There is a pithy Sinhala saying ‘Illang Kewa (meaning you asked for trouble and got it)’. This is exactly the ‘trap’ powerful Sri Lankan businessman Dilith Jayaweera fell into last week. It was not only Mr Jayaweera who committed ‘hari kiri’, but it appears that his business colleague Nalaka Godahewa has done the same issuing [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Dilith: ‘Illang kewaa’


There is a pithy Sinhala saying ‘Illang Kewa (meaning you asked for trouble and got it)’. This is exactly the ‘trap’ powerful Sri Lankan businessman Dilith Jayaweera fell into last week. It was not only Mr Jayaweera who committed ‘hari kiri’, but it appears that his business colleague Nalaka Godahewa has done the same issuing a statement to the Business Times (in response to a comment), which is published in full.

Calling a media conference to proclaim his innocence against allegations and reports that he was part of an alleged mafia that was controlling the stock market, Mr Jayaweera was taken to the cleaners, facing a barrage of questions on a range of issues including ‘a call made on his behalf by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Thilak Karunaratne’, political influence and political campaigns for the President, stock market probes involving his company and connections with (Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority – SLTDA) Chairperson Mr Godahewa, among others.

However Business Times (BT), among other media, erred in referring to him as a ‘high net-worth investor’. Mr Jayaweera was specific in saying that all investments were made by his company – Divasa Equity; not him. The BT stands corrected.Sitting alone, a courageous and fearless effort indeed, he faced the media on what he had expected and said earlier would be an informal discussion. In opening remarks, he spoke of his beginnings as a rebellious university undergraduate standing up for the rights of students which he says he has done right along and his dealings then and now have been honest and clean.

“I know many of you as friends,” he said, at which point a senior journalist intervened to say that ‘friends are friends’ but journalists are professionals like any other profession and have a duty to report the truth, factually.At the end of a long and bruising battle with the media in a to-and-fro briefing that lasted longer that its allotted time (4.5 hours) so much so that the hotel had to remind the organisers that the room was required for another function, Mr Jayaweera came out the big loser as the responses were filled with contradictions and proved, to a point, his powerful connections to the top including the President and his brother, Gotabaya. Only Basil (of the three Rajapaksa brothers who virtually run the government) was not mentioned.

The acknowledgement that he had requested the Defence Secretary to call the SEC chief Karunaratne exposed his inability to handle the media even though he has handled powerful media campaigns for the government in the past. He said the call was made to only request a meeting with Mr Karunaratne. That however is Mr Jayaweera’s word but what else transpired during that meeting (relating to the stock market) with the Defence Secretary is anybody’s guess and various inferences can be drawn, given the former’s powerful connections, from that meeting. Mr Jayaweera wanted to be honest in answering all questions, which he did but in the process confirmed his powerful connections with the Rajapaksa brothers.

Some people are smart; some people are clever; some people are downright stupid. In Mr Jayaweera’s case, given the fact that he is an extremely creative and clever advertising industry executive who along with his business partner at Triad, Varuni Amunugama Fernando drove some powerful and dynamic campaigns for many companies and the government, one can assume many things. Was it a Ranasinghe Premadasa-type ‘Mey kawda, monawaday korrane’ campaign, the late President had when he ran for presidency in 1988?
In the circles that Mr Jayaweera is associated with, any publicity (good or bad) is welcome. For those who were unaware as to who Mr Jayaweera is (apart from the Colombo elite and political circles), he has suddenly sprung into the limelight in all media– print, television, radio and social media’. Isn’t that a clever way to be known – irrespective of whether it is good or bad publicity?

However the question that readers are bound to ask is whether he in his responses to the media (excerpts of which are reproduced on this page), unnecessarily dragged the President and the Defence Secretary into matters which were more of a personal nature?
In Dr Godahewa’s case, the issue is whether he stands disqualified because another company where he is chairperson (Colombo Land and Development Co in which Mr Jayaweera is a major shareholder), has publicly announced that it is planning to construct a 180-room hotel as part of the Liberty Plaza expansion programme.

Section 5 subsection 1 of the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 states: “5. (1) A person shall be disqualified from being appointed or from continuing, as a member of the Authority, if he is, or becomes,— (a) the owner, partner, director, majority shareholder or an employee of, or in, any business which operates or provides tourist services of any class or description.” The announcement that his company made in which he is the chairman clearly falls in the category of disqualification.

Dr Godahewa in his response, hasá referred to what his company is doing and not doing and said, “there is nothing illegal, immoral or unethical in our business plans we will work relentlessly to achieve our plans thereby contributing to the development of country’sá economy.” The clear and precise question asked was as chairman of the SLTDA whether he stands disqualified because he is involved in another company that is involved in “tourist services of any class or description”.

When asked about himself, he talks instead about the company. This column, in recent times, has praised Dr Godahewa — after a clash with Treasury Secretary Dr P.B. Jayasundera over a tourism promotion campaign – and that tourism’s loss is another sector’s gain because his services was sought by the President in making presentations to foreign investors on tourism and development in general. However on the current conflict of interests that is clearly seen in law, Dr Godahewa has faulted and it now remains to be seen what action the government would take, when a law has been violated.

We carry Mr. Jayaweera’s question and answer session and Dr Godahewa’s response to our question verbatim and leave it to the readers to decide.

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