Oxford blunder: SL society president evades answers

Oxford Union Sri Lanka Society President Dilan Fernando offered to answer questions from the Sunday Times this week in addition to his Right of Reply. He however did not respond to the supplementary questions that were sent to him by the newspaper.

Sunday Times (ST): Did the Sri Lankan High Commissioner Nihal Jayasinghe ever advise you to postpone/cancel President Mahinda Rajapaksa's address to the Oxford Union?

Dilan Fernando (DF): As you are aware, the President was invited by James Kingston, President – Oxford Union. Thus, there was no question of asking us to postpone/cancel the event. The SL High Commissioner sent the Deputy High Commissioner Mr. Amza (as his representative) and a delegation of the High Commission to the Oxford Union on October 12, 2010. On this occasion, the High Commission delegation on behalf of the SL Government publicly thanked James Kingston for the invitation.

Dilan with President Rajapaksa

The OU Sri Lanka Society was also thanked for facilitating the visit and praised as having done a great service to our country.

The SL High Commission was totally involved in planning and executing every aspect of the event. All relevant details were minutely discussed.

ST: Our question is a specific one. Did High Commissioner Jayasinghe ever advise you to postpone/cancel President Rajapaksa's address.

DF; (No response).

ST: How many members comprise the Oxford Sri Lanka Society.

DF:; It must be noted that the number of Sri Lankan students studying in Oxford is very low, compared to other universities in the UK. This is because of the highly competitive nature of its entrance examinations. Our Society must not be bashed if it is small. On the contrary, our Society should be praised for doing the work it does with the small numbers. It is the duty of others who care about the country to help us.

ST: But how many members comprise the Society?

DF: (No response).
ST: Are there non-Sri Lankan members?

DF: Under the regulations of the University of Oxford, any member of the University can join any society. Our society is not limited to only Sinhalese students. It consists of Sri Lankan nationals and also other nationalities. They have parents/grandparents who are of Sri Lankan origin. The numbers quoted in this (Café of last week) article (8 students) is completely wrong. Our Committee alone has 8 people on it.

ST: Was your election as President of the Oxford Sri Lanka Society annulled by the University authorities at any time? If so, for what reasons, and if so, did any members resign from the Society?

DF: All these allegations about elections stem from the first visit of the President to Oxford in 2008.
As you will be aware, the Oxford Union and the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society jointly organised the highly successful first address of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Oxford Union on 13 May, 2008.

This event was bitterly opposed by four members of our Society who were from a different political affiliation. They then tried to take over the Society and also tried to sabotage its work so that another event of this nature would not be organised in the future.

Once they failed, a smear campaign was launched and I was targeted, together with the then President of my Society. I complained to the Legal Dept of the University and an inquiry was initiated. The Legal Dept (at my request) then sent a letter to all members explaining the correct situation. The person responsible for the smear campaign had to apologise to me in writing, as asked by the Legal Dept. I have all these documents with me.

These people are now trying to do the same thing (i.e. to prevent us from organising similar events) and are using your esteemed publication to do their dirty work.

ST: You are prevaricating. Did the University authorities annul your election once - and if so, for what reasons?

DF: (No response).

Right of reply

Mr. Dilan Fernando, the D.Phil bio-chemistry candidate and President of the Sri Lanka Society at Oxford University has sent the Sunday Times the following response (relevant extracts) to our item in the ‘Talk at the Café Spectator’ on the failed visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the University last week.

“I refer to the above column which appeared in the Sunday Times edition of 5th December 2010.
“The facts are as follows:

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was invited by James Kingston, Michaelmas Term President of the Oxford Union to address its members for a second time by a letter dated 8th September 2010. As is evident from the invitation, the Oxford Union was primary host and had sole authority over the address of President Rajapaksa. The OU Sri Lanka Society was joint organizer and our role included the organization of the Sri Lankan side of the event. This included inviting distinguished guests including diplomats, inviting other Sri Lankan guests and organizing peripheral events in Oxford (including the Felicitation Ceremony).

“The Oxford Union had sole authority over the address of President Rajapaksa. Therefore, the Oxford University Sri Lanka Society was completely helpless in this matter as the right of cancellation lay only with the President of the Oxford Union. Our strong objections were simply not considered.

“Your article says ‘It was Dilan Fernando, who said sorry over President Rajapaksa's inability to address the Oxford Union on December 3.’ The e-mail you have quoted was sent by me to Sri Lankans whom I had invited. I had a quota to invite Sri Lankans for this event and it was my duty to inform them of this cancellation.

“The Sri Lanka High Commission was kept informed at all times and it is incorrect to state otherwise. A delegation of the Sri Lanka High Commission led by its Deputy High Commissioner (representing the High Commissioner) visited Oxford on 12th October 2010 and had detailed discussions with James Kingston (President-Oxford Union) and representatives of the OU Sri Lanka Society almost two months before the visit. Since then, several smaller delegations have been in Oxford on a regular basis to make necessary arrangements. All issues related to the visit were minutely discussed with the relevant authorities including the SL High Commission.

“The explanation given by ‘another Sri Lankan in Britain’ about the OU Sri Lanka Society and the workings of such organizations within the University of Oxford is highly inaccurate.”

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