25 January, 2021

Blog

The Assault On Weliamuna

By Rohan Samarajiva

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva

Attorney-at-Law J.C. Weliamuna is under attack. One charge is that he received professional compensation for the report on mismanagement of SriLankan Airlines. A second is that he undertook the assignment while serving as Chairman of Transparency International Sri Lanka. A third is that he declined to disclose the individual payments (he revealed the total amount paid to the committee that he chaired). A fourth is that the assignment was not given to the committee based on competitive procedures.

As a professional who has come under attack on some of the same grounds, I believe I can shed light on this controversy.

Fees for services

Is it wrong to charge for one’s professional expertise? Some commentators were “shocked” that a four member committee working under time pressure was paid LKR 3.5 million, inclusive of costs, for six weeks of work that produced a detailed 136 page report on SriLankan Airlines, a government-owned enterprise that lost a total of LKR 29 billion in 2014, according to the latest Central Bank Annual Report. Given the extensive cross-subsidies to Mihin Lanka, the actual total loss for the combined airlines in 2014 was LKR 28,348 million. That means that the government airlines investigated by the Weliamuna Committee lost LKR 77.7 million per day.

SriLankan Airlines is a large and complex organization. In 2014 it had 6,903 employees and flew 12,719 million passenger kilometers. It would seem that LKR 3.5 million is a reasonable price to pay for four professionals to make a reliable assessment of whether such an organization was mismanaged.

The former CEO of SriLankan was paid LKR 1.5 million a month, in addition to other salaries and benefits. Four professionals, including Mr Weliamuna, were paid LKR 3.5 million inclusive of costs for 1.5 months to untangle the mess that had been created. Does this seem too much?

Some of the commentators wanted Mr Weliamuna and his colleagues to work pro bono. I am sure Mr Weliamuna has done enough pro bono work, including for some of his accusers. But is it wrong that he charged fees for this particular assignment? Especially an assignment that causes the kind of flack Mr Weliamuna is taking now? Would there be any guarantee of quality for work done for nothing?

Conflict of interest?

Is there anything wrong with providing services for fee while serving as Chair of Transparency International’s Sri Lanka unit? Mr Weliamuna was an employee of TI-Sri Lanka until 2010. But he no longer is. Depending on the terms and conditions of employment, it may be improper for employees of TI-Sri Lanka to undertake outside assignments. But Mr Weliamuna has not been an employee for the past four years. Generally, members of the Boards of non-profit organizations do not get paid for their services. Are they supposed to live on air?

Disclosure of fees

The normal practice would be to ask the relevant person in government, in this case the Secretary of the Ministry of Aviation, what was paid to an outside consultant. When the Cabinet approval of my contract made the news in 2002, questions were not directed to me, but to the Secretary of the Ministry for Economic Reforms, Science and Technology.

For some reason, the journalist appears to have chosen to ask the chair of the committee. Perhaps because of his background as a public-interest lawyer or perhaps because he knew the interrogator, Mr Weliamuna has answered the question and disclosed the total amount. When pressed for a detailed breakdown, he has balked, possibly because that would have involved disclosing the fees received by his colleagues on the committee. For this, he is excoriated unjustly.

Selection for the assignment

Anonymous government officials are quoted questioning the selection. Does anyone seriously believe that a sensitive assignment like this should be assigned to a contractor procured through a tender board? When commissions of inquiry were appointed in the past were they not paid? Were they procured following the complex procedures set out in the “Blue Book”? Would this have served the public purpose of exposing and dealing with corruption and mismanagement in a timely manner?

The larger problem

The flimsy grounds on which Mr Weliamuna is being attacked point to a larger problem.

The late Lee Kuan Yew said that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. People who undertake serious business for the government should be paid serious money and held accountable for what they produce. It is wrong to think that investigative exercises such as what is at issue here can be done by volunteers. The problem is not what we pay people; it is the quality of what they produce.

Journalists should focus their energies on the quality of the output of the Weliamuna Committee. I know it’s a little difficult when the government has not made the entire report public, and only released snippets.

Here is where the urgent enactment of the Right to Information (or as it is now called, the Freedom of Information) Bill becomes relevant. An RTI request to the Secretary of the Aviation Ministry would have enabled a journalist who so desired to learn how much the individual members of the committee were paid. Even more importantly, an RTI request, or a threat of one, would have enabled perusal of the contents of the output produced by the committee so that an assessment could be made whether it justified the expenditure of public funds.

