The recent joint holiday tour to Singapore between Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) Chairman Jayampathy Bandaranayake and John Keells Holdings (JKH) Susantha Ratnayake as reported in this newspaper raises serious questions of impropriety.
It’s akin to a judge and an accused going on a jolly-jaunt together. Never has the chamber been under such serious scrutiny than the present moment when two of the three heads – chairman and deputy vice chairman – are under the microscope.The issue of morality and ethics is now fast shifting to the CCC whose leadership is becoming tainted with unethical behaviour in the light of a probe on whether JKH, as a member of the chamber, has violated the code of ethics in the privatisation of Lanka Marine Services Ltd (LMSL) which was declared as a corrupt deal by the Supreme Court.
The newspaper in an earlier editorial drew attention to the CCC’s Code of Ethics, displayed in its website, where it says, “A concept of social responsibility and ethical conduct is inherent in every stable society. Business ethics do not merely refer to laws that govern commercial activity. Business activity is regulated by a series of laws and regulations framed by the state, just as much as political activity is governed by the constitution of the State. Business must obey the laws and regulations, or run the risk of suffering the penalties that may be imposed for their disobedience. The concept of ethical behaviour however goes beyond the activity of mere compliance with the law. Business ethics in large measure deal with the spirit in which commercial transactions are conducted and in particular with the effect they may have on consumers and the public in general.”
That JKH has violated the code is clear as daylight but yet the chamber had been dilly-dallying in its verdict. At one of the meetings, there was a suggestion for a group of lawyers to study the judgment and see whether the code of ethics had been breached by JKH. Subsequently a group of eminent persons with legal experts, it is learnt, has been appointed to ascertain whether the code has been broken—although the code (on this point) is very clear when it says “Business must obey the laws and regulations, or run the risk of suffering the penalties that may be imposed for their disobedience”. Take this and the judgment against JKH Chairman Susantha Ratnayake and JKH together: It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that JKH has broken the code.
This raises the question as to whether there is a deliberate delay to stall the chamber inquiry and then eventually clear JKH’s ‘good’ name? With CCC Chairman Bandaranayake going on a holiday tour overseas with Ratnayake, whose company is in the dock, that certainly puts the issue in a different light and raises many doubts about the credibility of the chamber probe.
Add the fact that the chamber went ahead and awarded JKH the best corporate citizen’s award despite a damning COPE report and while a fundamental rights case against the privatization of LMSL was in progress, makes it an even bigger insult to corporate governance and an indictment on the chamber and its credibility.
Questions abound in the chamber’s handling of this crisis like for example why were JKH directors Ronnie Peiris and Deva Rodrigo permitted to remain when the main committee was discussing the JKH case? In fairness to Mr Ratnayake (also Deputy Vice Chairman of the chamber), he chose not to be present.
The chamber’s ‘reluctance’ on this issue also puts Bandaranayake in the dock: is he fit to govern as the leader of the country’s biggest and until recently, most respected chamber? Shouldn’t the leaders of the chamber also abide by ethical behaviour and good governance rather than applying it only to members?
This raises the whole question of awards and its validity in the sordid happenings in the business community.
Some business leaders are horrified by the happening and the insistence of JKH to maintain that they are still ‘clean’ in the privatization of LMSL. Some told this newspaper that they have decided not to apply for the Corporate Citizens award until true governance and ethics is established and practised.
The Olympics has clear rules governing winners of medals who have been subsequently involved in a scandal, criminal or corrupt acts. Take the recent case of US star sprinter Marion Jones: she was stripped of her medal the moment she was jailed for doping and lying to a Grand Jury.
Shouldn’t the same principle apply in the awards for the best corporate citizen? Or is it nepotism at play? Members of the chamber have to answer this and need to bring their leaders to book and restore the image of the chamber. Otherwise the chamber will end up a laughing stock not only in the eyes of its membership but also in the public.