- “Ambassador Liyanage’s unlawful interference into Stafford Sri Lanka School affairs has had a negative impact on the country
- This is a good lesson for our politicians not to appoint people who aren’t professionals to represent our country abroad,”
- Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha is a non- profit organization maintained with the sole purpose of providing proper education for the Sri Lankan students living in Qatar.
The Sri Lankan Ambassador to Qatar is accused of using diplomatic powers to harass a private Sri Lankan School Doha. This issue has caused much concern among Sri Lankans living there. Ambassador A.S.P. Liyanage has come under severe criticism for the unlawful and unjustified interference in the affairs of Stafford Sri Lankan School in the recent past. Liyanage has gone to the extent of getting the school’s bank accounts frozen and lodged complaints against the school management with the Qatar Education Ministry and Labour Department, abusing diplomatic powers.
Officials of Stafford Sri Lankan School in Doha confirmed with this newspaper yesterday (October 11) on how the Chairman of the School had been taken into custody by the Qatar Police following a complaint lodged by Ambassador Liyanage. The arresting of the school official was related to whatsapp messages both Liyanage and the School Chairman had exchanged six weeks ago.
“The Chairman had been extensively questioned for several hours and was produced before the public prosecutor. Unlike in other countries, when a foreign envoy lodges a complaint, the police in Middle Eastern countries acts speedily. We kindly request the Foreign Ministry in Colombo to intervene and instruct the Ambassador to stop harassing the school authority,” officials in Doha said.
Expatriates voice concerns
According to Sri Lankan expatriates in Doha, unlike previous Sri Lankan envoys, Ambassador Liyanage, is bringing discredit to the country by interfering in matters not under his purview.
According to a section of parents, Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha is providing the best possible education to children of expatriates and also preparing those who wish to sit for the Sri Lankan O/Level Examination as well.
“Although our children are following the London Edexcel syllabus here, the school management is preparing the students who wish to sit for the Sri Lankan O/L examination syllabus as well. But since the recent past, the school work is getting disturbed due to Ambassador Liyanage’s uncalled for involvement in the work of the school management which has raised concerns among parents and students of the school,” a spokesperson for the group of Sri Lankan expatriates in Doha said.
However, the Qatari Sponsor had taken measures to unfreeze the bank account immediately and informed the Doha Bank that he is the owner of the school and that the account will be operated by the Board of Trustees unless and otherwise instructed by the Sponsor or by a Court Order
A career diplomat opines
Meanwhile a career diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the duty of an envoy is to facilitate its own people in the country and serve, not harass people. “Ambassador Liyanage’s unlawful interference into Stafford Sri Lanka School affairs has had a negative impact on the country.
As the country’s envoy, he shouldn’t have got involved in the affairs of the school management, but helped them if any assistance was asked for. The lack of experience in representing the country abroad has given rise to this crisis. He is neither a career diplomat nor from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. This is a good lesson for our politicians not to appoint people who aren’t professionals to represent our country abroad,” the diplomat said.
Claiming that there are frauds taking place, Ambassador Liyanage on July 18, 2017 had allegedly got the school bank account in Doha Bank frozen by exercising diplomatic powers. Liyanage has taken a step beyond and made a complaint against Stafford Sri Lankan School to the Qatar Education Ministry and the Labour Department regarding various allegations, sans proof.
However, the Qatari Sponsor had taken measures to unfreeze the bank account immediately and informed the Doha Bank that he is the owner of the school and that the account will be operated by the Board of Trustees unless and otherwise instructed by the Sponsor or by a Court Order.
Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha Chairman Kumudu Fonseka when contacted said that school affairs hadn’t been affected due to the Ambassador’s unnecessary involvement with the school administration. However, the school’s chairman added that the situation had raised concerns among the parents of students. Established in 2001 with 14 children of Sri Lankan expatriates, Stafford Sri Lanka School Doha has now classes from nursery to Grade 13 (pre University) and boasts of a student population of 1, 100 students which is served by 82 Sri Lankan teachers.
“Ambassador Liyanage says that the Sri Lankan Embassy in Doha is the sponsor of this school and therefore the Embassy has the right to interfere in the management of the school. This is misleading. The Sri Lankan embassy hasn’t spent a cent towards this school and this is a fully private school and the sponsor is a Qatari citizen. The reason why the Ambassador is now attempting to get involved in the school administration is because of the money in the school bank account,” Fonseka said.
According to Fonseka, the unnecessary interference of the Sri Lankan Embassy began following his meeting with one of the Ministers in the present regime. “When this minister came to Qatar I personally met him and requested him to obtain assistance from the Government of Sri Lanka for further development of the school by the way of requesting the general Treasury to consider issuing a letter of comfort (LoC) in the event the Board of Trustees, who are all Sri Lankans, need to borrow funds from banks and financial institutions in Qatar for the construction of new buildings for the school.