The culture of openness that would be created by the very existence of an RTI/FOI Law would have spared us of this kind of petty and counter-productive discussion. It would have allowed us to focus on the important issues, which are the causes and persons responsible for a government-owned enterprise that contributed dividends in the millions to the Treasury when it was properly managed losing LKR 29 billion (or more than double the annual entire expenditure on Samurdhi payments) in 2014 alone.

But perhaps, I and the journalist both miss the point. Perhaps taking our attention away from the main issues is the purpose. When we are debating the propriety of four professionals making an average of LKR 21,000 a day on a short-term, time-sensitive assignment, we are not discussing how individuals who earned multiple millions in monthly salaries and benefits caused losses to the public in the billions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    Remrmber the Wijayasooma cartoons? The poor peasant ( actually a governmeny clerk) is at the recieving end of misery? The peasants own dumb attiudes,racism ,bias and inability to under stand the modern world – the key roots of his misery are passed on to something rlse.Typically petty clerical points.

  • 32
    1

    Great article Prof Rohan, fully endorse this, we need more professionals like Weliamuna to come forward and submit reports Ike this.

    • 1
      1

      If at all Conflict of interest is being pointed out then that should be against appointing Welliamuna in the first place to the commission since he had been an ardent critique of the Previous regime due to their very obvious corruption as well as human rights violation, not because that he was paid for the service .

      • 3
        1

        ” he had been an ardent critique of the Previous regime due to their very obvious corruption as well as human rights violation”
        Is’nt there bias on the part of Weliamuna due to this? Was’nt there any other independent and capable individual to head this inquiry?
        This shows Govt’s intentions are not honorable.

    • 6
      0

      Apparently someone has paid a Ministry Official to raise these with CT – the self-
      appointed watch-dog of pious journalist who wish to nit-pick on matters at the wrong time and in the wrong manner or attitude.

      Why does not CT go after the EC in search of the Declaration of Assets Form as
      tendered by MR for the last PE – this will have much more interesting matters for
      CT to deal with, instead of pinning Mr. Weliamuna?

      (Pl. do not edit this out) Thanks

  • 3
    1

    Prof. Rohan Samarajiva

    RE:The Assault On Weliamuna

    If you are caught with the goods.
    The Judge says so.
    Change the Judge.

    Does it change the corruption, if investigated by a new judge?

    Did the Sun Go around the Earth, after criticism of Copernicus, Bruno(burned at the stake) Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Faucault?

    The Earth still went around the Sun, and turned on its own axis.

  • 22
    1

    Well said Rohan.

    What the Rajapaksa mafia is incapable of doing today with white vans they are doing using tabloids and websites using their colossal illegally acquired fortunes. It is so easy to buy benign faced howlers.

  • 19
    1

    Complaining about the payment Mr Weliamuna received is a waste of time. However the fact that this amount of money was paid for the report and absolutely nothing seems to be coming out of it, is criminal.

  • 1
    6

    I wrote this here, under another JC Weliamuna topic, before this article popped up:

    There is a well do guy in Sri Lanka. He is a small-time consultant with a local entity. We asked him to travel to a rural area to look at a few issues. He flatly refused it, suggesting that he earns over 18,000 rupees a day in payment and other perks in Colombo, and he would miss out that if he were to travel to undertake the set task. I like to know what happened for 3.5 million rupees, but I am happy wait for the cost break-don before persecuting by the ‘faceless media’.

  • 2
    10

    Is it wrong to charge for one’s professional expertise? Some commentators were “shocked” that a four member committee working under time pressure was paid LKR 3.5 million, for six weeks of work that produced a detailed 136 page report on SriLankan Airlines

    The writer may be another white collar thief.

    Four members charging Rs 80,000 per day, or Rs 20,000 per person per day ?.
    Why Transparency International is closed and not transparent ?. They should show honesty, transparency and integrity first before preaching it. Is it a big deal for one person to write 29 pages for Six weeks ? Who knows how much of those 29 pages are garbage ?

    It is just like head of the CPA. they are preaching it but they don’t practice it.

