TRC mute on frequency
Themiya Hurulle and Kariyapperuma
By Arthur Wamanan
Amidst allegations levelled against the
present Telecommunications Regulatory
Commission (TRC) CEO Priyantha Kariyapperuma
for allocating radio frequencies to a
company headed by his brother Roshantha, a
call by a former TRC head to audit the
issuance of such frequencies has been
The TRC is currently in troubled waters due
to additional radio frequencies being
allocated to the Voice of
Asia (VoA) Network owned by Roshantha Kariyapperuma, the
brother of the present TRC head.
The additional frequencies were assigned at
a time when many other stations have to be
waitlisted due to 'unavailability of
While trade unionists have called for the
free action of the frequencies preventing
monopolies and unfair assigning of
frequencies, comes the call of a former TRC
head to have the Auditor General conduct an
audit of the assigning of frequencies.
Nearly a year ago!
Former Director General, TRC, Themiya
Hurulle is yet to know the fate of his
request made to the Auditor General (AG)
nearly a year ago on irregularities in
issuing radio and TV licences. Hurulle had
requested the AG to inquire and audit the
issuance of radio frequency spectrum but
says he is unaware of the progress on the
Our sister paper, The Morning Leader had
published a news article on Hurulle's
request on March 12, 2008.
Hurulle warned that millions of rupees would
be at stake if the proper procedures
specified by the government were not
followed in issuing radio, TV, telecom
operator licences and radio frequency
However, the AG is yet to get back to
Hurulle on his inquiries, almost a year
after the request.
There have been several suggestions to alter
the allocation of FM frequencies that could
also benefit the government.
Method of assigning FM frequencies
Trade unionists have suggested that the
method of assigning FM frequencies to the
radio stations should be altered to be more
on the lines of frequency allocations
practiced in our neighbouring country,
In India, radio frequencies are not
considered something that could be sold or
traded. Instead, they are considered as
public property and thus allocated at a
Funds for the Indian government also
reportedly increase due to these auctions,
thus, it might be a good option for SL
authorities to follow such a methodology in
providing frequency allocations. This
suggestion has however not yet been accepted
by the Sri Lankan authorities.
Hurulle in his letter addressed to the AG
requested him to carry out separate,
individual audits to ascertain whether
government laid down tender and financial
procedures are being followed.
Failure to adhere to the procedures
The failure to adhere to the procedures
would also result in wrong operators
entering the field, which would be
detrimental to the country and the consumer.
"As such, I hereby request you to carry out
separate, individual audits to ascertain
whether government laid down Tender and
Financial Procedures have been conformed to;
whether suitable operators were selected and
maximum revenue was earned in the issuance
of the under mentioned from January 2005
todate on Radio and Television Broadcasting
Licences (Minister of Broadcasting /
Media), Licences for Telecommunications
Services (Minister in charge of the TRCSL
and the Commissioners administering the
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of
Sri Lanka) and Allocation of Radio Frequency
Spectrum (Minister of the TRCSL and the
Commissioners administering the
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of
Sri Lanka)," Hurulle had said in his letter.
The former TRC head had also urged the AG to
inform the public, the Committee On Public
Enterprise (COPE) and the Public Accounts
Committee (PAC) once the individual audits
However, that too has not been done by the
AG, according to Hurulle. The complaint by
Hurulle is very much connected to the
allegations faced by the current TRC head.
Issuance of radio licences
Hurulle wanted inquiries held on the
issuance of radio licences while
Kariyapperuma faces charges of
irregularities in issuing such licences.
As mentioned earlier, the TRC is already
facing charges of irregularities in
providing additional radio frequencies to
the Voice of Asia (VoA).
The VoA is a relatively new broadcasting
organisation that commenced its operations
just over a year ago. The VoA, which
originally had three frequencies, has
reserved 13 additional frequencies in a
short span of time, while other private
radio stations have had to wait for years to
get their frequencies approved by the TRC.
The additional frequencies were allocated by
the TRC after the appointment of Priyantha
Kariyapperuma as the Director General.
Several radio stations that spoke to The
Sunday Leader earlier said that they have
had to wait for years to have additional
frequencies allocated by the TRC to expand
They also claimed that they were eagerly
awaiting the recommendations put forward by
COPE to follow it up with litigation in the
Parliamentary sources say that consideration
will be given to reassigning the additional
16 airwaves to the TRC, once COPE completes
its inquiries into the matter. The sources
say that they have received complaints and
documents in support of the assignment of
airwaves for the VoA.
Radio frequencies cannot be issued at will.
Those who want to reserve audio frequencies
have to follow set procedures.
According to Assistant Director - Radio
Frequency Management, TRC, Nihal Ratnapala,
the criteria for the allocation of radio
frequencies to radio/television networks,
depends on the request made by particular
The licence to operate a radio station,
issued by the Media Ministry is compulsory.
The licence should be obtained by the
relevant organisation at the time it
requests for the allocation of frequencies.
"First they should have the licence obtained
from the Media Ministry to operate a radio
TV station. Then they can apply to the TRC
for frequencies for broadcasting their
programmes," Ratnapala said.
According to Ratnapala, a channel requires
more than 10 frequencies to have quality
islandwide coverage. But, he added that the
TRC found it difficult to allocate
frequencies immediately when requested due
to the demand for frequencies.
This again brings back the issue relating to
the VoA. The fact that VoA has reserved 13
additional airwaves within a short period of
time has given ample reasons for the
competitors to 'smell a rat.'
Millions of rupees are still at stake
despite having several other methods for the
government to earn profits through
allocation of frequencies.
Auditor General S. Swarnajothi was not
available for comment as he was away from
the country. When contacted by The Sunday
Leader, the AG's office said that
Swarnajothi would be back on February 24 and
that no one else was authorised to speak to
the media except the AG himself.