By Malinda Seneviratne –
Those who do not know Victor Ivan, former Editor of the ‘Ravaya’ newspaper would learn from Prasanna Vithanage’s documentary ‘Silence in the Courts’ that Ivan is an exceptional journalist. His efforts to go the proverbial extra mile to obtain justice are legendary, one would conclude, after digesting the story of two citizens who clearly belong to what Fyodor Dostoyevsky might have called ‘The Insulted and Humiliated’.
As Vithanage documents, the two women are raped by a judge presiding over cases involving their husbands as accused parties. There’s no one to entertain their grievances. Those institutions which shut the door on them include the Judiciary Services Commission and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. It is in desperation that one of the women comes to Victor Ivan.
Ivan not only publishes her story, but goes on to write a series of articles exposing the judge. The then Attorney General refuses to take action. Undeterred, Ivan exposes the cover up forcing the Judicial Services Commission to appoint a tribunal to investigate. The judge is found guilty but gets off with the light ‘punishment’ of ‘compulsory leave with pay’. Later, when moves to make the Attorney-General the Chief Justice came to be known, Ivan wrote a book about the failure of the justice system. He insisted then that it was wrong and unethical to appoint as Chief Justice a man who was accused of wrongdoing, was being investigated and as at that point yet to be cleared.
One doesn’t need to watch this documentary to know of Victor Ivan’s efforts to champion the cause of justice. There have been occasions when he got it all wrong, once even leading to the suicide of a police officer falsely accused. The intention, however, was not malicious. By and large Victor has been the voice for the voiceless, he has given space for those denied proper representation and has consistently argued for transformation of structures and procedures to ensure justice, accountability and transparency.
Perhaps it is all this that prompted Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) to give Victor Ivan an ‘Integrity Award’ as part of the celebrations to mark the World Anti-Corruption Day. The other recipient, posthumously of course, was ardent good governance advocate the late Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero.
Now TISL has its own ‘transparency’ issues, particularly with respect to donor funds requested, obtained and used for ‘election monitoring’.
“The CPA, NPC and TI received Rs. 272.31 million, Rs. 171.23 million and 174.79 million respectively, it was reported in ‘The Island’ of March 5, 2011. This is peace-time bucks, folks. If they got Rs. 618.33 million in three peace-years or roughly over Rs 200 million a year, one can only imagine how much money they wallowed in during the height of the war! ” For more details, read “CPA, NPC and TISL are about bucks (BIG bucks)”
There’s also an issue about the ‘giver’ of the award. If anyone still believes that President Maithripala Sirisena and the word ‘integrity’ can legitimately go together, then a quick look-back at how he fiddled with ‘democracy’, championed nepotism and wrecked corporate good governance, not to mention the abuse of presidential powers, would set the record straight. Let’s leave all that aside.
Does Victor Ivan deserve this award? If we knew only what has been mentioned above, the answer is a clear ‘yes’. However, there is damning evidence to impeach Ivan on questionable (we are being generous here) financial transactions.
There is the issue of his involvement in Ravaya’s non-payment of taxes where the former President nudged state agencies to advertise in that paper so that monies owed the Department of Inland Revenue could be paid. More seriously is the issue of Ivan demanding (and being given) millions of rupees from a fund made of donations solicited and obtained from the general public by Ravaya Solidarity. The would-be donors were not informed that the money collected would be used to purchase shares from Ivan. Indeed, as a Limited Guarantee company, there can be no ‘shares’, although the word has been used (loosely) by those defending the transaction.
What is most damning is that Ivan has agreed to pay back the money clearly indicating that what was done was wrong. While Ivan should be applauded for this act of ‘penitence’, it does not exonerate him. Ivan knew what he was about. Ravaya Solidarity knew what was happening. The public was deceived. Neither Ivan nor spokespersons for Ravaya have offered clarification that clears either party. Instead what we’ve seen is vilification of the whistle-blowers, a course of action that detracts from Ivan’s considerable contributions towards building a just and democratic society.
An investigation into all this is currently being conducted by the Registrar of Companies, who, we are told, keeps all documents under lock and key, as should be of course. The documents out in the public domain clearly warrant a ‘second look’ at Ivan by those who are passing around integrity-awards, one would think. TISL obviously thought otherwise. That’s their business.
In Ivan’s case, it would have been much better had he followed his own advocacy with respect to the Attorney General he ‘exposed’ in the case that Vithanage made a documentary on, i.e. had he said ‘There’s an ongoing investigation and until and unless my name is cleared, I shall not accept this or any other award.’ He did not do that.
He was under a cloud and that cloud has got darker. As things stand and as was pointed to Prasanna Vithanage just after his documentary premiered at the Liberty Lite Cinema some months ago, he has to at least consider a second documentary. This time on Victor Ivan.