will be STRONGLY RESISTED by vested interests.
On the Sri Lankan Airlines accountability issue which is the FOCUS of this article – the million dollar question is:
WILL TISL & ‘FRIDAY FORUM’ PUT THEIR MONEY WHERE THEIR MOUTH IS AND BITE THE BULLET?
Weliamuna has all the INFLUENCE NEEDED to do so, since he obviously has the ear of the ‘movers & shakers’ of the government (i) as a member of the ‘Special Presidential Task Force for the Recovery of Illegally Acquired State Assets’ (ii) leader of the team appointed to investigate alleged corruption in Sri Lankan Airlines.
Those reluctant to hold professionals and corporate bigwigs accountable and ‘name & shame’ wrongdoers have clearly lost the moral authority to speak of good governance and any pretense to combat corruption. If they fail to do so – they must forever hold their peace!