Former national cricketer Sidath Wettimuny sent the following statement in response to the Daily Mirror's interview with Sri Lanka Cricket President Thilanga Sumathipala titled 'Only wanted stability at ICC - Sumathipala' published on June 2 on page A11, in so far as matters related to a direct reference to Mr. Wettimuny. The statement herein below is to ensure our duty as a responsible publication and is done so in the interest of our readers.
Last week, an article was carried in the Daily Mirror of June 02, 2017, containing several false, malicious and libellous allegations regarding me and my tenure as Chairman of the Sri Lanka Cricket Interim Committee. Politicians should remember that any privilege they may have to slander individuals within parliament does not extend to statements they make to the media. However, I’m very pleased to make use of this opportunity to refute these malicious claims and provide the public with accurate information on Sri Lanka’s cricket administration.
Since 1999, several Ministers of Sports have been compelled to appoint interim committees to administer SLC. The need to appoint interim committees arose due to allegations of malpractices by elected boards or dissatisfaction with the manner elected boards were managing SLC. These interim committees were not appointed for political reasons but out of necessity to restore the financial stability and integrity of SLC. Since 1999, there have been eight (or nine) interim committees, of which I was appointed to seven committees by ministers from both the major political parties.
Seeing the obvious weaknesses in our election process as enabled by the present constitution of SLC (which was adopted in 2003 when the present chairman of SLC held office as chairman), the ICC recognised the need to support reforming the SLC constitution so as to enable only genuine and cricket playing stakeholders to exercise voting rights, to eliminate the opportunity for “vote buying” at SLC elections and to ensure professional and accountable management by elected bodies on a continuing basis. In fact, the ICC placed its confidence in the Interim Committee of April-December 2015, of which I was chairman – to continue to function, and to introduce these reforms and we proceeded to prepare a concept paper for a new constitution for SLC which also proposed that SLC should be incorporated so as to ensure that officials will be held accountable under the law. The ICC even offered their technical assistance to help us in this process. I am sure that the ICC will corroborate these facts.
When the Interim Committee I chaired was appointed in April 2015, SLC faced an astounding financial deficit, with overdrafts of over USD 7 million and Rs. 200 million, both with the Bank of Ceylon. These figures were published under my direction in order to maintain full transparency. Remarkably, by 31 December 2015 under the administration of the Interim Committee chaired by me, the deficit was cleared, and SLC had secured a surplus in excess of Rs. 100 million. Any person who wishes to do so can verify these facts by perusing the accounts of SLC or by making an inquiry addressed to the Treasurer at the time or the Bank of Ceylon. Since the present chairman of SLC should be fully aware of these facts and I am very surprised by the claims made in the interview..
I was utterly shocked to read the blatantly false claim that I misappropriated funds during my chairmanship. I have, in fact, done the opposite, often using my personal funds to cover expenses incurred on official SLC work in my capacity as chairman. This is because many of us served SLC not for financial gain, but for the love of the sport. During my chairmanship, SLC held regular press conferences to update the public about its financial position, and overall progress. We held ourselves accountable to the public. For example, we made sure that the construction projects planned under my chairmanship were entrusted to highly reputed state institutions as opposed to private contractors. The budgeted construction cost for Pallekele, which included 4 indoor strips, in a new building as proposed by the Interim Committee chaired by me , was Rs 47 million and not Rs.110 million as claimed by the present chairman. All necessary approvals for construction were obtained, and this information may be verified by the Chief Engineer at the time, Prasanna Jinaratne and the CEO, Ashley de Silva. However, to the disappointment of many, including the national cricketers, the planned projects were suspended by the current administration. Further, the construction of a centre of excellence in Khettarama, which included a much-needed swimming pool and indoor nets commenced by the Interim Committee under my chairmanship, was also suspended by the present elected body and denied to the national cricket squad. It is the cricketers who ultimately lose out.
I request those who claim to doubt my integrity, to examine the records of SLC, which will show the falsity of the claims made in the interview. I also request any member of the public who does not have access to the records of SLC, to use the new right to information law to obtain the records of SLC and compare the manner in which SLC was administered under the Interim Committee under my chairmanship and the manner in which SLC is presently administered. In fact, the public should also use the RTI law to ask pertinent questions of the current administration, such as how and what expenses were incurred during Australia’s recent tour of Sri Lanka.
As for the CBFS fund which the present chairman has referred to in the course of the interview, this CBFS fund (The Cricketers Benefit Fund Series)was established in 1981 by Abdul RahmanBukhatir whose main aim was to honour cricketers of the past and present generations from India and Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with benefit purses to be paid to past cricketers in recognition of their services to the game of cricket. The disbursement of all monies received under the CBFS fund was carried out during 1999 and 2000 during the chairmanship of RienzieWijetilleke, a banker of exemplary repute, and fifteen years before I was appointed chairman. One only has to inquire from Mr.Wijetilleke as to how, to whom and to how many these funds were disbursed.
Let me also clarify that my relative Kushil Gunasekera, who I am falsely accused of promoting, in fact served on three previous interim committees before being appointed in April 2015 by Hon. Minister Naveen Dissanayake. I should mention that Kushil’s abilities are beyond doubt and his reputation precedes him. For example, he secured a saving of over Rs. 80 million during Pakistan’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2015, and was hugely commended by the ICC for running a showpiece Under 19 World Cup in 2000.
Since this conversation involves conflicts of interest, I should also raise another important question. Should politicians be permitted to serve on the boards of public bodies, such as SLC? Our neighbour India has realised the dangers of politicizing sports. Just recently, the Indian Supreme Court accepted the Lodha Committee’s recommendations to bar Ministers and Government servants from serving on the BCCI. The Sri Lankan public should demand that our own cricket administration follows suit to safeguard our beloved sport from politicization.
I’m delighted that the country has a new right to information law, as citizens can now come forward and obtain information on how the elected board of SLC is fairing. Since cricket is so important to our citizens and fans, they should take an active interest in discovering how monies are being spent.
In conclusion, let me remind those who brazenly slander others in the press that whoever lies and distorts the truth will ultimately reap what they sow.