…auditing process in shambles, wrongdoers go Scot free
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa says USD 150,000 (approximately Rs 30mn) was spent on lawyers to justify the termination of national cricket coach Chandika Hathurisinghe by the then SLC administration. Minister Rajapaksa said that the SLC funds had been spent to negotiate the compensation owed to the sacked coach or in other words to justify the decision taken by that group in respect of the then national coach.
The Minister said so in Parliament recently in response to a query raised by SLPP Colombo District lawmaker attorney-At-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta.
Dolawatte asked Minister Rajapaksa whether authorities examined the reasons for the deterioration of cricket, what were the reasons and who were responsible for the situation?
The Sports Minister said that the issues at hand should be examined against the backdrop of SLC having hired five national coaches in five years and the previous administration deciding to go for a local coach.
Minister’s comment on the costly Chandika Hathurusinghe case was his first in Parliament since the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), under the chairmanship of Prof. Charitha Herath initiated inquiries several months ago. The SLPP National List MP Prof. Herath said that SLC would be summoned in the first week of Oct to examine its activities.
The then Sports Minister Harin Fernando called for Hathurusingha’s removal in the wake of Sri Lanka’s poor performance at the sixth ICC World Cup in 2019. Hathurusinghe sued the SLC over the premature termination of his contract. The COPE has been told of the role played by the then President of the Board of Control of Cricket Tilanga Sumathipala and Vice President K. Mathivanan, who quit the post in July 2020 following a spat with other board members over the Hathurusinghe affair.
Prof. Herath told the COPE meeting on April 6 if the court case in respect of Hathurusingha’s removal went against the SLC, in terms of the contract, the latter would have to pay the former coach Rs 100 mn, in addition to legal fees amounting to Rs 30 mn so far incurred. Prof. Herath pointed out that the SLC was paying a heavy price for negotiating a contract under mysterious circumstances.
Prof. Herath acknowledged that in spite of periodic examinations of the SLC finances by the parliamentary watchdog committee, the country’s most influential sporting body had managed to escape any penalty. That was the undeniable truth, the lawmaker said, adding that the SLC’s rash explanation as regards the hiring of Chandika Hathurusingha as the country’s head coach in Dec 2017 was similar to that of a plot in a detective story.
Referring to the explanation given by CEO Ashley de Silva, who had played three Tests and four ODIs in the 80-90s for the country, Prof. Herath said that the relevant agreement had been finalised by two outsiders, namely Hathurusingha, one of the parties to the agreement, and a lawyer named Kaushalya. The SLC took up the position that the agreement was prepared in secret as Hathurusingha insisted he wouldn’t go ahead with the contract if it was revealed under any circumstances. Prof. Herath said that the whole exercise seemed to be something out of a detective story.
Perusal of the COPE proceedings revealed shoddy transparency in the entire range of transactions entered into by the SLC and the failure on the part of Sports Secretary Anuradha Wijekoon to take tangible measures in respect of fraudulent activities though being instructed by the watchdog committee.
Herath acknowledged that the longstanding issue of Rs 29 mn of the SLC funds being deposited in an account belonging to an American, identified as Diamond Channel, hadn’t been resolved in spite of their intervention. The COPE Chairman is on record as having alleged that the SLC had taken contradictory positions as regards the funds deposited in a foreign account.
The former Media Ministry Secretary has pointed out that the SLC took up vastly different positions on the money transfer before the previous COPE, chaired by JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti, on Feb 20, 2020 and subsequently on Feb 11, 2021 and April 06, 2021.
Obviously, the possibility of a deliberate bid to deceive the parliamentary watchdog committee couldn’t be ruled out, the MP said.
Herath declared that the SLC lacked even the basic financial discipline expected of such a high-profile institution. How could the SLC deposit funds received as the third installment in broadcasting revenue due to it from the Sri Lanka-South Africa 2018 series is in an American’s account, lawmaker Herath asked. Their finances had been run in such a shoddy manner, anyone of those in key positions could have moved funds anywhere with impunity, the first-time entrant to Parliament said, in response to another query.
Sports recently reported that an abortive bid had been made by the SLC to deceive the Sony Company to transfer USD 5.5 to an offshore account in Hong Kong.
According to records available with the COPE, initially the SLC’s Legal Officer Chalaka Silva had categorized the relevant agreement with the Sony Company for television broadcasting rights as a contract for radio broadcasting. When the then COPE Chairman Handunnetti pointed out what he asserted was a deliberate move to mislead parliament, the Legal Officer promptly apologised. The Legal Officer also said that the SLC’s head of finance usually provided the relevant party – in this case Sony of the required bank details.
The agreement with the Sony Company signed in July 2015 specified all details, including the number of the Bank of Ceylon account maintained by the SLC. Prof. Herath noted that Ashley de Silva had signed the contract on SLC’s behalf.
In spite of periodic changes to the top management team, the CEO Ashley de Silva has remained at the helm for 13 years.
Police detain Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect over domestic aide’s death
Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect have been detained for interrogation in connection with the death of the 16-year old domestic aide.
“They are being held for 72 hours for further questioning”, police said.
The suspects taken into custody were identified by police as that 46-year old Sheyabdeen Ayesha, her father 70-year-old Mohammed Sheyabdeen and the broker who brought the girl to work as a domestic aide in Bathiudeen’s house.
The victim, a resident of Dayagama Estate off Talawakelle, was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on July 3 with severe burn injuries. She died on July 15.
Police have already recorded the statements of more than 20 persons in connection with the girl’s death.
Police have also questioned two women aged 22 and 32 from the Dayagama area, who earlier served as domestic workers at the former Minister’s house.
One of the women had claimed she was sexually harassed by Bathiudeen’s brother-in-law from 2015 to 2019 at the former Minister’s residence in Colombo.
Subsequently, police also arrested the 44-year old Sheyabdeen Ismadeen, brother-in-law of the former Minister.
Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks
After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn
by Suresh Perera
A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.
The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.
“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.
The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.
“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.
“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.
Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.
“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.
The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.
“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.
Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.
This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.
Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.
“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.
As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.
Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.
Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.
Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.
As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.
The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.
The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.
In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.
“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.
With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.
Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.
“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.
At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.
With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.
“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.
It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.
Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.
“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.
United States gives Sri Lanka 500,000 coronavirus rapid tests
The United States had donated 500,000 Rapid diagnostic tests to Sri Lanka worth Rs. 300 million to help the country fight Coronavirus, the US Agency for International Development said.
“By enabling rapid detection of the virus, these tests donated by the American people will save lives and protect public health in Sri Lanka,” USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Reed Aeschliman said in a statement.
“This donation builds on previous U.S. support to the Sri Lankan government’s pandemic response and reflects our strong, long-standing partnership.”
US has also given 1.5 million moderna vaccines to Sri Lanka.
The tests are simple to use and enable fast, decentralized access to direct testing. They do not require additional equipment or specialized laboratory access, which helps achieve high testing coverage.
The United States has also given of 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka’s health system.
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