Irate FUTA dons berate Kiriella

I have authority to direct universities - Minister


by Dasun Edirisinghe

The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) has, in a letter to President Maithripala Sirisena, accused Minister of Higher Education and Highways Lakshman Kiriella of an attempt to have a particular individual appointed a temporary lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Kelaniya. The minister has made a written request to the Kelaniya University in this regard, university lecturers claim.

The FUTA has brought to the attention of President Sirisena that Minister Kiriella attempted to appoint a member to the Council of the University of Kelaniya on a previous occasion.

The FUTA has condemned Kiriella’s conduct as unethical and irresponsible. University teachers have told the President that the minister’s action runs counter to the government’s policy of good governance.

The FUTA dons have called for an assurance from the President that the universities will be free from political interferences. The full text of the FUTA letter, signed by its President Dr Rangika Halwathura and Secretary Shyama Banneheke.

"We, the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA), have been constantly reiterating the need to secure the autonomy of universities through depoliticization of the university system. We were somewhat convinced of you and your Government’s commitment towards securing the same.

However, we regret to inform you of our deep displeasure and disappointment regarding a letter sent by the Minister of Higher Education and Highways, Minister Lakshman Kiriella, dated 8th February 2016 (Attachment 1) requesting that a particular individual be appointed as a temporary lecturer to the Department of Political Science at the University of Kelaniya. The said letter has raised our concerns about your Government’s policy of good governance.

As we have pointed out earlier, political interference still take place during recruitment of individuals for non-academic positions within the university system. We would also like to refresh your memory about a particular member of parliament attempting to admit a student to a university through political interference during the previous regime. We feel that the said letter sent by the Minister is an indication that your Government is reinforcing the same type of political interference in the university system.

We would like to bring to your attention the fact that Minister Kiriella has previously attempted to appoint a member to the Council of the University of Kelaniya. His conduct as the Minister in-charge of Higher Education is condemned as both unethical and irresponsible.

In addition to the actions of the Minister in this instance, we strongly condemn all direct and indirect forms of undue political interference to the national university system. We strongly request of you an assurance that uncritical political interference of this nature would not take place in future.

In response to the FUTA allegation Minister Kiriella’s office has in a statement signed by Media Secretary Rajitha Samarasooriya said that the minister has the authority to give directions to universities. However, he specifically asked the university to consider the candidate only if he or she was suitably qualified.

Full text of the statement issued by the Minister’s office: "According to the Article 19 of the Universities Act, the Minister has the authority to give directions to Universities. In the letter sent to the University of Kelaniya, the Minister has specifically stated that the candidate shall be considered only if he or she is suitably qualified. If the qualifications are not met, the candidate can be rejected. With good governance prevailing as well as universities being given the necessary autonomy to function, the Minister has not used the Universities Act powers willfully at any given moment. By not using the powers which have been given, some have forgotten the powers that have been vested to the Minister in accordance with the Universities Act.

"It is no secret that some figures holding high posts in Universities during the previous regime were openly active in politics during the previous Presidential Election towards the defeat of Maithripala Sirisena. But the new Government has not taken any steps towards the withdrawal of posts or any acts of revenge for those who engaged themselves in politics. If they had any self-respect, the respectable thing they could’ve done was resign from their respective posts. By releasing the letter sent by the Hon. Minister to the press, it appears that those who worked against the current government at the Presidential Election are up to their old tricks to bring back defeated ideology."

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