In support of this request, a cabinet memorandum is to be submitted to the cabinet by Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella to which the Minister of Justice and Foreign Employment Thalatha Atukorale and the former Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva had given their blessings as well. Minister Kiriella had visited our school and was pleased in how we are managing the school. Minister Atukorale is very supportive of this school as she knows that expatriates benefit from this school. This memorandum is yet to be submitted to the cabinet. However when the request was made to this particular minister, he inquired about the existing money in school’s bank accounts. When I informed him that the school accounts contained more than 8 million Qatari Riyals (approximately Rs.498 million), he was surprised and that became the turning point. It is no doubt that the unjustified interference from the Embassy commenced from this moment as they are now eying the school funds,” Fonseka alleged.
Non- profit organization
Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha is a non- profit organization maintained with the sole purpose of providing proper education for the Sri Lankan students living in Qatar. These students can’t afford education in other schools due to high tuition fees.
“Myself and 15 Sri Lankans funded this institution in 2001 to help out our community here. We developed a constitution and the school is operated by the Board of Trustees, which comprises Sri Lankans. In keeping with the Qatar Law we can’t have full ownership of the institution, but since a Qatari volunteer offered us help we were able to get the school registered as a community school under the commercial registration no: 40169, hence it is at present under the full ownership of Yousuf Ahamad Al Feraidon. However, Al Feraidon nor any other member of the Board of Trustees is claiming dividends,” Fonseka said.
According to Fonseka, Ambassador Liyanage claims that the school is raising money unlawfully and he is also not happy with how the school operates. These are reasons which led him (Ambassador) to get the bank accounts frozen and report the school to the Labour Department and Education Ministry in Qatar.
“When the Ambassador visited the Education Ministry on August 15 to lodge the complaint I too accompanied him. Liyanage wanted the officials to visit the school the following day, but the school was being refurbished due to the vacation, I wanted the officials to come on a later date and they visited the school on the 26th. The officials were happy regarding the facilities provided for the students and they too were surprised as to why the Ambassador is making such allegations. Later, on September 28, Liyanage had visited the Qatar Labour Department to complain against the school employing Sri Lankans who don’t have work visas. He had also complained that the salaries paid to them was done violating the labour laws of that country. The Sri Lankans, who come to Qatar with their spouses’ visa, after marriage, are given employment by our school just to make them earn money. Whatever we have done we have not gone against the Qatari Law as we are law abiding citizens,” Fonseka added.
Liyanage refutes allegations
However, refuting the allegations made, Ambassador Liyanage said that he had acted in the best possible manner to prevent Sri Lankans getting involved in any frauds. “This school has been registered as a community school and how can a community school earn such a huge amount of money amounting to Qatari Riyals 8 million? This school is sponsored by the Sri Lankan Embassy in Qatar and the sole responsibility of this school lies with the Ambassador. If frauds are taking place, as the Sri Lankan Envoy, it is my obligation to get involved and prevent the Board of Trustees from generating money fraudulently,” the Ambassador told the Dailymirror.
When asked as to why he got the school bank account frozen and lodged complaints with the Qatar Education Ministry and Labour Department against the school, Ambassador Liyanage said that it was done on a written request by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo.
“One of the former Secretaries advised me in writing to freeze the accounts and to report the school to the relevant departments, which I carried out. There are 16 members in the Board of Trustees and they are functioning from the inception of this school which is illegal. Members of the Board of Trustees have to change once in every three years. The Sri Lankan Embassy can’t allow these administrators to collect money unlawfully. President Maithripala Sirisena is due to visit Qatar on a two-day visit on October 25 and after this visit the Foreign Ministry in Colombo is going to take stern action against this school,” Ambassador Liyanage said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, President’s Senior Advisor and Insurance Ombudsman, who holds the written authority from the Board of Trustees of Stafford Sri Lankan School Doha to act on their behalf in Sri Lanka, said that this school is operated and managed as a private institution with no intervention or involvement of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Qatar.
“Chairman Fonseka transferred the sponsorship of the school from the Qatari Sponsor to the Sri Lankan Embassy in 2010 to retain the Sri Lankan identity. The then Ambassador Wijesiri Padukka issued and addendum to the school constitution and through a power of attorney, dated December 12, 2010, empowered the Trust Chairman with the power to operate the school. Despite this, it is disheartening to know as to how the present Ambassador is trying to take the law unto his hands and harass the Sri Lankan community there, which will in turn make an adverse impact on the country in the eyes of other foreign missions in Qatar. Being a former Ambassador, I have acted in the best interest of our people and had never interfered with private institutions,” Dr. Weerasooria claimed.
Dr. Weerasooria further said how Ambassador Liyanage recently told him that President Sirisena had telephoned the Emir of Qatar to make a request to hold an inquiry regarding the school’s management.
“Liyange had told the same to a senior official at the Foreign office in Colombo. I have high regard for the President and I know how he follows protocol. He would not call the Emir of Qatar directly without informing the Foreign Office. When I told Liyange that I am going to ask the President whether he phoned up the Emir, Liyanage immediately wanted me to forget what he said and not to raise it with the President. This Ambassador is lying and even the Prime Minister knows well that Liyanage is not a Foreign Ministry appointee, but a mere political appointee. His behavior has embarrassed the carrier diplomats,” Dr. Weerasoria said. Dr. Weerasooria further accused Liyanage of leveling allegations against the Board of Trustees. “What does Liyanage know about a Trust? I am known and involved in Trust work and know how it operates. This is an established trust and all members are professionals,” Dr. Weerasoria added.