The Political Column1st April 2001
Plus| Business| Sports|
the dissolution of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka —the second
occasion in as many years — once again allegations of corruption and mismanagement
are once again in the air..
A government gazette notification announcing the dissolution on Wednesday said the registration of the board had been cancelled under Sec. 32 of the Sports Law. Accordingly, Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella appointed an interim committee headed by Vijaya Malalasekera, a long-standing director of the Ceylon Tobacco Company and a former Royal and Cambridge University cricketer. The others in the committee are former Sri Lankan captain Michael Tissera, former Sri Lankan test cricketers Asantha de Mel, Sidat Wettamuni and Kushil Gunasekera.
It all started when Badureliya Sports Club President Sumith Perera, a candidate for the Cricket Board presidency, obtained an interim order postponing the March 31 elections from the Colombo District Court.
At the first instance, District Judge Sunil Rajapakse refused to entertain the intervening application by Mr. Sumathipala. But on Wednesday, Mr. Sumathipala again invoked the Court. This time, the judge told him he could still have the elections in accordance with the Sports Law giving 30 days' notice and submitting the accounts and other documents in accordance with the law. Accordingly, on Wednesday night the executive committee of the Cricket Board decided that the AGM be held on May 6.
When the executive committee was taking this decision, the Minister had apparently already decided to dissolve the Board on the grounds that the Board had violated Sports Laws.
It is said that Mr. Kiriella had been contemplating the dissolution of the board for quite some time. On Monday, he contacted UNP Parliamentarian Tyronne Fernando, a one-time cricket board president, to ask him whether the main opposition would object to the dissolution. Mr. Fernando said he would have to discuss the matter with party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Having discussed the matter with Mr. Wickremesinghe, he told Mr. Kiriella the UNP had no objection if the decision was taken in the interest of the game. On Tuesday, the minister was seen with Mr. Sumathipala on the same platform at the presentation ceremony after the third one-day international between Sri Lanka and England ended. Little did Mr. Sumathipala know what was in store for him on Wednesday — the day of dissolution.
The dissolution, no doubt, will have various implications on many matters as it came at a time when the board had finalised new contracts for the national squad cricketers as well as a tour in the offing. Other unfinished tasks were the floodlighting of the newly constructed Dambulla stadium and the building of another stadium in Pallekelle. Even his arch foes would admit that the Dambulla stadium is a feather in the cap of Mr. Sumathipala.
Latest reports say Mr. Sumathipala and other board officials are contemplating legal action against the dissolution order.
The Minister claimed that the Board officials had violated the sports law that required the annual accounts be submitted 30 days before the annual general meeting. The ousted board officials' reply is that according to the Board's Constitution, the final accounts could be submitted seven days before the elections. Here, one finds a conflict between the sports law and the board constitution. Legal experts say the sports law supersedes the board's constitution.
The ousted board officials claim the Minister is also partially responsible for the crisis, alleging that Mr. Kiriella had requested the postponement of the elections to April/May when the board wanted to hold it on January 11, prior to the English tour of Sri Lanka.
To back their claim they say that the Sports Ministry Secretary in a letter to Cricket Board secretary Mohan de Silva had stated that a number of clubs had appealed to the Minister seeking the postponement of the elections because they had neither finalised the annual accounts nor held their AGMs.
The letter also said:
"The Minister is convinced that holding the AGM and the BCCSL in January, 2001 and the activities connected to that will distract the national team and affect their performance, when they are engaged in a tight schedule of matches, both locally and internationally.
"In view of the above the Minister, under the powers vested in him under Section 39(1) of the Sports law number 25 of 1973 has directed me to inform the BCCSL, not to have the AGM and the election of officers in January, 2001 or immediately thereafter, but to have the elections between 15th April, 2001 and 15th May, 2001."
The letter, Board officials say, put them in a dilemma, because they had no mandate to continue in office after March 31 under the sports law. On January 10, they wrote back to the Minister, stating the crisis situation while also pointing out that Minister had the power to extend the life of the board beyond March 31. They say that they requested the Minister to give necessary instructions to the Board in this regard.
The Minister's reply came after some time lag on February 28, directing the Board to hold its AGM before March 31.
The letter signed by Sports Ministry Secretary P. Ramanujam said: "The decision to postpone the AGM was taken by this Ministry under the provisions of the constitution of BCCSL, of 01st July 1984. Later, it was reported that the constitution was amended and the approval for the amended constitution was granted by the Sports Ministry in 1995 by a letter dated 27th November 1995. However, the amended constitution was not available in the Ministry at the time the earlier letter was issued.
