The Sunday Leader

SLTPB Following Former Regime?

  • Board calling for disciplinary action immediately dissolved

by Nirmala Kannangara

Despite pledges of not following the same path as the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, the incumbent government is currently being accused of failing to take action against persons facing allegations of corruption and the misuse of public funds.

Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunge has come under severe criticism for granting an extension to the Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) despite allegations levelled against him for misusing bureau funds into millions.

However, the Board of the SLTPB was dissolved immediately after the board members adopted a resolution to take disciplinary action against one of their board members – Managing Director of SLTPB, Milanka Gajanayake for plundering public money running into millions of rupees.

In such a backdrop, questions have been raised as to why Minister Amaratunge had granted an extension to Gajanayake despite the serious allegations levelled against him for his unorthodox actions. Had Minister Amaratunge wanted to appoint a new Board of Directors after he took over office, he had enough time to dissolve the previous board and appoint a new board. However, doubts have been raised as to why Amaratunge had taken a sudden decision to dissolve the Board of Directors immediately after the Board had taken a decision to initiate disciplinary action against Gajanayake as requested by the Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa, who is the Chief Accounting Officer to all affairs taking place in the institutions that comes under Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs.

Request to the Director, Finance for payment
assuring to obtain Board approval ආණ්ඩ Cheque for Rs. Two million

Granting an extension

Although Amaratunge had dissolved the SLTPB Board, Gajanayake has once again been granted an extension, raising eyebrows of the bureau employees.

Gajanayake who is said to have no knowledge on tourism was first appointed to the Board of SLTPB as a nominee of the then Tourism Minister Navin Dissanayake. It was during Dissanayake’s term as Tourism Minister that Gajanayake had got involved in alleged scams where he is accused of misusing SLTPB funds running into millions of rupees.

Amongst the allegations levelled against Gajanayake was his attempt to settle an outstanding bill to the value of Rs. 40 million which had been incurred during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Colombo in 2013. Although the Board of Directors had taken a unanimous decision that they are not going to settle any outstanding bills incurred during the Rajapaksa regime and it was up to the subject minister to appoint a committee to decide on such matters, Gajanayake for an unknown reason, had allegedly attempted to settle this bill without obtaining the due approval from the Board.

According to SLTPB inside sources, the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Industries had jointly organized the ‘Reflection of Sri Lanka’ exhibition at Ape Gama in Battaramulla, during CHOGM in Colombo. Although the relevant bills were settled by the respective institutions, the Tourism Ministry was in receipt of another bill for the electricity supply for the said exhibition which was found to be a duplicate bill.

The then Secretary of the Industry Ministry – Anura Siriwardena, Chairman Export Development Board – Bandula Egodawatte, Chairman Sri Lanka Tourist Board – Bhashwara Gunaratne and Managing Director of SLTPB – Rumi Jaufer had decided not to settle the bill.

However, after the appointment of the new board of directors to the SLTPB with the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, Managing Director, Milanka Gajanayake had wanted to settle this outstanding bill, which is claimed to be a duplicate by the SLTPB, despite a decision by the officials during the Rajapaksa regime as well as the new Board of Directors not to make payments for the bill. At this juncture Gajanayake had allegedly wanted the former Managing Director Rumi Jaufer to place his signature on a back dated voucher and allegedly forced Director Procurement Indrajith de Silva to place his signature to the voucher as well.

“Gajanayake threatened De Silva to sign the document failing which he will be removed from his post to which the Director Procurement got frightened and had to ‘obey’ the instructions. However, in a footnote, De Silva stated that he did not agree to this payment. When the voucher was sent to the Finance Department, Director Finance rejected to make any payment and informed the Ministry Secretary as well as the Board of Directors about Gajanayake’s attempt,” sources who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader.

The sources accused Gajanayake and the former Managing Director, Rumi Jaufer for their ‘joint’ effort to plunder SLTPB funds.

“This alone shows how dishonest both the past and present Managing Directors are. If the former Managing Director Rumi Jaufer could place his signature to a back dated paper, what would he have done during his tenure at the SLTPB? If there was a decision taken by the Board of Directors what made him ignore that decision and attempt to settle the payment that was incurred during the Rajapaksa regime? If not for the Director Procurement’s footnote and the Finance Director’s timely action our bureau has lost Rs. 40 million by now,” sources alleged.

Meanwhile, in a letter dated October 7, 2015, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, Janaka Sugathadasa to Dr. Rohantha Athukorala, Chairman of SLTPB, he had advised the Chairman to take action against those who were involved in frauds and to report to the Ministry Secretary at the earliest.