    • 5
      1

      “Is it a big deal for one person to write 29 pages for Six weeks ? Who knows how much of those 29 pages are garbage ?”

      what a silly argument ? it’s not the number of pages that matters , but the contents , each and every single accusation must be backed with credible evidence , in order to unearth the truth , he must have gone through a hell of lot documents , interviews , video & Audio recordings etc. people with ulterior motives go on attacking on JCW and his report as there is no any other way to stop the impending arrests. 3.5 M is nothing compare to the colossal loss which was accumulating to the tune of few hundred Billions since the Mafia family took over.

  • 10
    0

    Well said. I have always said let the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

    You could very well see the freedom of speech now available in mother Lanka, earlier everyone was silent and the people in the former government said yes for the 18th amendment

  • 5
    6

    Good professor says “I am sure Mr Weliamuna has done enough pro bono work” may be yes when the Rajapaksas in power. Now time to chase while Weliamuna’s government in power. Good luck to all Wiliamunas and Samarajeews

  • 3
    10

    Something really fishy here. Why cannot he revel his fees?

  • 3
    7

    It hurts, right?

    You start with brining socialism to the country with violent revolution and then you end up defending your comrades who makes Rs.21,000 a day while a college graduate lucky enough to get a job making, say, Rs. 15,000 a month!

    Right, the aforementioned graduate haven’t mastered the Marxism enough like you and your comrades.

    Sad that you, professor, ended up as an apologist to crooks who investigate bigger or smaller crooks. What a life.
    What would have Kaso Alwis done?

  • 1
    7

    Let’s not beat about the bush. I do not give a … about JC Weliamuna or any of his catchers.

    Why is the government not revealing who was paid what for this report? After all it is our money that has been spent. Is’nt this the responsibility of Arjuna Ranatunga to put his mouth to good use? They have the energy to talk nonsense all of the time, very little desire to talk facts and sense, at least some of the time.

    Cut the bull-shit. There was no need for Mr. Weliamuna to play cute with the facts. If he had a ounce of decency, he should have insisted the details be revealed on his behalf or done it himself. Instead, he chose to dance around the facts. Lets call a spade a spade!

  • 1
    5

    “Is it wrong to charge for one’s professional expertise? Some commentators were “shocked” that a four member committee working under time pressure was paid LKR 3.5 million, inclusive of costs, for six weeks of work that produced a detailed 136 page report on SriLankan Airlines, a government-owned enterprise that lost a total of LKR 29 billion in 2014, according to the latest Central Bank Annual Report. Given the extensive cross-subsidies to Mihin Lanka, the actual total loss for the combined airlines in 2014 was LKR 28,348 million. That means that the government airlines investigated by the Weliamuna Committee lost LKR 77.7 million per day.”

    No it is not wrong. But it seems a little excessive! Why has the panel ignored the answerability of the Board of Directors who quietly colluded in the loss of LKR 77.7 million per day? It is strange that the crusader for transparency has ignored the presence of a former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and head of one of the premier conglomerates , An eminent Presidents Counsel, and a leading Hotelier on the board of the Airline while holding only the Chairman and CEO responsible for the loses. Did any of these directors head the audit committee or participate in the oversight of the re fleeting project? Did any Director pay special attention to duty free sales? The public has a right to demand measurable value delivery for Rs.3.5 Million.

  • 8
    1

    Looks like CT is also like all other sri lankan institutions -great start opposing MR etc and now slowly degenerating in to a mud-raking sladerer with no balance or responsibility. All this is done by quoting unnamed sources who apparently are truthful ! A few days back some obscure pilots at airlanka were publicly insulted. Now the committee that probed airlanka corruption is being targeted.

    • 2
      3

      yep. We only want anyone to oppose MR and thereafter to sing in praise or at least to keep their eyes, years and mouth shut..That is Yaha.ya.

  • 2
    2

    No purpose is served by asking others to defend him.

    The logic is simle.

    Just provide how much each person claim form the payment made from public funds.

    These people who talk much about right to information respect. It in the first place.

  • 7
    2

    Typical Sri Lankan petty jealousy . Most would prefer to have a bunch of crooks rob and plunder Sri Lankan Airlines ,rather than pay reputed professionals to carry out a thorough investigation into their activities. No wonder we are in this sorry situation today !!

