Rahula rumpus rumbles
By Mahangu Weerasinghe
The controversy over the admission of a son of a JVP MP to a national school has taken a high-level twist with Education Ministry Secretary Tara De Mel being implicated in the case and the JVP citing the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act to absolve the MP of any wrongdoing.

In the wake of media exposure that the Matara district JVP parliamentarian Premasiri Manage had allegedly used political influence or what is euphemistically called 'chit system' to admit his son to Matara Rahula College, the politician has withdrawn his son.

The Sunday Times reported last week that despite the strict government policy on preventing political influence in school admissions, the politician's son had been admitted to Rahula College though he fell 22 marks short of the required total at the Year Five Scholarship Examination.

Rahula Principal Kithsiri Liyanagamage told The Sunday Times last week he had received a letter from the Director of National Schools, ordering him to admit the politician's son.

But this week, fresh evidence emerged that it is not only the Director of National Schools but Education Ministry Secretary Dr. de Mel has also sent an official letter to the MP, assuring him that necessary action was being taken to admit his son to Rahula College.

However, Dr. de Mel's letter on a ministry letterhead avoids any mentioning of the Year Five Scholarship Examination, but attempts to justify the admission on grounds that the MP had changed his residence - apparently to a place close to the school.

Education officials claim there is no circular or official policy recommending admission to a new school upon a change of residence.

Despite our repeated attempts and a visit to the Ministry, we could not meet Dr. de Mel. However, the Ministry's Media Secretary, Sharmane Wijesinghe, categorically denied that Dr. de Mel had issued a letter to the MP.

Reacting to the allegations, the JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said in a statement that Mr. Manage had made use of a privilege enjoyed by an MP.
But education officials say that this privilege applies to only Grade One admissions.

According to an Education Ministry circular, seven percent of Grade One admissions are allocated to children of government servants on transfers and MPs or Provincial councillors who move into new official residences.

The Sunday Times spoke to Mr. Manage at his Matara Kottegoda residence this week. He denied he had influenced the principal or applied any pressure to admit his son to Year Six.

"The principal asked me to bring a letter from the Director of National Schools to get my child admitted," Mr. Manage said while admitting his son had fallen short of the required 164 entrance mark.

"My son is not the only one who has not got the required 164. Many of the teachers in Rahula and even businessmen in the area have managed to get their children in to the school," he said accusing the principal of overcrowding the Year Six classes with illegal entrants.

He also charged former Education Minister Karunasena Kodituwakku had used political influence many a time in getting children in to leading schools.
But Dr. Kodituwakku denied the allegations and challenged Mr. Manage to prove his claim.

Dismissing Mr. Manage's charges as baseless, Rahula Principal Kithsiri Liyanagamage said he always acted on the instructions of the Director of National schools.

He said he would resign his post, if it was proved that the school had admitted to year Six any other child who had received less than 164 marks at the Year Five Scholarship Examination.

The principal also said he was not aware of an Act that gave Parliamentarians special privileges in school admissions bar the Year 1 privilege, and said that the school only followed the methods outlined in the circulars given to it by the Education Ministry.

National Schools Director Mr Geeganage, who issued the controversial 'admit him' letter declined to comment on the issue, saying it was the media unit of the ministry that was responsible for interaction with the media.

On Thursday cabinet spokesman and Deputy Education Minister Mangala Samaraweera downplayed the significance of the controversy, stating that MPs "traditionally" had the right to admit their children into a school of their choice. But he was forced to admit that this special privilege applied only in the case of Grade One admissions.

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