“I Swear Upon My Children, We Never Got Any Pressure From The President”
Excerpts of an interview with Nishantha Ranatunge, Secretary to Sri Lanka Cricket
Q: What is the present financial position of SLC? What are the reasons for this sorry state of affairs?
NR: SLC is not in a sorry state. There is no financial crisis.
Q: How much money was spent by SLC on the recently concluded World Cup?
NR: Apart from infrastructure development for which the Board initially allocated Rs. 3.6 billion towards the building of a new stadium at Sooriyawewa and refurbishing Pallakele and Kettarama we spent nothing more than this on the World Cup.
Q: How much of this is reimbursable by the ICC to SLC?
NR: The ICC pledged USD 5 million.
Q: How much of this amount has been received to-date?
NR: 4 million dollars.
Q: When will the balance be received?
NR: I don’t know that yet – but it will be soon.
Q: How will the financial gap be bridged?
NR: We got the T20 World Cup, which gives us a substantial amount of finances next year in 2012. Also in February next year, we will have the Asia Cup here. And Australia and Pakistan, are considering to play their bilateral tournaments here, as a result of the security concerns in Pakistan.
Q: Didn’t SLC overreach itself by throwing huge sums of money into building a new stadium in Sooriyawewa which was not really needed and for which they did not have the funds?
NR: I don’t agree with each and every word of yours. I think it’s a need for the country. It’s a need for the younger generation. It’s a need for society. I’m not talking politics. But I believe that Hambantota is the highest developing city in this country. Everyone is focusing there. It was a good and sound decision to build a cricket stadium at Sooriyawewe.
Q: But were you not merely following orders? That of President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
NR: No, honestly, we never got any pressure from the President to build that stadium. I swear upon my children and I say he has never told us to spend extra money or any money on that.
Q: But how can you say no pressure was exerted on you when you were even ordered to give the contracts to Sri Lanka Ports and State Engineering Corporation?
NR: I think that was the safest. I’ll tell you why. When we took office in 2009, April it took us about 2 months to settle down. By the time we started this process it took about… 3-4 months… and so we didn’t have time to go for a proper bid, evaluation and all that. This way it was much better because if we had gone with private sector organisations the whole media would have gone to town with us, accusing us of taking bribes.
Q: Nevertheless, there was strident criticism of the awarding of the contracts for all 3 stadiums. There was no transparency at all in the process or no criteria for selection of contractors. The awards were made to companies who had quoted much higher than some local bidders. Can you explain the process?
NR: I believe the process in the end suited SLC. It helped avoid allegations of corruption against us and fast-tracked work on the stadiums which would have otherwise been held up if technical and cabinet appointed committees had to be named to evaluate bids from different parties.
Q: So how much did it cost to build Sooriyawewa?
NR: If you give me 3 weeks to one month I will be able to tell you the exact figure. I really do not know yet.
Q: But you must have some kind of an estimate in mind? After all you would have been quoted rates per square foot? What did it cost you to renovate Kettarama and rebuild Pallekele?
NR: I don’t know exactly. I cannot comment without having the final figures with me.
Q: Did it not cost you over Rs. 7 billion?
NR: I think it was over Rs. 5 billion. But I can’t be sure it may have gone up to Rs. 7 billion. This is only a rough estimate I am giving you. As I said before I don’t have the final figures.
Q: If as you say you were not pressured into building a brand new cricket stadium at Hambantota on what basis was Sooriyawewa chosen? Why could you not have developed the existing stadium in Dambulla?
NR: First I’ll give you an outline of how we got into the place and… this background information is a little vital. We took over office in 2009, April. At the time most of the planning for the World Cup 2011 was not in the books. We had to host 8 matches and we had a 350 million minus bank deficit with the bank when we took over office. So what happened was as soon as we took over office we had to work for the WC 2011, we were supposed to host 8 games in 2 venues. Then, due to the Pakistani issue, we got 4 extra matches. As a result we had to build another stadium for that. When we analysed the situation in terms of where to build, we had only one ground which had all the facilities upto about 60% to host a world cup event, and that was Sooriyawewa. We had to have a ground that fell in line with guidelines issued by the ICC; 30,000 seating, a capacity to hold 400 media personnel… these were some of the guidelines. So to accommodate that, when we looked at the grounds available, we had Kettarama, leased to us, owned by the government. Then we had Pallekele; though the Cricket Board had spent money 4 years back, not a single bowler has bowled on those grounds, being such an important area for cricket. Therefore, we took a decision to rebuild that as well. Then when we looked at the third venue…
Q: Who owns Pallekele?
NR: The Cricket board owns it. The grounds are on a government lease. Then when we look at the third option. And that was Dambulla. However Dambulla, from (2008) up to the WC we had about 14 international matches to be played in Sri Lanka and those 14 one-days we had to play in a place where you have lights. That’s an agreement signed by SLC before we took over, with TenSports. So, if we had wanted to develop Dambulla, we had to do the same thing that we had done with Pallakale, we had to spend at least one and a half years to get it done and we would have lost 50%-60% of revenue that was promised by the broadcaster because we could not have then used the ground. So we had to take a decision where to build.
Q: So are you saying that it was more feasible to actually build a new stadium at Sooriyawewa, rather than develop an existing one at 1/4th the cost?
