NOC's 'gratuitous' struggle for independence

1 April 2019 - 91   - 0

In an unprecedented move, the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOCSL) which is recognised under the Sports Law has sought complete independence and autonomy claiming non-Government organisation (NGO) status with no links whatsoever with the Government. 

Writing directly to the Attorney General, despite not having a mandate to do so, the local body has demanded exemption from audit by Government auditors, causing consternation among the sports fraternity. 

The auditing of accounts by Government auditors is a mandatory requirement under the Sports Law for all national sports associations and all committees including the NOCSL.

Although this has often caused delays in holding annual general meetings, given the workload of the auditors, it is a useful check-and-balance in governance of these largely corrupt institutions. 

The NOCSL also want amendments to the Sports Law and regulations enacted therein to ensure complete independence and autonomy citing International Olympic Committee (IOC) requirements. 

They maintain that failure to do so will have drastic implications on the independence of the NOCSL, including penal sanctions from the IOC. 

The letter was in response to scathing remarks on NOCSL by Government auditors in a ‘Special Audit Report on Sports in Sri Lanka and its Administration’ dated May 21, 2018. 

Among other things, it recommended legal action against those who violated the Sports Law by failing to follow government financial regulations, Government procurement guidelines and Government administrative regulations. 

According to the first amendment to the Sports Law No 25 of 1973, in 1993, a detailed mission report on foreign meetings and conferences should be submitted to the Minister of Sports within 30-days of their return to the island by the participating delegates but the auditors found that NOCSL had failed to comply. 

The same law requires annual accounts of all national sports associations, and that of NOCSL, to be audited by the Auditor General's Department annually. 

The NOCSL has often resisted this--a clear violation of the laws of the land. Their accounts from 2010 to 2016 were only audited in 2017 ahead of the election of office bearers in 2018. 

“In the said report, the Auditor General erroneously considered the NOC Sri Lanka to be a Government entity/body and observed that NOC Sri Lanka should follow Government recruitment guidelines, cadre requirements, Government procurement guidelines etc which effectively converts the NOC Sri Lanka to a Government entity/body thus violating the Olympic Charter in broad daylight,” NOCSL Secretary General Maxwell de Silva wrote to the Attorney General’s Department. 

De Silva says that the assertion of the Auditor General is inherently wrong as the NOC Sri Lanka is not a Government department or entity relying on funds provided through the consolidated fund voted for by Parliament. 

“The approach of the Auditor General is completely wrong as following the directives issued by the Auditor General can have drastic implications on the independence and/or autonomy of the NOC Sri Lanka, which can attract penal sanctions of the IOC, which insists that NOCs should be independent and autonomous, free from all forms of government interferences and/or meddling”, de Silva wrote in his letter. It is copied to the Prime Minister, Sports Minister, Secretary to the Ministry of Sports, and two others from the IOC and the Asian Olympic Council. 

This statement is far from the truth. While the NOCSL receives sufficient funds to manage most of its activities, including day-to-day expenditure, from the global body, it also consumes a considerable amount of tax payers' money. 

The Ministry of Sports provides monies allocated by the Treasury to enable the NOCSL to sponsor athletes to represent Sri Lanka at numerous Games organized with IOC collaboration. 

This includes the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. 

These require a proper auditing by the Government auditors. 

NOCSL occupies premises built on property allocated to them in the prestigious, expensive Colombo 7 area, built with financial assistance from the Ministry of Sports. 

For these funds, the Ministry is ultimately accountable to the Parliament as they come from public coffers. 

“In the circumstances aforesaid I call upon you to immediately intervene into this matter and instruct the Auditor General not to initiate any legal action against the Office Bearers of the NOC Sri Lanka on the premise that they have failed to adhere to Government rules and regulations when managing the affairs of the NOC Sri Lanka and also to advice the Ministry of Sports to immediately initiate steps to amend the Sports Law as well as the Regulations published under the Sports Law to fall in line with the Olympic Charter," insists de Silva's letter. 

Though the Olympic Charter requries NOCs to preserve their autonomy and resist all pressures of any kind--including, but not limited to, political, legal, religious or economic pressures which may prevent them from complying with the Olympic Charter--it also requires member associations to operate in accordance with both the rules of the Olympic Movement and the laws of the land. 

As such, the NOCSL request is gratuitous. 

This request for exemption from Government auditing comes at a time when an amount of Rs. 100 million is being proposed in the 2019 State budget as an allocation to the NOCSL. 

Never in the history of Sri Lanka has the Government allocated funds directly to the NOCSL, which falls under the Ministry of Sports. 

The proposal took the Sports Ministry by surprise and caused concern among many who are aware of the lack of accountability and transparency in the Olympic Committee during the past several years. 

In a letter addressed to the Minister of Finance, Co-Cabinet Minister in charge of Sports Harin Fernando has vehemently opposed the move citing that it’s against the financial regulations. 

His letter states that, even though NOC Sri Lanka receives huge financial assistance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it has failed to maintain financial transparency and accountability. 

He also refers to the letter written by NOCSL to the Attorney General seeking complete autonomy and independence. 

A source from the AG’s department said they have responded to the NOCSL letter asking them to come through the proper channel, which is the line ministry. 

It maintains, too, that NOCSL was established under the Sports Law No 25 of 1973 and, as such, falls within the ambit of the Sports Law.

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