Business Times

Dirty Harry strikes again

It was not a scene from a Dirty Harry movie but a real life scenario where Harry Jayawardena, among Sri Lanka’s richest, if controversial men, verbally abused and intimidated a Business Times journalist last week just because he didn’t like what she wrote.

It was appalling that some of the captains of industry who lord on governance, transparency and the new buzz word – whistle blowing – who were there did nothing to stop the ugly scene and language of a common thug. There was nary a word from them. “What can we do …”, said a top executive, offering a sheepish explanation symptomatic of the weak-kneed and gutless.

Mr Jayawardena, who once threatened a Customs officer at gunpoint and has had the backing of many governments including that of a former President, was no better than a Mariyakade thug – hurling abuse and explicit vituperatives, obviously trying to take advantage of a lady journalist. No one dared stop him nor would he have dared do it to a male journalist from the Business Times. Chivalry, up yours, 'Dirty Harry'.

The business czar owns several companies but recently lost his lucrative cash cow, Sri Lanka Insurance Corp (SLIC) when the Supreme Court frowned on yet another privatization that was flawed. He got out of jail, really. Not to be outdone, Mr Jayawardena’s liquor firm, Distilleries Corp of Sri Lanka (DCSL) this week announced that it planned to invest half a billion rupees on a new insurance venture.

So what irked this business-man to hurl a torrent of verbal diarrhea on a journalist? The Sunday Times Business Desk has been consistently reporting the happenings at the Stassens Group, an original tea company that was founded by four friends - V.P. Vitachi, Harry Jayawardena, Zaki Alif and Raj Obeysekera. The foursome worked together at state tea firm Consoloexpo in the 1970s and then quit to form a company, using their wide experience in the tea trade.

The company grew but as time went by many decisions were taken by Mr Jayawardene without consulting the other three. The situation turned ugly with threats and intimidation against the other three directors, one of whom Mr Vitachi died last year, and a dispute over the group is now in courts. While reporting on these events and other related company issues, Mr Jayawardena has consistently refused to answer questions from this newspaper. He told the Business Times reporter during the ugly incident that the newspaper was publishing a lot of lies.

Mr Jayewardena’s fallout with many top businessmen is well known and one in particular, Nihal Jinasena, quit in disgust as Chairman of DFCC, a bank controlled by Mr Jayewardena, over the planned ouster of Mahendra Amarasuriya as chairman of Commercial Bank, which the arrogant businessman wants to control.

The media is not a sacred cow and if anyone feels he has been victimised, defamed or wronged, there are well-laid out and tested mechanisms to complain to.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) investigates complaints from the public on reportage in newspapers. The courts are there if an individual wants to sue a newspaper. That’s the correct way if someone has been wronged by a newspaper – not Mr Jayawardena’s style in sending someone to the ‘grave’ as the threat to the reporter (‘I will send you to a place you will never come back from’) implied. The journalist has filed a complaint with the Fort Police and we would expect the Police to do their job in following it up.

The big boys in Sri Lanka’s corporate sector should hide their heads in shame. Many are prepared to criticize Mr Jayawardena but only behind his back as business relationships and deals take precedence over ethics, good governance and good behaviour to which many of them pay lip service otherwise.
The corporate community is filled with awards, accolades and pats on the back for a job well done and, maybe there should also be an award for the best-behaved CEO! This week it was the Best Corporate Citizen’s Award; last week it was the best exporter’s award and so on. Companies are picked on their financial performance while other fundamentals are ignored!

Just like the tradition in Hollywood where – just before the Oscars and Academy Awards – there is an award for the worst film and actors and elsewhere the worst dressed celebrities, the corporate sector must launch an award for the most boorish and most uncouth Chairman of all ! No prizes for guessing who the winner by a mile would be. Cheers for the Season. Have one on us.

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
Other Business Times Articles
Political parties, companies must declare funding
Softlogic to sell minor stake in new hospital
Lankan liquor firm to open insurance unit
Trinco to get $2.4 bln steel plant investment
Nation Lanka Finance wins support over rights
Comment - Dirty Harry strikes again
Hayleys PLC: Focusing on Corporate Responsibility
Why MBAs should not sign the Harvard Business School oath
Leisure, banking and manufacturing sectors to grow in 2010
F&G to restart as Island Finance Co.
Lankan consumers say children’s education tops priority list: Survey
Lankan growth rate to drop unless demographic impacts countered
Nestlé helping to develop dairy industry in the East
Kerala eyes Sri Lankan mineral sand for titanium projects
Serious loss of capital at Blue Diamonds Jewellery
100 more Cargills Food City outlets to be rolled out
Sri Lanka will be among the richest in Asia — Fowzie
Sri Lanka aims to make the best tuna in the world
Touchwood profits down
CFA Sri Lanka named official sponsor of the Global Investment Performance Standards
Cruising to Colombo
Top outsourcing firms to come to Sri Lanka
Reduction of broadband pricing will make it more popular amongst poor
Rice shortages expected next year, prices already heading up
Sri Lanka has oversized public service and huge cabinet of ministers
2010's WiMAX deployment will need new infrastructure
Zambia opens Honorary Consulate in Colombo
Rajitha Kariyawasan replaces Ananda Hettiarachchy at Haycarb
Sri Lankan spices can help double per capita incomes in 5 years – PBJ
National ICT performance targets even higher over next two years
Inflation up in November 2009
ADB - 50% recent drop in global trade due to trade finance
Intel extends education offerings to SL govt.
Sri Lanka’s first aviation-related Sinhala magazine
Shell shocked by cylinder losses
Resistance to banking regulation from directors
Loss of capital at Kahawatte Plantations
Corporate stewardship and board room governance
Sampath Bank named Best Corporate Citizen of Sri Lanka
Slimmer desktop computers to go on sale in January
Foreign investment discussion at Sunday Times Biz Club
Milcris, a Sri Lankan firm riding high in Muscat


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2009 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution