- This school principal is alleged to have manipulated the procedure of admitting students to grade one
- Following a request by parents and teachers in October 2020 the former Principal of St. Joseph’s Balika Vidyalaya, Nugegoda Asha Peiris was transferred to the Zonal Education Office in Piliyandala
- For the record Fernando submitted a copy of this video to this newspaper to substantiate his claim of how the Governor was attempting to safeguard the accused Principal
- Parents of students have doubts whether the findings of this investigation will be swept under the carpet
- The Principal of St. Joseph’s Balika Vidyalaya, Nugegoda, who took office in November 2018, is accused of mismanaging school affairs
- The sectional heads and those who were holding other responsible positions were removed from their duties and those who were in her good books were appointed as replacements
- *Ms. Dulanjalee, another parent whose child was admitted to Grade Three on June 20, 2019, told this newspaper how she had voluntarily given Rs.200,000 as a donation
- * Udaya Kumara said that copies of these audio recordings have been submitted to the investigators for further inquiry
Concerns are raised whether pressure was exerted on Investigation Officers of the Ministry of Education Western Province who were in the process of preparing a report regarding the questionable activities of a principal of a school in Western Province in connection with grade one admissions.
This school principal is alleged to have manipulated the procedure of admitting students to grade one.
The Archdiocese of Colombo and the Office of the Western Province Governor have been subject to criticism regarding a perceived attempt to get the said Principal cleared of the allegations of having violated Government Financial Regulations (FR) and Administrative Regulations (AR).
Upon several complaints received from a cross-section of parents of students, attending St. Joseph’s Girls’s School Nugegoda, investigations had been commenced by the Provincial Education Ministry (PEM) in 2019. But the long delay in concluding the inquiries had compelled the parents to meet Governor Western Province in January this year to find out the reason behind the delay in releasing the investigative report.
“Although we informed the Governor that we have provided credible evidence to the inquiring officers and requested him to check with them what the delay is, we were surprised to note, how Governor Roshan Goonetileke was allegedly attempting to safeguard the Principal from all the allegations that have been leveled against her,” Asanka Fernando, a concern parent connected to the School Development Society (SDS), told the Daily Mirror.
According to Fernando, the meeting with the Governor has been captured on video by another parent and this he believes is a credible evidence to show how the Governor says that it is unfair to take action against the Principal in question unless it is proven that she is fully guilty of the accusations levelled against her.
For the record Fernando submitted a copy of this video to this newspaper to substantiate his claim of how the Governor was attempting to safeguard the accused Principal.
“Now we have this recording and the Governor cannot deny what he said. We were taken aback by what he told us. We have proof that the Principal has misappropriated donations made to the school and also how the Grade One admission has been manipulated. To our dismay the Governor queried from us whether it wasn’t unfair to take action against a person who has a family of her own and for misappropriating a few thousand rupees? Is this what we expect from the Governor of this province? Doesn’t he know that all public officers have to abide by the Government FR and AR? We are ready to handover this video at any inquiry or even to the CID or Government Analyst Department.
“What Governor Goonetileke told us was astonishing and we have doubts whether the findings of this investigation will be swept under the carpet,” Fernando claimed.
When Goonetileke was contacted by this newspaper seeking an appointment to meet him regarding this issue he said that he cannot grant an interview as the subject matter is under investigation. “Once the investigation report is given to me I will take the appropriate decision and give you an interview thereafter,” he said.
Once the investigation report is given to me I will take the appropriate decision and give you an interview thereafter”
- Governor Roshan Goonetileke
When Governor Goonetileke was told that this newspaper was in the possession of a video recording of him maintaining that he will not take action against this principal unless she is found guilty on all charges, the Governor said that without taking any disciplinary action against her a caution letter will be served and if required a final warning would be given before taking further action.
“I knew that these parents were recording the meeting on video. I said what I had to say. From the way they spoke, they were angry with this Principal. As the Governor I cannot take action based on their anger. I will make the decision once the investigation report is made available as we have to be fair by this officer as well,” Goonetileke said.
Rev. Fr. Gemunu Dias Jayawardene, the Archdiocesan and National Director of Catholic Education, when contacted few weeks ago confirmed that he had spoken to Western Province Education Ministry officials and made requests to conduct a fair inquiry.
“This school was taken over by the government in 1960, but the Catholic Church was afforded certain privileges to be involved in the school work. Although taken over under the Schools Take Over Act, these schools have to maintain the religious atmosphere they were enjoying earlier and only Catholics can be appointed as Principals. Under the privileges vested on the Catholic Church I made several requests to hold a fair inquiry regarding her,” Rev. Fr. Jayawardene added.
Be that as it may, the Principal of St. Joseph’s Girls’s School , Nugegoda, who took office in November 2018, is accused of mismanaging school affairs. At the request of the parents and teachers in October 2020 she was transferred to the Zonal Education Office in Piliyandala, on a temporary basis, following allegations of interfering with the investigations which took place within the school premises.
“As the investigation was held at the school premises, the principal knew who gave evidence against her and took every possible step to harass them. The sectional heads and those who were holding other responsible positions were removed from their duties and those who were in her good books were appointed as replacements,” a retired teacher, speaking on terms of anonymity, alleged.
Among the allegations levelled against this Principal, Asha Peiris, is that she has manipulated the Grade One school admission list for 2019 and 2020. There are allegations that she hadn’t obtained the zonal education approval for the admission panel, not remitted the school donations to the school bank account and continued to make payments to the school security and cleaning staff after the lapse of the agreements without obtaining zonal approval.
When the Daily Mirror contacted Asha Peiris, who has now been temporarily transferred to the Piliyandala Education Zone, to obtain her comments against these allegations, she said that she cannot make comments as there is an ongoing investigation, “I cannot comment not only because of the investigation, but also given that I’m a government servant I cannot speak to the media unless there is permission from my superiors. However, once the investigation is over, I will obtain permission from my superiors and send you a clarification which I hope you will publish giving a similar prominence in the paper,” Peiris said.
Submitting a set of documents to this newspaper as evidence to prove how the principal had manipulated the admission criteria and how donations hadn’t being remitted to the school account, Fernando added that every allegation the parents have levelled against the Principal is supported with copies of official documents. “No one can say that these allegations are baseless. We have all the documents to prove our claims,” Fernando added.
Next-in-line rule bypassed
In connection with the 2019 waiting list the Principal had allegedly admitted one student to Grade One bypassing the next-in-line rule mentioned in the waiting list and yet another child whose parents had not submitted an application when applications were called for Grade One admission in 2018. There had been similar incidents in 2020 too. Three students had been admitted to Grade One bypassing the next-in-line rule.
On June 03, 2019, the child who was at 150th place on the waiting list (Admission Number: 18019 and Application Number: 19/B/CO/716) had been admitted to the school. At the interview she obtained only 44 marks although there had been several students who had scored more than 87 marks and were at the top of the waiting list, but were unable to get admission to the school.
Among the other allegations is the issue where a child who has not applied for Grade One admission has been recruited on June 17, 2019, (Admission Number: 18086) to Grade 1A; to which many parents have objected, but to no avail.
Again on May 20, 2020, a student (Application Number 20/B/CO/604 and Admission Number 18270) who was at the 16th place in the waiting list had been admitted to the school, while another student who had obtained 78 marks at the interview and was at the 57th place had been admitted (Admission Number: 18272 and Application Number: 20/B/CO/18) on May 20, 2020.
A child who had obtained 75 marks at the interview and was at the 63rd place on the waiting list (Admission Number: 18271 and Application Number: 20/B/CO/195) had been admitted to the school on May 20, 2020, although there were several students who had obtained more than 90 marks, but failed to get admission.
According to Fernando the parents, whose children were next-in-line in the waiting list after having obtained higher marks, were furious when they realised that the children who had fared poorly than their children and were in the waiting list were given admission during midyear.
“The principal knew that no one would question her when a child is admitted during the middle of the year. But there were many parents who could not admit their children, but were awaiting an opportunity to enter this school as this is one of the best girls’ schools in Nugegoda,” Fernando claimed.
Meanwhile, Ms. Dulanjalee, another parent whose child was admitted to Grade Three on June 20, 2019, told this newspaper how she had voluntarily given Rs.200,000 as a donation, but was not given a receipt despite many requests being made.
“Since I knew that this school is paying more attention to students, I decided to remove my daughter from where she was studying. I also had the intention of admitting my second daughter to Grade one in 2020. Hence I requested a receipt for the donation I made, but all my attempts to get one failed as neither the Principal nor the Office gave me one or even an acknowledgment. I spoke about this with other parents and when the Principal came to know of it, one of the SDS members approached me and said that from the donation I made, a washroom is being constructed for the security officials and wanted me to come for the opening; which occasion I boycotted. Finally, I was given a ‘Thank You’ letter on July 26, 2020, for the donation,” Dulanjalee recalled.
