The Special Report

8th April 2001
 
 
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Cheque-mate

By Ruwan Weerakoon
Investigators want to look at previous cricket Boards last minute payments
More details about the controversial last-minute expenditure by the ousted Cricket Board are emerging as investigators delve deeper into the accounts.

The belief is that some top officials of the ousted board had had information to cause them to suspect that a dissolution of the board was imminent and they allegedly prepared 50 cheques amounting to Rs. 42 million. However, only 24 cheques had been realised by the time the dissolution was made. Two cheques had been cancelled and stop-payment orders had been issued as regards remaining cheques? 

The payments became a subject of inquiry, as officials believe there was no legal requirement to make the payments in a hurry before the dissolution because they could be done by the next board. Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella told The Sunday Times a committee comprising senior accountants would go into the Cricket Board accounts and details and documents were being collected by investigators.

The investigators will also focus on who the recipients of the cheques were as it is alleged that some of the cheques had been drawn in favour of companies run by persons known to Thilanga Sumathipala, president of the ousted board. But Mr. Sumathipala has defended the board action saying payments had to be made for goods and services offered by these companies. It could be incidental that persons in some companies were known to Mr. Sumathipala.

One of the controversial projects was the construction of the Dambulla Stadium.

The investigators have obtained details of payments with regard to the construction of the new Rangiri Dambulla International Cricket Stadium a proud feat of the ousted board as it was built in less than 160 days. The details have been obtained from board's Chief Executive Officer Anura Tennakoon and finance manager of the board's National Development Center headed by former Test captain Duleep Mendis.

According to these details, payments were made just before the dissolution to several contractors of the Dambulla Stadium built at an estimated cost of Rs. 345 million. Rs. 123 million is still outstanding and needs to be paid by the board, according to Surath Wickramasinghe Associates, the main architects of the Dambulla project. In fairness to Mr. Sumathipala, it should be mentioned that the payments were either allocated or made after the Dambulla Stadium was declared open on March 23. It could be a coincidence that the dissolution took place at about the time when payments were being made.

According to documents obtained by investigators, some of the payments made and were to be made are as follows.

Royal Builders - Rs. 45.8 million (Rs. 16.1 million outstanding), Sierra Construction - Rs. 201.6 million (Rs. 72.9 million outstanding), Uditha Builders Rs. 20.1 million (Rs. 8.3 million outstanding), Asoka Glass & Mirror Co. Ltd. Rs. 29.5 million (Rs. 8.7 million outstanding), Hi-Tech Engineers - Rs. 18. 4 million (Rs. 9.6 million outstanding), Edna Engineering Ltd. - Rs. 7 million, Halchem Lanka Rs. 1.9 million (Rs. 1.1 million outstanding), Dolland de Silva - Rs. 3.3 million (Rs. 1.5 million outstanding), New Interiors, 1.1 million and Browns Rs. 2.5 million.

According to the board's finance manager, at the time of the dissolution of the Board, another Rs. 185. million had been earmarked for payments. Of this amount, Rs. 131 million were to be paid to Surath Wickramasinghe Associates for its Dambulla project work, while another Rs. 27. 1 million had been requested in respect of expenditure connected with the stadium. They include Rs. 5 million for Sierra Construction, Rs. 5 million for Surath Wickramasinghe Associates as consultancy fees, Rs. 7.2 million of NCPA for earth work and roads and Rs. 6 million for ETA Melco for a Mitsubishi Elevator.

Another Rs. 27.8 million had been earmarked for other outstanding payments. All these last-minute payments are being investigated.

According to preliminary investigations, it took less than one month for the ousted cricket board to select and finalise contractors for the Dambulla project. Whether proper tender procedures had been adhered to will also be probed, The Sunday Times learns. On the other hand time was of the essence in commencing and completing the project.

Another aspect, which is being probed, is a payment of Rs. 3 million in legal fees. The executive committee on February 5, 2001 had approved the payment to Mr. Sumathipala as he had advanced the money from his personal account. 

Questions are being asked as to why the board had to incur this expenditure when the case was against Mr. Sumathipala. The money had been paid in regard to cases filed by Clifford Ratwatte, who contested Mr. Sumathipala at the Board elections two years ago and Rienzie Wijetilleke who headed the Interim-Committee. Mr. Sumathipala in an interview with The Sunday Times (see separate story) defended this payment saying that the cases were against the Cricket Board. But his critics say they were legal battles of a more personal nature.

The questions about the Cricket Board funds come at a time when the national pool players have sought US dollars 1.2 million new package for a three-year contract a 100 per cent increase. 

The issue was raised at an emergency Ex-co meeting on February 28, 2001. When Lawrence Amarasena had backed the cricketers' demand, Mr. Sumathipala had pointed out that it was not only cricketers but cricket played in Sri Lanka, TV rights and sponsorships that brought in the revenue.