  • 1
    5

    Please pardon this poor man. There is a reason why cannot declare how much he officially charge.

    If he say that probably Ranatunga will come out with the figure paid to him unofficially.

  • 1
    1

    If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.?? Is this also means that if you pay gold, you get gold bullion?? Where is the limit… People paid Gold to Rajapakse family (or allow them to take huge commissions), so people got roads and harbours. Logical argument???. People paid peanuts to CBK, so they got nothing…
    I guess problem is Waliamune like young leaders gave lot of hopes, hopes of new country to people.. But how could 60 year matured wicket political culture, people thinking change in 50 days or 100 days??? Mr. Waliamune, Please stay away from this sort of lucrative government contracts when you work this close with the government.. It is dirty.

  • 2
    0

    It is good to see the public awakened to the notion of ‘conflict of interest’, but be reminded that this is a notion that had all but disappeared out of the Sri Lankan vocabulary till December 2014!

    From the responses, it seems the problem is why Mr Weliamuna is afraid of disclosing details. I think RS has nailed it – it is exactly because most arm-chair good governance advocates would misinterpret whatever Mr Weliamuna discloses. So, let’s just assume he got all of it and then take what RS has outlined seriously. Is this a bad use of state funds? To diagnose losses in the billions, to pay 3.5m? For most consultants in the previous regime this would have been peanuts!

    It is good to question and make ourselves accountable, but criticising payment of professional fees for good work should be looked at rationally and not emotionally. If we thrash people who want to bring about some positive change this way, it is those rogue elements of the past regime that would happily jump on the bandwagon to discredit such good work and confuse the people.

    Let’s try to see the big picture here while also being alert about good governance.

  • 3
    0

    Thank you. Let us work this out with numbers as the prime factor.

    Total cost: Rs.3.5 million ( @ Rs 133/ US $= $ 20,316

    / person (total 04) = $ 5079
    (This includes the payment for the team of accountants and auditors assisting them, travel etc.)

    Cost/ day/person(Total 42 days)= $ 121

    A Consultant from Europe or the US has to be paid at least US $1000 per day + 5 star accommodation +internal transport + at least business class air travel . The scope of this assignment would have also required that a team of support staff be provided at government expense.

    Dr.RN

  • 3
    0

    Completely agree with the writer: If you wish for professional services of a professional, you need to pay him his professional fees.

    It is absolutely ridiculous to have made such a hue and cry over this payment: Did those who shouted expect a serious investigation for 6 weeks of work for nothing?

    How silly can these alarmists get? Really astonishing that they received the exposure they got in the websites and newspapers.

    A lot of these alarmists haven’t a clue about professional fees.

  • 4
    0

    Rs. 21,000/ per day for a professional is peanuts! Just ask a lawyer his/her fees.

    • 0
      0

      You throw peanuts to Weliamuna and get a report that should be thrown into the waste paper basket. Only result is that the minister got some cheap publicity.

  • 5
    0

    This is an organised attack on Weliamune to discredit his reputation whilst at the same time bring the down the value of all findings in the Airlanka mismanagement. The members of the previous regime may have in hand lots of money from the loot during the past 10 years and can spend them freely to protect them with these cheap tactics. There are people at all levels who can be bought over for money to carry out this kind of attacks.

    The most important at the moment is not to get dishearten with these attacks but counter them where ever possible and even go mire stronger to expose these criminals and their activities.

  • 4
    0

    Well said Rohan. Sad to see the type of unqualified commentary in the thread below it though . The price paid for a consultancy of this nature is very reasonable. And definitely lower than anything we would have paid an International expert panel costing out in USD.or sterling. It is the parochial small-mindedness of those that have never consulted who tend to get into the fray on such peripheral and piddly issues .

    As for the rest of the commenters as citizen commentaries or as accountable scribes it is often a concerted effort to destroy those top Professionals that stand up and are counted at times like this to put a totally dysfunctional system right or at least establish some credible diagnostics of the issues at hand.
    Our journalists hang and quarters willy -nilly without putting things in context.
    Glad you have contextualised this as they should have done..Reputation is sacrosanct and at least the better end of Journalists MUST make a concerted effort to get the whole picture,and place responsible commentary in context and perspective.. Someone like you should set up a watchdog initiative for responsible reporting- at least our own version of snoops perhaps!!