The letter further states as thus, “Information on Alleged Unsatisfactory Practices. I refer to the recent e-mail message sent to me by you and also certain messages addressed to members of your staff by you and copied to me concerning alleged unsatisfactory practices, financial or otherwise, in your Bureau.

“I have duly noted the contents therein and particularly disturbed by the following. (a) Alleged attempted to settle an outstanding liability of Rs. 40 million without due approval being obtained. (b) Alleged payment of Rs. 20 million also without proper approval being obtained.

(c) Alleged attempt to pay Rs. 1.2 million to Janavidiya Foundation.

(d) Matters referred to in the letter dated October 2, 2015, addressed to you by Mr. N. G. Dayaratne, Director Finance of your Bureau.

(e) Issues referred to in the draft minute of the meeting of the Board of Directors held on October 1, 2015.

“As the alleged practices are of very serious in nature, I wish to confirm my verbal instructions to you that it is incumbent upon you to place all connected issues before the Board of Directors of your Bureau (even by circulation) and obtain approval to take disciplinary action against those responsible, if prima facie cases appear to be available.”

The note further states, “You are hereby advised to take action accordingly and report to me at your earliest.

Janaka Sugathadasa, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs.”

This letter had been copied to the Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunge for his information and to Shirani Weerakoon, Additional Secretary, Tourism Development Ministry who is also the Ministry Representative on the Board of Directors of the SLTPB, to ensure that this matter is taken up for discussion at the board meeting and for immediate action. As directed by the Ministry Secretary, the Board of Directors at its last board meeting held on October 7th this year had reached a unanimous decision to take disciplinary action against the Managing Director. Hence, Chairman Dr. Rohantha Athukorala, Director General/Board Member M. B. Kiriella and other Board of Directors Shirani Weerakoon (Additional Secretary of the Ministry), K. D. N. Ranjith Asoka (Treasury representative), Anjeline Ondaatijie, Amal Gunathilake, Asoka Hettigoda, Devindre Senaratne, Mahen Kariyawasan and Wasantha Leelananda had given their approval to initiate disciplinary action against the Managing Director, Milanka Gajanayake. However, Minister Amaratunge’s action to dissolve the SLTPB Board immediately after the board signed the resolution against the Managing Director has now ‘derailed’ the disciplinary action that was about to be initiated.

“We were waiting to see what action the Board was going to take against Gajanayake when we were suddenly informed that the board had been dissolved the same day the resolution was to be sent to the Tourism Ministry Secretary as requested. However, we were taken aback when we realized that the man in question – who was involved in misusing the Bureau funds to his whims and fancies was given an extension,” sources alleged. Gajanayake is also accused of making a payment of Rs. 2 million to the ‘Wadduwa Poson Mahaperahera Poojothsawa Samithiya’ without obtaining the proper approval from the SLTPB Board of Directors.

The Sunday Leader is in possession of an internal memo dated June 30, 2015 by Gajanayake to the Director Finance and Assistant Director Finance on the payment for historic Wadduwa Poson Perahera.

The memo’s statements are as follows, “As per the letter of proposal received by the attached Association, we are forwarding the said proposal for Board approval at the upcoming Board Meeting to contribute Rs. 2 million to the event. The historic Wadduwa Poson Perahera was held on June 21, 2015 for the 34th consecutive year. Being a busy tourist spot covering the areas of Wadduwa, Kalutara, Beruwala and Bentota, this cultural pageant has held greater attraction for the tourists over the years. “Please arrange payment on an urgent basis and I hereby certify that I will personally obtain relevant approval and the following before July 15, 2015 – the Board approval for sponsoring the event and the invoice for Rs. 2 million from the organizer.

“Make payment of Rs. 2 million (allocated under the local events section of events budget) to Wadduwa Aithihasika Poson Maha Perahera Poojothsawa Samithiya and deposit it in BOC Acct. No: 3743536.” According to sources, when Gajanayake had made the proposal to the Board for its approval for the payment for the perahera, the payment had already been done without obtaining the due approvals.

“This had irked the Board members and they had declined to give their approval. Hence Gajanayake made a request with a back date but still the Board had not given the approval,” sources claimed. Meanwhile, Gajanayake has allegedly attempted to make another payment to the value of Rs.1.2 million for a poson festival at the Kothmale Maha Seya in Kotmale – the constituency of former Tourism Minister Navin Dissanayake.

