Opinion

Peradeniya charge-sheets UGC Member

University of Peradeniya charge-sheeted Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Member of the University Grants Commission, asking him to explain why he should not be punished or otherwise dealt with for breach of trust and obtaining and circulating confidential documents. A secondary charge was of bringing the university into disrepute through an article in the Island of 25 May 2004, titled "The Problem with Lankan Research."

A Council source said that Prof. Hoole had merely brought to the notice of the academic and administrative authorities of the university, namely the Council and the Engineering Faculty Board, documents that showed extensive cheating in making a professorial promotion. Was that not his duty and right under Section 4.3 of Chapter XXII of the Establishments Code? If Prof. Hoole is right, then it would indicate a serious violation by the Vice Chancellor, Prof. K. G. A. Goonasekera, and other Peradeniya administrators under Section 2:2:8 of Chapter XXII of the UGC Establishments Code, that is, lack of integrity and improper conduct in violating UGC Circulars. And, instead of looking into his allegations which would be highly embarrassing to the authorities, what was the response of the Council? It had been to charge him with being in possession of confidential documents. It is a signal said the Council source to anyone who would blow the whistle on corruption: "We will get you, if you dare report us."

Legal sources observed that it is nonsensical to claim confidentiality over a document that had been used to cheat, as alleged, the public and the university. It is like an accountant caught stealing. Instead of answering the charges, he draws a red herring by counter-charging that his confidential accounts had been obtained.

It is worth noting that the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG), consisting of eminent persons concerned over the rule of law, recently began filing public interest litigation over this particular promotion of Dr. K. S. Walgama to Professor of Engineering Mathematics and another at Peradeniya. Since then, several cases have been brought to the notice of CIMOGG of extensive corruption in university appointments. CIMOGG continues to fight these, its most recent cases involving manipulative or at best careless decision-making by current Human Rights Commission members, a former Human Rights Commission and a Professor of Law in different cases.

These cases show how bad things are at our universities. The most prominent appointment challenged by CIMOGG is that of Professor of Surgery at Colombo where CIMOGG alleges that UGC Circulars on Professorial Selection Committees and Marking Schemes were set aside to make up a favorable committee. This Committee used a marking scheme with 30 points for a first degree (that is almost the same for every academic) and only 10 for publications (which only professorial quality people would earn) in this professorial appointment. The internal candidate, the current Head of Surgery, who had obtained the lowest score according to the approved UGC marking scheme was selected based on the Colombo marking scheme.

The work that the UGC ought to be doing, "regulating the administration of universities" in the words of the Universities Act, it has fallen on CIMOGG to do. How ineffective the UGC is has been pointed out by Dr. Weeraratne, lately of Rajarata University, in the Island’s columns several times. As he points out, several complaints against the Rajarata administration were ignored. The UGC moved only when ordered to inquire by the President. Since most appointments are political, authorities dare not act until there is a signal that the relevant political authorities are no longer prepared to protect their appointees.

An example of such protection concerns Dr. Rajan Hoole of the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) who was terminated from University of Jaffna in 1991. A first inquiry ordered by the President was sabotaged within the Presidential Palace itself by officials who did not forward her orders to the relevant authorities. A second UGC inquiry begun in 1996 under political victimisation dragged on for years for lack of cooperation of the various authorities in Jaffna and Colombo. Obstruction even included denying the report’s author, Prof. Karl G. Goonewardena of the UGC then, the facilities to type his report at the UGC. Doggedly pushing his report because he saw an injustice that cried for correction, Prof. Goonewardena finally released the findings in 2000 that Rajan Hoole’s termination was vindictive and under political pressure, and recommended reinstatement with back wages.

According to Prof. Goonewardena’s son, Nandana, who waved goodbye to Peradeniya after many years as an economist there because of what he saw as an uncorrectable system, the renewal of his father’s term at the UGC was opposed by fellow members for successfully insisting, against their wishes, on the report being accepted by the UGC. With Prof. Goonewardena, the report also was suppressed by the then UGC after accepting it. Such is the power of the establishment to cover-up for their errant big-wigs. Today, the Ombudsman, Justice R.B. Ranaraja is pursuing it and it seems that he might have some results.

Elmore Perera, Senior Counsel and Vice President of CIMOGG observed: "Professor Hoole has done great service to the country by publicly advocating whistle-blowing through seminars at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science where no less an authority than Justice Mark Fernando gave a legal defence of whistle-blowing as a constitutional duty. Prof. Hoole has lived out what he preaches and is being victimized for it. If they can do this to a person of Prof. Hoole’s standing, few indeed will dare to come forward to report corruption. We must have a law as in the UK protecting and encouraging whistle blowing."

Academic


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