After much deliberation, the committee unanimously decided that the President and the Chief Executive should negotiate with the cricketers.

Minister Kiriella says it was difficult to understand that with so much revenue how the board was running on minus Rs. 79 million budget. He says this raises a question whether the Board had been involved in expenditure which was too extravagant.


Thilanga defends payments

Ousted Cricket Board president Thilanga Sumathipala in an interview with The Sunday Times has defended cricket board payments just before the dissolution of the board. He said the payments were held up because of the English tour and they had to make the long overdue payments as soon as the tour was over. Excerpts.

Q: In a recent statement you said you would not contest the post of Cricket Board president at the next election. Does this also mean that you will not contest any board elections in the future?

A: That depends. The situation might change. At present the manner in which things are being handled is not satisfactory. The Sports Minister had given me a letter to contest the elections. Then suddenly he goes against us. It is a sorry situation where sports law takes precedence over the board constitution. The Sports Minister's actions are not consistent. 

Q: What do you mean when you say the minister's actions are not consistent?

A: He first said Dambulla and Pallakelle stadium projects had to go ahead. When he came to Dambulla, he said it was fantastic and we must invite President Kumaratunga for the opening. Then he said Dambulla should have not been built at all.

Q: What is your response to allegations that more than Rs. 100 million was drawn out from board funds just before the dissolution?

A: We did not withdraw money from the funds. We paid about Rs. 42 million in cheques to contractors. The payments were long overdue. They could not be paid in time because the English tour was on. We had to settle the bills only after the tour ended on March 27. The board was dissolved on March 28.

Q: Why did you transfer of funds from one bank to another? 

A: From the board's account in the Bank of Ceylon, we usually transferred money to current accounts in Pan Asia or Union Bank to meet certain expenditure. This way we ensured the maximum gains from bank interests.

Q: It is also alleged you have claimed legal fees amounting to Rs 3 million in respect of cases filed by former interim board president Rienzie Wijetillake and Clifford Ratwatte who contested the board presidency. Your critics say that these cases were of personal nature. 

A: This is not true. The legal fee had been paid with regard to a case filed by Clifford Ratwatte against 10 members of the Interim Board. The BCCSL had to defend their position. Moreover it was not a personal case. It was against the Board. I did not run the Board as my personal office. 

Q: What was the need for the Dambulla Stadium to be built in a hurry?

A: Tell me one good reason why should we spend six months to complete it. I can give 100 good reasons to complete it. Dambulla is for the people of this country.

Q: Did you advertise tenders for contracts in the newspapers? 

A: We went through very extensive tender procedures. 

Q: But you did not advertise?

A: There is no requirement to advertise. We selected 16 contractors.

Q: The Minister justifying the dissolution action claimed that associations or clubs that had lost their voting rights as a result of not playing cricket, were voting at board elections. What is your response?

A: I feel sorry for the Minister. He is talking of places about Jaffna, Vavuniya and Trincomalee. In Galle Minister Mahinda Wijesekara is the President and in the central province Thilina Tennakoon, the Minister of sports for the province, is the President. The Minister should make a study before making such comments.


I initiated the dissolution process, says Prasanna

Prasanna Ranatunga, the vice president of the ousted Cricket Board, claimed yesterday he was responsible for exposing alleged scandals in the country's richest sports body.

Mr. Ranatunga said he submitted a file to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, containing documents on questionable deals of the Board even before his brother, Dhammika Ranatunga, was removed from the Chief Executive Officer post. Excerpts from an interview with The Sunday Times.

Q: You are now making allegations against the dissolved Cricket Board. As the vice president of the board, what did you do to stop alleged malpractices?

A: Though I had the information about certain deals, I did not raise the matter at ex-co meetings. Had I done so, things would have boomeranged on me. But I submitted a report to the Sports Minister and it was this action that exposed the Cricket Board.

Q: Didn't the ex-co discuss about the Dambulla Crcicket Stadium project when you were there?

A: The Dambulla project was needed for the country. But I am not happy about the manner it was handled, especially the financial side of it. The original plan was changed and there were irregularities in awarding contracts. Initially, Dhammika as the Board CEO was in charge of the project, but later, the Board's National Development Council took over it. The ex-co was informed only after decisions were taken at the NDC. Since, other ex-co members did not protest, I also kept mum. No body protested, probably because of friendship or ignorance.

Q: Are you making allegations against Mr. Sumathipala because your brother was removed from the CEO post.

A: My brother was removed from the post after I handed over the relevant file to President Kumaratunga. He was sent on leave four months later. One of the reasons for sending him on compulsory leave was that he was called by Sports Minister Lakshman Kiriella and asked about the details of the contract on awarding TV rights. When my brother was to be removed, the Minister told the Cricket Board not to remove him. But the Board decided to appoint a committee to investigate my brother's, work, instead. 

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