"On the request made by BCCSL, legal opinion was obtained. Under the provisions of the new constitution and on the advice of the Attorney General, it is observed that AGM has to be held before 31st March.
"As such Hon. Minister of Tourism and Sports has directed me to advice the BCCSL in accordance with the provisions of amended constitution and the Sports Act. to hold the AGM and Election of Office Bearers on or before 31 March 2001."
On the evening of February 28, the boardofficials met again for an emergency session and decided to inform member clubs of the March 31 AGM. But they faced a problem. They had little time to prepare the annual accounts and publicise them 30-day prior to the AGM as required by the sports law. Eventually, this requirement was not fully adhered to, prompting Sumith Perera to obtain a court order postponing the AGM.
On the advice of the judge that the meeting could be held if the 30-day requirement was fulfilled, the board officials met on Wednesday March 28 and decided to hold the elections on May 6. But by this time, the Ministry had prepared a letter to board officials on the basis that they had flouted the sports law.
The letter signed by Minister Kiriella said: "It has been brought to my notice by some Clubs/Associations affiliated to BCCSL that the notice of the Annual General Meeting of the BCCSL to be held on 31 March 2001 has not complied with the requirements of Clause 29 of the Regulations published on 7 May, 1974 under the Sports Law No. 25 of 1973.
"The following documents have not been circulated with the notice of the meeting.
i) A certified copy of the audited statement of accounts;
ii) The annual report in respect of the preceding financial year; and
iii) The list of members entitled to be present and vote at the AGM.
"The above information was also not forwarded to the Ministry as required under Clause of the aforesaid Regulations. It is regretted that the BCCSL has not carried its duties and functions as stipulated in the aforesaid Law."
Questions are now being raised as to why the board officials who were aware that the board meeting had to be held before March 31, were not prepared with the necessary documents. It is also asked whether the Ministry's February 28 reply to the board's January 10 was a premeditated effort to trap Mr. Sumathipala and his corps.
Though the BCCSL constitution stipulates that the annual accounts could be submitted seven days prior to the AGM the sports law requires the same to submitted 30 days before the AGM. The Board was 13 days behind this stipulated requirement and had given 17 days time for anybody who needed to raise objections to do so. There is much argument in sports circles whether the dissolution has been effected on a legal technicality.
The District Court had delivered its order on the merits of the sports law, but the Ministry's decision may have had other ramifications. Mohan de Silva, the secretary of the ousted cricket board, claimed in a letter to the minister that the stipulated time frame to submit accounts had been ignored in many an instance in the past.
The letter dated March 28, cited several GMs that were held without the annual report and the annual accounts being circulated but subsequently the accounts being adopted at Extraordinary General meetings.
Enclosing copies of the minutes, Mr. De Silva cites as examples the AGM on March 2, 1997 when Upali Dharmadasa was the president of the board; the AGM on March 29, 1998 again under the presidency of Mr. Dharmadasa; the EGM on March 28, 1999 under the presidency of Mr. Sumathipala where the accounts of 1998 were adopted; the AGM on June 11, 2000; and the EGM on September 17, 2000 where the accounts were adopted.
Mr. De Silva also says in his letter: "You would note from the foregoing, that as aforesaid, the Annual Accounts had not even been circulated before the BCCSL AGM, and had been adopted subsequently at an EGM. I have had no time to examine the years previous to 1997.
"Now, in regard to the BCCSL AGM scheduled for March 31, 2001 specifically referred to in your aforesaid Letter under reply, the material facts pertaining to the said matter are as follows:
1. The Executive Committee of the BCCSL at its Meeting held on 8th December 2000 decided to hold the BCCSL AGM 2001/2001 on 11th January 2001 in view of the English Tour that had been scheduled to be conducted in March 2001, as evidenced by Minute No. 2 on page 5 of the Minutes of BCCSL Executive Committee Meeting held on 8th December 2000. Copy annexed.
ii. Consequently on your direction, the then Secretary Ministry of Sports, Mr. A. Andrew de Silva, by the Letter dated 13th December 2000, copies attached, conveyed that in view of a number of Clubs affiliated to the BCCSL having made representations to you, that you had under powers vested under Section 39 (1) of the Sports Law No. 25 of 1973 directed the BCCSL not to hold the BCCSL AGM in January 2001 or immediately thereafter, but to have the Elections between 15th April 2001 and 15th May 2001, and required compliance with your said directive However, the names of the aforesaid number of Clubs were curiously not disclosed to the BCCSL.
