By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
Convenor, Free Media Movement, journalist and
self-proclaimed media activist, Sunanda Deshapriya is at
the centre of an unfolding scandal – investigated for
serious misappropriation of finances given to the Free
Media Movement (FMM).
Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) has called on the FMM
to return a sum of Rs. 3 million. Following an internal
audit conducted by the SLPI the FMM stands accused of
having fiddled monies from a ‘Safety Fund.’ This fund
was set up by donors to fund the safety of journalists
under threat. An initial Rs. 4.2 million was released
by the SLPI for this purpose.
period under a cloud is between May 2008 and October
2008. The audit conducted by the SLPI has found that a
total sum of Rs. 620,790.46 have been used in
“unacceptable transactions” during this period.
Additionally, the SLPI has demanded the return of
another Rs. 2.2 million originally released to the FMM
towards the protection of journalists under threat.
current Convenor of the Interim Committee, FMM,
Chulawansa Srilal said that the misappropriation of
monies had taken place during the tenure of the previous
asked as to the exact amount that has been allegedly
misappropriated by the FMM, he said the amount could be
higher or even lower than that highlighted by the SLPI
SLPI has given a figure and the FMM is also conducting a
separate investigation to verify the amount that has
been misappropriated. The amount can be higher or lower
than that given by the SLPI,” Srilal said.
SLPI on a letter dated March 21, 2009 signed by its
Chairman Kumar Nadesan to the Convener, FMM has called
for the return of the Rs. 2,283,679.34 from the Safety
Fund account and has also queried about several payments
made by the FMM utilising monies from the Safety Fund.
Safety Fund was created for the protection of
journalists in 2007 and is administered by the SLPI, but
handled by a steering committee which approves the
release of money for projects related to the security of
first steering committee comprised representatives of
the Fojo Institute for Further Education of Journalists,
International Media Support, Director General of SLPI,
Sunanda Deshapriya representing civil society and later
retired civil servant and diplomat Lionel Fernando.
committee had reportedly approved a proposal from FMM
for a project worth Rs. 8.2 million to provide safety
training for journalists, among other things. Half the
proposed amount, around Rs. 4.2 million was released to
the FMM bank account in May 2008.
return, the FMM had agreed to provide the SLPI with
financial and narrative reports and original receipts
every six months. The first report was due by October
31, 2008. The receipts, financial and narrative reports
however had not reached the SLPI by
October 31, 2008
despite repeated reminders.
Nadesan in fact told The Sunday Leader that the SLPI is
yet to receive the required report. Neither have they
returned the remaining Rs. 2,283,679.34 he said. “This
amount has to be there and should be returned. If the
amount is not there, then there has been a massive
misappropriation of funds,” Nadesan said.
added that the FMM would also have to return the monies
that have been transacted in an unacceptable manner
according to the SLPI audit report.
two years after he accepted the appointment to the
steering committee, Deshapriya had resigned from the
committee last year citing conflict of interest (as he
was both a member of the FMM and the committee).
audit conducted by the SLPI has raised questions on the
manner in which transactions amounting to Rs. 620,790.46
had taken place from Safety Fund monies under
Deshapriya’s supervision between the period of May 2008
and October 2008.
SLPI following the audit has called for the
reimbursement of Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 66,000 used for
security and advance payment for “safety houses” for
Poddala Jayantha and Sanath Balasuriya respectively. The
auditors have also highlighted several payments where
the bills and invoices provided have either been altered
or were completely false.
Referring to the expenditure of Rs. 50,000 for a door
intercom, the audit has observed that the company tasked
to install the system did not exist at the address
mentioned in the company letterhead used to give the
Another bill for Rs. 51,334.46 for food items purchased
from Cargills Food City in Maradana and Arpico, had been
altered and date torn off while some bills have been
audit has also highlighted that the Rs. 75,000 spent as
office rent for the months of August, September and
October was a violation of the agreement. In addition
to claiming Rs. 25,000 per month from the SLPI towards
rental, the FMM during this period has also received Rs.
50,000 per month from other donors, namely Internews,
International News Safety Institute and the Norwegian
Embassy as office rent for the same premises. This is
despite the fact that the office rent per month for the
building housing the FMM is only Rs. 40,000.
month of May 2008, a sum of Rs. 40,000 has been recorded
as “coordinator salary” released without a payment
voucher or any acceptable document.
SLPI audit has also noted that Rs. 43,130 spent as
traveling expenses were payments made for election
monitoring by the CMEV, which is a non related expense.
Also, Rs. 55,476 spent for a safety course paid to the
‘Distance Learning Centre’ has not been supported with a
list of participants with signatures as required by the
from the transactions stated above, the auditors have
also highlighted irregularities that have taken place
when purchasing a laptop computer, payment of petty cash
vouchers, overhead expenses, journalist support
payments, printing of postcards, payments and double
payments made to certain individuals, payments made to
journalists’ families, mobile phone charges and payments
made to Lanka e-News (news website).
SLPI letter highlighting these financial irregularities
has been copied to the donors of the project, the Royal
Norwegian Embassy, Swedish Embassy, Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Denmark, IMS and Fojo.
the SLPI audit has clearly revealed the irregularities
and the misappropriation of monies belonging to the
Safety Fund, neither Deshapriya nor the FMM has
responded to these allegations.
FMM, which is currently under an interim administration,
maintains that a separate investigation into the
allegations was being conducted and the exact amount
allegedly misappropriated from the Safety Fund would be
known only at the conclusion of the said investigation.
Meanwhile, the FMM AGM is scheduled to be held on
Tuesday (26) and a report on the findings of the
investigation are to be presented at the meeting.
SLPI meanwhile stands firm in its call for the return of
the remaining monies of the Safety Fund and the Rs.
620,790.46 used for “unacceptable transactions.”
Former FMM Convener, Sunanda Deshapriya, during
whose tenure the monies of the Safety Fund were
misappropriated was not available for comment.
Deshapriya’s mobile phone carried a message saying
he could be contacted only via sms.
The Sunday Leader also sent him a sms questioning
him if he had been asked to return the monies spent
from the Safety Fund and how much.
Even at the time of going to press Deshapriya had
not responded to our text message.