News Features

A question of adding feathers to one’s cap

By Wilson Gnanadass
A sudden decision to remove a top government official on the grounds that he has failed to substantially prove his educational qualifications has stirred the hornet’s nest.
Chairman, Urban Development Authority (UDA) D.S. Jayaweera who claimed he obtained a Ph D, from a leading University in the United States, but could not produce a certificate for evidence was last week removed from the management post he has been holding for months. The removal was a sequel to a recommendation by the Parliamentary Committee on High Posts, headed by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, to Urban Development and Water Supply Minister Dinesh Gunewardene.
To the utter dismay of the entire country the very government that considered him unfit for a top post because of his falsehood, immediately absorbed him into the finance ministry as one of the advisors. Jayaweera at present functions as the Deputy Director Planning Ministry of Transport attaché in the Finance Ministry.
Therefore doubt is cast on those who were responsible for his removal and fingers are pointed at the same and questions are raised as to whether the removal has any ulterior motive.
While the removal was justified by the government on the basis that Jayaweera failed to submit his Ph D certificate when required, The Nation learns his punishment was after he refused to toe the line with top UDA officials over some unlawful business dealings.
However, the fact remains he has failed to produce his certificate after claiming to have obtained a Ph D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Minister Dinesh Gunewardene in his letter addressed to Jayaweera dated September 5, 2006 says his dishonesty has brought disrepute to the UDA and the office he has been holding. The Minister further says that the Parliamentary Committee on High Posts has found him unsuitable to hold a high post in view of the fact that he has misled the said committee by providing false information regarding his educational qualifications, as having a Ph D.
Minister Gunawardena in his letter has said, “In view of the above, I, Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Urban Development and Water Supply am compelled to invoke Section 4 (4) (c) of the Urban Development Act No. 41 of 1978 and hereby remove you from the post of Chairman, Urban Development Authority with immediate effect.”
The Minister’s letter has also been copied to the Secretary to the President, Secretary to the Prime Minister, Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply, Auditor General, Director General UDA and Secretary to the Board of Management of the UDA.
Jayaweera exposed
Jayaweera was appointed as Chairman of the UDA on December 7, 2005.
At the consultation committee meeting of the ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply held in Parliament on August 10, 2006 the issue of submission of false information regarding Jayaweera’s education was raised.
Subsequently the same issue was also raised before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) held on August 24, 2006.
Thereafter the High Posts Committee chaired by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake examined the complaint received against Jayaweera for providing false information regarding his educational qualifications as having a Ph D.
Having first denied the charges, Jayaweera has subsequently accepted that he forwarded false information. Thereafter he had also tendered an apology to the Committee held on July 4, 2006. Later on he was requested to tender a written document.
The High Posts Committee at its 17th meeting held on August 22, 2006, took up this issue under item No. 3 of the minutes and decided tough action.The committee deliberated and resolved that the written apology tendered by Jayaweera was unacceptable and that he was unsuitable to hold any high post.Therefore the committee unanimously resolved to inform Urban Development and Water Supply Minister Dinesh Gunewardene that Jayaweera has misled the High Posts Committee by providing false information regarding his educational qualifications and hence he was found unsuitable to hold the post as Chairman.
Following this the Minister sent him a letter informing him that he was removed from his post with immediate effect.
This incident was similar to the one involving the removal of the late Upali Wijewardene from his post as Chairman, Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) by the then President J.R. Jayawardene on a recommendation made also by the Parliamentary Committee on High Posts.However, this decision was taken not because Wijewardene was dishonest but because he himself was an industrialist and that the High Posts Committee thought it was not proper for a leading industrialist to head the GCEC.
State indifferent
The fact that Jayaweera failed to substantiate his claim that he was holding a Ph D with documental evidence was not just unearthed yesterday or the day before. This fact was brought to the notice of Parliament and of course the Parliamentary Committee on High Posts, about two years ago by the then Transport Minister Felix Perera. Jayaweera was Assistant Secretary to the Transport Ministry.
However until last month not a single finger had been raised against him or pointed at for his alleged dishonesty, in lying to the State regarding his educational background. Questions are raised as to why suddenly he had been taken to task though he stands guilty of deception, which is certainly a serious offense.
The Nation learns Minister Gunewardene himself had come under severe pressure before taking a decision to remove Jayaweera. It is also learnt that the Minister had been requested by many top citizens not to remove Jayaweera. The bone fide of the government is also now seriously questioned for absorbing Jayaweera directly to the finance ministry after the High Posts Committee determined that Jayaweera was unfit for high posts.
Truth beneath the surface
However, sources from within the UDA disclosed on the condition of anonymity that though Jayaweera was found guilty of failing to prove his educational qualifications, he was a ‘straight man’. Sources say the UDA decided to take Jayaweera to task because he refused to be party to an agreement allegedly reached between the Ministry and a Korean company regarding the purchase of four acres of land in Kotte. It is said the Ministry in connivance with the Korean company had allegedly attempted to purchase the prime land in Kotte, without a bank guarantee and Jayaweera had been approached for his consent. But he had flatly refused to place his signature on the agreement.
Sources say Jayaweera’s rebuttal, to sign the document and be party to an alleged scandal, may have angered the top Ministry officials thereby prompting them thereafter to bring the ‘Ph D case’ up again to pin him down.


Did not obtain certificate

Chairman, Urban Development Authority (UDA) D.S. Jayaweera, justified his claim by saying though he did not obtain a certificate he did submit his thesis to the MIT, which he said was accepted.
He says when the officials at MIT accepted his thesis and commended it, the obvious inference was that he was going to be conferred with a Ph D.
He says he did not at any stage indicate in his Curriculum Vitae that he has obtained a Ph D. According to him he obtained his Masters degree in Town and Country Planning from Moratuwa University in 1984 and a Science degree from the Colombo University in 1992. His first degree has been from Sri Jayawardenepura University on Development Studies - Statistics Special in 1972.
“In 1996, I went to the US and enrolled myself with the MIT. After doing some modules I submitted my proposal for a Ph D in 1997 and it was accepted.
“In 1999, I submitted my thesis and it was well received. Only thing for some logistical reasons I could not go for the convocation. Then when I had to submit my CV to Parliament I requested from the MIT for the transcript. I received the transcript from the MIT in October 2005 but the transcript did not mention my doctorate.
“Anyway, I have not done anything wrong. I am not sure whether the punishment I have got is for this reason. I know it is for something else. It was Minister Gunewardene who begged me for four days to undertake this post. Otherwise I could have gone to Washington to accept a post at the World Bank,” he added.


Corrupt officials should be removed

Urban Development Minister Dinesh Gunewardene, is of the view all corrupt officials should be removed from the administration to create a better society. He said this was the first experience in his entire political career where he had to take such a drastic action against a top government official.
“Tomorrow somebody else will come up with a fake certificate, and are they expected to work in such places and hold high offices? This is wrong and if I had not taken this decision I would not have done a service to the country. I could not be dishonest to Parliament,” he said.
“In fact, when I queried from him at first he denied it. He said he did have his Ph D. But later when I wanted to see the documents he said he had already submitted it to Parliament.
“Then when he was grilled by the High Post Committee he admitted he did not obtain a Ph D. Now this is dishonesty. He should not have lied to the nation and especially to his conscience,” the Minister told The Nation.
Citing an earlier occasion where Upali Wijewardene was removed from his post as GCEC Chairman, the Minister said this must have been the second such incident to have occurred in Sri Lanka. “You see, even though Wijewardene was the late President’s nephew, he was removed. So we must follow this type of discipline,” he said.