iii. In response to the aforesaid, by Letter dated 10th January 2001 addressed to you, copy attached, referring to your aforesaid direction, I, on behalf of the BCCSL, pointed out the legality of the BCCSL Office Bearers and Members of the Executive Committee continuing to hold office after 31st March 2001, until the Annual General Meeting is had between 15th April 2001 and 15th May 2001 as per your aforesaid directive, and in such circumstances, solicited an early intimation in this regard from you.
iv. Consequently, 7 weeks thereafter by Letter dated 28th February 2001, the present Secretary Ministry of Sports and Tourism, Dr. P. Ramanujam intimated that you had directed to hold the BCCSL Election on or before 31st March 2001.
v. Your aforesaid letter off 28th February 2001, was tabled at the Emergency Meeting of the BCCSL Executive Committee on the very same day i.e. 28th February 2001. The President, Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala tabling the aforesaid letter and stating that it was unfortunate that it was only on that day that the aforesaid response had been received from you in relation to the aforesaid BCCSL letter dated 10th January 2001, intimated that in view of the directive given by you that the BCCSL would be compelled to comply with the same. The Executive Committee discussed the difficulties that they would encounter in finalising the Annual Accounts in time and decide to request the Auditors to expedite the Audit in the context of the deadline.
vi. Since both the Sports Law and BCCSL Constitution stipulated 30 days notice to convene a BCCSL AGM, I promptly on 1st March 2001, i.e. the very next day after your aforesaid directive given on 28th February 2001, sent out the notices convening the BCCSL AGM for 31st March 2001, giving the requisite 30 days notice.
vii. Consequently on 19th March 2001, the Hony. treasurer, Mr. Trevor Rajaratnam, circulated the Annual Accounts for the year ended 31st December 2000 in conformity with the BCCSL Constitution Rule NO. 24(d), which required the circulation of the Annual Accounts to be received by the BCCSL Members at least 7 days prior to the AGM, as had been the previous practice as aforesaid. even breached, and in the belief that the same was in order, since the BCCSL Constitution had been approved under and in terms of the Sports Law.
"In the given circumstances, I am at a loss to comprehend, as to how you have stated that it is regretted, that the BCCSL has not carried out its duties and functions stipulated in terms of Clause 29 of the Regulations published on 7th May 1974 under the Sports Law No. 25 of 1973, whereby the Annual Accounts for the year ended 31.12.2000 had to be circulated together with the notice convening the aforesaid BCCSL AGM on 31st March 2001, inasmuch as you, yourself, had caused the aforesaid situation as aforesaid, consequent to the representations that had been made to you by certain affiliated Member Clubs, names of which had been curiously withheld.
"It is quite depressing and disheartening to note, that you have thought it fit to state as aforesaid, knowing very well the tremendous amount of work, that I and the other Members of the BCCSL Executive Committee had to put in, among other things, in regard to:
- the negotiations of a very lucrative TV Rights Contract, (procedure in relation to which was approved by the Hon. Attorney General in the light of baseless allegations made in that very regard),
- the complex and elaborate arrangements for the successful conduct of the just concluded English Tour, which you yourself witnessed, and which Tour for the very first time was exploited to promote Tourism, and hence the logistical arrangements included the arranging of accommodation facilities for around 8,000 English Cricket fans, in which connection you, yourself, paid a handsome tribute at public functions to all concerned, and
- the accelerated development of the state of the art Rangiri Dambulla International Cricket Stadium to be approved by the ICC in time and which Stadium was proudly declared open by you praising all concerned, and at which Stadium the first one day international against England was played successfully attracting a massive crowd estimated to be around 35,000 which match was also witnessed by you right throughout, and hence you witnessed and experienced the successful arrangements that had been made in that regard.
"I trust that the foregoing amply replies the concerns expressed in your aforesaid letter dated 27th March 2001 and received by me today and the contents of which letter I very much regret in the context of the foregoing."
Ideally a laissez-faire system with the minimum of state intervention would be what we would hope for . We are, however, still some way away from that desirable situation..
What makes the affairs of the Cricket Board more intriguing is the huge amount of money the board acquired owing to the performances of our cricketers. What is therefore suggested is the operation of a foolproof method to scrutinise the transactions and the finances of the board.
Since the interim body is a temporary arrangement, the elections to the board have to be held sooner or later, because a legally constituted body has to be recognised by the International Cricket Conference.
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