  • 2
    0

    For me it’s an impartial view of the professor. When one compares the LOSS the SriLankan airlines incurs, this fee is peanuts. What is more important is not to be in a great hurry to inquire about the fee paid for the committee but to rectify the problems shown in the report and bring back SriLankan to a profit making airline. When SriLankan beard is on fire we should extinguish it instead of trying to light cigars.

  • 0
    1

    I completely agree with this quote;

    Meanwhile speaking to Colombo Telegraph, a Finance Ministry official said; I’m talking purely because this issue of integrity is extremely important, more so in this yahapalanaya times. These justifications were seen also when there was a dispute over Mr Jayantha Dhanapala‘s sitting on the Board of Dialog, a company blocking free expression in Sri Lanka while at the same time, advocating free expression as head of the Friday Forum. At that time, these very people saw nothing wrong with it and hammered Colombo Telegraph for exposing it, saying that the Rajapaksas were behind it. This terrible ambivalence is what has taken away the moral authority associated with the so-called civil society. Unfortunately elitists who preach good governance in Colombo cannot recognise this. The pro-people activists who brought Sirisena to power however do recognise this and are disturbed by it.”

    “An individual has all the right to openly campaign for a political party to come into power and thereafter accept a financially beneficial payment for doing a job of work for that party. But this ‘committee’ was set up by the relevant Minister informally and not in the same way as for example, President Sirisena appointed Commissioners to an anti-corruption Commission which is under a particular law and subject to proper regulation. Even so, there is nothing to prevent an individual from accepting such an informal political position. But after doing so, he or she cannot continue as the head of a civil society organisation pretending to be impartial and non-political. This is where the conflict arises. This is where the integrity of that particular civil society organisation is damaged. It is a question of integrity, pure and simple. These matters cannot simply be covered under a blanket of saying that ‘so and so is under attack’ or that the Rajapaksas have paid for these ‘attacks.’” a Finance Ministry official told Colombo Telegraph on the condition of anonymity. He is barred from officially talking to the media.

    “And the other question is basic. Why is Mr Weliamuna refusing to disclose the exact payment that was paid if there is nothing to hide? ‘” the ministry official further said.

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/wiliamuna-controversy-jayaratne-sees-nothing-wrong/

  • 4
    0

    Thank you Dr. Samarajiva for trying to clarify the issues. This is the typical Sri Lankan style of killing the messenger. Some two bit journalist has fallen pray to a cheap ploy to detract from the horrendous revelations contained in the report. For those who have never hired or worked with consultants LKR 3.5m is big money! Little do they know… In another interesting revelation, the Central Bank it seems has spent more than LKR 2 billion on Consultancy, Communication, Advisory and Professional Fees’ in 2014, up from LKR 17m the previous year! Maybe these ‘journalists’ should focus on that

  • 2
    0

    Once again Rohan Sam is on the lime light. I see nothing wrong in paying a decent fee. Oh! Yes! I agree with late Lee Kuan Yew when he said that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Conflict of interest or non-response of Weliamuna is neither here nor there. But what is relevant is value for money. Whether it is Weliamuna;s BOI or Sam’s PIPU (It was mentioned in parliament that the acronym PIPU can stand for Private Interest Program Unit) the result obtained must be fully worth the money paid. You have to pay a Trillion for what you have to get (I quote the figure Trillion because there are supposed to be Trillionaires in this country.) then pay it but be sure to get the Trilliion’s worth of goods and services. What invariably happens is that the recipient of the goods and services is unaware of the value he gets and pays the sum that is demanded, even if it is a Trillion. The rest of the population would make a noise as if they have eaten the hottest chilly.

  • 1
    0

    Ayyo CT forget this, Weliamuna is “ape minima” (Our Man) !

    Remember our boss Rajapaksa said in an inimitably candid statement of his idea of governance – it boils down to “ape minihava beraganna oney” and therefore it is “shape kerala ganna” all the way.

    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/cjs-husband-was-our-man-we-quietly-covered-it-up-but-unp-wanted-impeach-cj-mr/

  • 1
    0

    All professionals have every right to refuse to disclose fees for services rendered – except to tax authorities.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.