According to Dulanjalee, although a number of parents had lodged complaints with the Bribery Commission in 2019 against the Principal for obtaining money from them without providing official receipts, the first statement against her was recorded by the Bribery Commission when she was a public servant. “I did not lodge the complaint, but the other parents have given details about my contribution as well. The Commission opted to record my statement as I am a public servant,” she alleged.
Another member of the SDS, who wished to remain anonymous, said that all those who gave donations to the school in 2019 were told that their donations will be utilised on washroom construction work. “Each party had been told that the estimated cost for this construction is Rs.200,000 and thereafter no one asked whether their monies were spent on the work. If the Principal obtained Rs.200,000 from Dulanjalee, then the money should have been deposited immediately in the school account,” this member of the SDS said.
This newspaper reliably states that if a person studies this academic institute’s School Development Society Account at Bank of Ceylon and the bank statement for June 2019 it does not show any deposit having being made amounting to the value of Rs.200,000 on or after 20, June in 2019.
As required to check whether this contribution in question had been deposited in another bank account maintain by the school, when contacted Sirisoma Lokuwithana, who functions as the Secretary PEM (Western Province), said that as per the Education Ministry guidelines only two bank accounts can be maintained by each school.
“The main account is the School Development Society Account and the maintaining of another account is allowed for the depositing of school facility fees. All donations and every other contribution that is made towards the school has to be remitted to the main account,” Lokuwithana said.
The relevant pages of the school cash book for the same period does not show any detail of Dulanjalee’s donation nor the fact that money had been withdrawn for the said construction work.
Udaya Kumara, another parent, speaking to this newspaper alleged how the Principal requested him to pay Rs.100,000 to enter his daughter to Grade Seven in 2020.
“When she wanted me to pay Rs.100, 000 to construct a sports room for the school, I told her that I can pay only Rs.50, 000 because by that time I have already paid Rs.25, 000 to an employee at the Zonal Education Department to obtain a letter from the Zonal Education Director which was requested by the school. I have the audio recording of the telephone conversation my wife had with this female employee who gave us a bank account number of a top official to deposit the said Rs.25, 000 and also the conversation I had with Principal Asha Peiris to reduce the donation to Rs.50, 000. As this was a racket I informed the Bribery Commission about the request and they came to the school to arrest her when accepting this money, but the Principal had got to know about this and evaded us on that day,” Udaya Kumara said.
He further said that copies of these audio recordings have been submitted to the investigators for further inquiry and added that PEM Secretary Lokuwithana had told the Governor, when the parents had met the latter, that these recordings if necessary would be given either to the CID or to the Government Analyst Department to find out who the other officers connected to the admission racket are.
Further allegations have been levelled against the principal from the SDS for not obtaining the approval for the school admission panel, for 2020, from the Zonal Education Office.
“The initial interview panel must comprise the Principal, the School Secretary, Head of the Primary Section, a member of the SDS and a member of the Old Girls Association (OGA) nominated by the Vice President of the OGA. These five members have to place their signatures on each document. We have copies of these interview records and there are no signatures on the documents. It was the same with the old girls’ category interview as well. As the Principal was having an issue with most of the OGA members, without obtaining a nomination from the Vice President, the Principal got a person of her choice to serve the panel. This was taken up with higher officials. Hence the marks given were cancelled and a legitimate panel was appointed from the PEM and interviews were conducted legitimately,” Fernando added.
Moves to reinstate the principal
When contacted Lokuwithana earlier confirmed with the Daily Mirror as to how the Archdiocese of Colombo is allegedly moving the ministry officials to re-instate the former Principal of St. Joseph’s Girls’s School Nugegoda who was transferred to the Zonal Education Office Piliyandala in October last year.
According to Lokuwithana the Archdiocese of Colombo has made several requests to re-instate her in the former position claiming that she is a good officer. “It is up to us to decide on whether we can re-instate her or not based on the outcome of the inquiry. She was transferred to the Zonal Education Office as she was not cooperating with the investigating officers. So how can we re-instate her? We are government servants and we have to stick to government policies,” Lokuwithana said.
Acting Principal Avanthi Dematagoda, when contacted, refused to make any comment and added that her loyalty is to the school where she has been serving for several years. “As a government official, I cannot speak to the media. Even if I can, I want to protect this school and will not talk about anything that will affect the dignity of the school,” Dematagoda said.