NR: No, that’s not the case. We would have lost a lot of money if we had not played, if we had not kept Dambulla for our bilateral one day games.
Q: Who owns Suriyawewa?
NR: Sri Lanka Cricket. The land was sold to us by the BOI.
Q: What is the cost per annum into maintaining that stadium?
NR: About Rs. 1.5 million.
Q: So is it being maintained currently by Sri Lanka Cricket?
NR: Yes. By Sri Lanka Cricket.
Q: What does it cost to maintain the others?
NR: Also, Rs. 1.5 million each every month.
Q: There was a huge controversy around the sale of tickets for the World Cup matches held in Sri Lanka. Was there an internal investigation done by SLC on this subject? If not, why?
NR: No. What could we do? We took best precautions. We advertised detailing the days we would be selling tickets. We were very open in that aspect. But at the time we advertised we would not have sold even 20% at the time. The success of people actually coming for the matches was only after Sri Lanka qualified for the semi finals. Initially, there not more than 50 people in a queue to buy tickets.
Q: But Suraj Dandeniya claimed to me that “thousands” of people queued to purchase World Cup tickets?
NR: That is not correct.
Q: But why were not all those three wheeler drivers who were openly flogging tickets at black market prices not stopped?
NR: How can we stop? It’s not our job to do that.
Q: According to ICC guidelines there was to be an audit on all aspects of the World Cup. Has this audit been performed for Sri Lanka? If so by whom was it done?
NR: An audit is due. It is to be performed soon. By whom we have not been informed yet by the ICC.
Q: Is it true that some staff of SLC have not received their salaries owing to the present financial crisis?
NR: That is not correct. They have all been paid.
Q: Are there many other dues outstanding to other contractors including suppliers of meals, hotels, etc.?
NR: Yes, there are some dues to be settled which we will do when we get the balance USD one million from the ICC.
Q: Is it true that most hotels are reluctant to offer accommodation to SLC for forthcoming tours owing to the fear that they may never get paid?
NR: No, that is not true. In fact, we offered to pay the hotels premium rates of USD 160 per room. We impressed upon the ICC that Sri Lankan rates are lower and so they needed to pay us a reasonable amount. So we paid each hotel a standard rate of a minimum of $155 or $160 per room.
Q: What is the story about the ‘missing files’? If hard discs were stolen it must have been an inside job – have you been able to detect the culprits?
NR: No we have not. A police investigation is going on. I for one cannot think of who may have wanted to remove entire hard disks from a computer. We do however have back-ups. I do not know yet if it is an inside or outside job.
Q: How much money did SLC receive from BCCI as a result of our players being contracted for the IPL this year?
NR: When we took over office, the Board didn’t get a single cent for IPL. But we spoke with them. We told them, if our players are to be released, we own them, we spend money on their training and all that, we don’t want them to just come. And also we don’t want to get money from a player who is entitled for something. So we negotiated. Not only Sri Lanka, New Zealand and various other Boards, they supported us and we negotiated on top of what a player gets, not from what he gets. So we now get 10%. I think it’s about a hundred thousand dollars, from the last IPL.
Q: What is the long-term deal between SLC and BCCI regarding the IPL?
NR: There is no deal as such, whenever there is a player contracted, the Board will get 10% on top of what he gets.
Q: How are relations between SLC and BCCI? Excellent – Cordial – Strained – or bad?
Q: How many staff does SLC employ?
NR: When we took over office, this organization had 245 people working. Now we have 259. When we got into office, at that time we didn’t have a media manager, no IT manager, dealing with IT, nor anyone to handle international organisations. So we were compelled to create departments. Our intention is to try and develop provincial and district cricket. Eight to ninety percent of the Sri Lankan players are either born and educated outstation. So we have recruited provincial and district coaches. That is where our strength is. A lot of people are talking about bad administration, bad governance. Any deal that is going through this organisation, goes with a tender.
Q: What about staff you hired for the World Cup? On what basis was Suraj and Kapila Dandeniya hired?
NR: Now that is a question I find difficult to answer.
Q: Was it because they are related to D.S. de Silva?
NR: Ahhh… I really don’t know.
Q: How much was Suraj and Kapila Dandeniya paid for their services during the World Cup?
NR: Suraj was paid USD 5,000/- per month and Kapila USD 3,000/- per month.
Q: For how long?
NR: For a year or more I think.
Q: Are executive positions advertised? Are the salaries paid to executives in line with market rates for similar positions?
NR: Yes it is advertised after consulting with senior managers. We recruit according to SLIDA guidelines. In fact, the have approved all 259 of our staff.
Q: Has SLC entered into any agreements to offer special deals to certain organisations? What for instance is the agreement with Mobitel?
NR: Yes, They are our sponsors. In fact, they are our highest paying sponsors.
Q: Were you not an employee of Mobitel previously? Is there a conflict of interest here?
NR: I was head of marketing at Mobitel, so what is the problem? I left Mobitel probably about 6 years back. So in that case can’t I do anything related to Mobitel in my life?
Q: How many overseas trips have you made since taking office at SLC?
What was the cost of these trips?
NR: I have traveled 20 times. The total cost has been Rs. 1,101,750/-.
All my travels are invitations from other Boards or the ICC. Twice, due to the Singapore issue, Singapore arbitration court case, I had to travel on our money.
Q: What is the per diem you received for such trips?
NR: USD 250 per day.