“When the proposal was made to the board, the Board of Directors has given their consent to pay the money to Janavijaya Foundation, Kotmale who had conducted the festival. Although there were many written requests to the SLTPB through the Sugathadasa National Sports Complex to make arrangements to draw the cheque in favour of Janavijaya Foundation, Gajanayake attempted to draw the cheque in favour of another name. When the relevant officials refused to heed Gajanayake’s instruction, they had been verbally abused but it was the Director Finance N. G. Dayaratne who had brought this to the notice of the Board of Directors and subsequently to the Ministry Secretary for further action,” sources said.

Gajanayake is further accused for paying Rs. 300,000 to Gamini Advertising once again without Board approval. He has allegedly also obtained advances from the SLTPB and was not paying the money back until this was brought to the Ministry Secretary’s notice by Chairman Dr. Rohantha Athukorala by a letter dated August 11, 2015 (Ref. No: SLTPB/ Advance/ 2010/ 146)

According to the letter, an advance of Rs. 50,000 had been taken by Gajanayake on May 5, 2015 for a description given as ‘Miscellaneous cost ATM’ but was postponing to repay it although these advances have to be settled within a few days.

“It was then revealed that Gajanayake had got another advance to the amount of Rs.50,000 through a female employee and when the Board took a decision to deduct the outstanding amounts from the respective employee’s August salary, this female employee had to bare the loss as she too had to face a salary cut together with Gajanayake as well,” sources said.

Meanwhile, Gajanayake had allegedly got one of his visitors – a foreigner who claimed to be a guest of the then Minister Navin Dissanayake, to stay at a leading foreign chain of hotels in Colombo facing the Galle Face Green and had asked one of its high ranking officials, who was also a Board Director at SLTPB, to send the bill to the Bureau. When this official had contacted Gajanayake to get the bill settled and many reminders were followed, no action had been taken to settle this bill but the visitor had to settle the bill finally.

When contacted Finance Director  N. G. Dayaratne to find out whether he declined to make a payment Gajanayake wanted to ‘settle’, Dayaratne confirmed to The Sunday Leader that he had to take such a decision to safeguard the institution. “If I understand that there are issues as such, I always decline to make payments till I get it cleared. If not I will be at fault for making payments,” Dayaratne added.

Former Chairman SLTPB, Dr. Rohantha Athukorala was not available for a comment as he was overseas.

Meanwhile, Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa when contacted said that he cannot make any comment about an officer under him. “Being the Chief Accounting Officer it is not proper for me to reveal any information and talk about an officer who works under me,” Sugathadasa said.

Although Minister John Amaratunge was contacted for a comment, he said he cannot speak as he was at a meeting.

The Sunday Leader’s expose on the SLTPB official is aimed only at highlighting an alleged financial issue at the Bureau and the failure of the authorities to initiate proper action against the matter.

Gajanayake responds

Declining the allegations levelled against him, Gajanayake said that his name is not in any document to prove that he has misused SLTPB funds. “The SLTPB is in debt for services obtained to the value of more than Rs. 700 million. Although these have incurred during the previous regime, we still have to settle them. However there was a Board decision not to settle these outstanding bills and the Ministry appointed a committee to look into these affairs. Even I am a member of one of these committees and these committees decided to settle these outstanding bills,” Gajanayake added.

He further stated that although he is innocent and has not carried out any fraudulent activities as claimed by a certain group, he said that only a few at the SLTPB with a political motivation had levelled those allegations against him to tarnish his good name. “I have neither carried out any illegal transaction nor have I attempted to do so. All these are blatant lies,” he added.

When asked as to why he made a payment of Rs. 2 million to a temple in Wadduwa without obtaining the due approvals from the Board of Directors, Gajanayake said that he got the approval from Minister Navin Dissanayake. In respect to his alleged attempt to pay Rs.1.2 million to a temple in Kotmale instead of drawing the check in favour of the Janavijaya Foundation who carried out the poson kalapaya, Gajanayake said that although the Board approved the payment, he did not make any payments as there was a misunderstanding as to whom to pay the sponsorship cheque. “I do not leave room to entertain fraud. Since I was puzzled as to whom to make the payment, I did not approve this payment,” Gajanayake stated.

2 Comments for “SLTPB Following Former Regime?”

  1. Please report the MR stooge to the New Bribbery Commissioner, no more Hanky- Panky with the New commissiner any more.

  2. udarath

    “…as you sow, so shall you reap.”

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