The Sunday Leader

Minister Strikes Sri Lanka Cricket For Six

  • Ignores Report On Ranathunga’s Dual Role

By Alex Martin

Upali Dharmadasa, Arjuna Ranathunga, Mahindananda Aluthgamage andNishantha Ranathunga

Sri Lanka Cricket and its administration have never really been far from controversy. Thanks to some apparently poor advice, this time round the latest controversy surrounds the Minister of Sport and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) President Upali Dharmadasa. At the same time in a related development it can now be revealed that a Minister of Sports-appointed committee had submitted its Report on the conflict of interest surrounding SLC Secretary Nishantha Ranathunga in November 2012 – to no action by the Minister. The conflict of interest position was brought to prominence by the former Sri Lanka Cricket World Cup Captain and parliamentarian Arjuna Ranathunga, who wrote to the country’s Executive President last summer. (July 2012)
Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage created a stir by announcing that the Sri Lanka Cricket President had sought to award a contract to Ten Sports without calling for a tender. The Minister’s statement went on to add that the Minister had rejected that call and had instructed all concerned to call for a tender – saying that was the advice he had received from the Attorney General’s Department. Sources within the cricketing fraternity as well as legal sources revealed that initially the AG’s department had refused to provide the Minister with counsel saying it was not within their purview as Sri Lanka Cricket is an independent body not a government entity.
A furious Sri Lanka Cricket President and an equally furious SLC Secretary Nishantha Ranathunga were taken aback at the poor choice of words by the Minister in drafting his statement. Dharmadasa in his statement stated that the Minister’s statement taken “as was issued” led to an unforgivable attempt to infer wrongdoing or perhaps worse, an attempt to circumvent due process. Nothing, Dharmadasa was heard to tell the press, was ‘further from the truth’. In a rare occurrence Dharmadasa was ably supported by Nishantha Ranathunga who could not quite believe that the Minister had actually bowled an under-arm delivery purporting it perhaps to be a doosra.
Upali Dharmadasa was quick to issue a clarification. The entire Ten Sports issue lay in the contract signed in 2009 with Ten Sports under a different Minister of Sport – namely Gamini Lokuge. Sri Lanka Cricket established a separate committee to look into the renewal of the international broadcasting rights. All the highest ranking officials at Sri Lanka Cricket participated in the deliberations including Nuski Mohammed, Ajith Jayasekera, Nishantha Ranathunga, Upali Dharmadasa as well as the Ministerial representative. The Minister and the Ministry were kept abreast of the deliberations.
Curiously, Sri Lanka Cricket’s contract with Ten Sports gave Ten Sports the right of first refusal when it came to renewal. Therefore, even if a tender was called Ten Sports still had a contractual right in terms of first refusal. On top of that anomaly was the right contractually granted to Ten Sports to exclusive coverage of an Indian Tour. The committee deliberating the pros and cons of the best avenue to negotiate what would be seamless and best for Sri Lanka Cricket were in agreement that they ought to negotiate with Ten Sports. Legal sources familiar with the discussions confirmed that the offer from Ten Sports was for a staggering USD 60 Million over a period of seven years. For the SLC Committee this sounded the best deal in light of the onerous obligations placed upon it by an almost one-sided contract drawn up in 2009. It had been unanimously decided by all – including the Ministry representative – that as this was the best deal, the Minister’s concurrence ought to be sought. None were expecting a bombshell statement by the Minister in response. Many were of the view that the Minister’s response was at best, a knee-jerk reaction when the avenue of calling the SLC committee for a discussion on the subject would have been a far better – certainly less vexatious – option.
The Minister’s statement was a result of the opinion that the Attorney General’s Department eventually gave him. The AG’s department were of the view that a tender should be called which opinion held sway with the embattled Minister of Sports, who has a reputation for being above any speculation of corruption. He also appears to have a penchant for shooting from the hip – Unfortunately as it turns out.
In the report commissioned by Minister Aluthgamage after former World Cup winning Captain Arjuna Ranathunga had raised various queries with the President of Sri Lanka, CEO of Sri Lanka Cricket Ajith Jayasekera was candid in his acknowledgement that SLC had no obligation to follow ‘normal government tender procedure’ as SLC was not a government body per se. Jayasekera, known for his straight-bat approach, was also candid saying that there was an absence of a specific procurement procedure and instead pointing out that the same procedures adopted by the various interim committees were still being applied in today’s elected Sri Lanka Cricket body.
The report did not concur with Arjuna Ranathunga’s assertion that Sri Lanka Cricket had erred in awarding the local terrestrial broadcasting rights to the so-called ‘new boys on the block’ – CSN, an all-sport TV channel with island-wide coverage. The report found that SLC had indeed placed advertisements and published additional details on its website calling for various offers including those rights to broadcast locally.
Three institutions were invited by the Committee – headed by Dhammika Kitulgoda – to make written submissions: Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), Maharajah Television Limited (MTV) and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). The Chairman of SLRC complained that the advertisement was in small print and was so designed to not attract attention and that it did not appear as a notice calling for tenders.
MTV sent observations under the title “Sports First” on behalf of MTV. They claimed that the advertisement was inadequately published, the advertisement was misleading, and the advertisement did not appear in the Sinhala or Tamil press and also cited the SLC failure to follow the previous practice of calling for bids through direct correspondence with eligible media organizations. In a letter addressed to SLC’s Ajith Jayasekera – Chevaan Daniel for MTV Sports First berated SLC for their failure to contact established players and claimed inter-alia that this previous practice was stopped after the arrival of Nishantha Ranathunga to SLC – at a time when he was also CEO of CSN.
SLC responded that they had followed due process, that they could not be held responsible for one of the newspapers’ decision to publish the advertisement in the “Employment” section of that newspaper and that the advertisement did ask prospective bidders to refer to the SLC website for further details.
Arjuna Ranathunga claimed that the advertisements were in small print in comparison to the full page advertisements placed for the Sri Lanka Premier League invitations for team franchises.
The Committee found in Arjuna Ranathunga’s favour on the one issue: that of the continued role at Sri Lanka Cricket of Nishantha Ranathunga. The committee quoted from section 14.1(c) of the Sports law and deemed that as Nishantha Ranathunga was the CEO of CSN, which in turn was a specialist sports reporting station, ‘it was clear that a professional sports reporter cannot hold office in a sports association. Nishantha Ranathunga is the CEO of Carlton Sports Network, whose main task, is sports reporting. Thus, he clearly falls within the meaning of “sports reporter” and in terms of the Sports Act is precluded from holding an office in Sri Lanka Cricket.”
In the past Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sport has been known to make statements without first considering the full ramifications. A clarification is then usually issued. It is not entirely clear whether the Minister will resort to that in this instance and instead allow Dharmadasa’s own clarification to be the end of the matter.

No response from Minister

We made several attempts to contact the Minister of Sport and followed up with an SMS asking for his comments. At the time of going to press there was no response. The contents of the SMS were: “Sir, this is Alex Martin from Leader Publications. In light of today’s press regarding Sri Lanka Cricket, will you be making a further press statement to clarify or correct your previous statement regarding the Ten Sports contract? Additionally what do you intend doing about Ranathunga’s role at SLC in light of the report that was delivered to you in November 2012”

4 Comments for “Minister Strikes Sri Lanka Cricket For Six”

  1. Living the dream in the west

    This type of corruption, lies, cheating and money laundering will never happen in Australian or English cricket.

  2. Rajakeeya Kolla

    Mahindananda Aluthgamage is an uneducated fool. A professional body like SLC how can a fool of this nature run ? President of the country needs to seriously look at appointing an individual – like Dr. Amunugama or even a person Like Rauf Hakeem to take over Sports. This guy cannot spell C.A.T – cat even or speak proper English – he is good to hold a locally operated ministry.
    Please change this fool.

  3. jude

    Well, Aluthgamage not qualified to run even a Elle Team, forget about Sports Ministry. SLC forever in muddle!!!..

  4. N.C.Wijeratne

    From the top to the bottom this bunch of people are in the same game and as usual they are sending the public on a merry go round; The SL cricet Board is a money making-ATM for all intense and purposes.,
    Some of them must definitely be removed from Cricket and never to be involved again.
    Why cant these people do some other job.,for heavens sake?

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