By Shamindra Ferdinando
Auditor General W.P.C Wickramaratne yesterday (26) said that the National Audit Office (NAO) firmly stood by its draft report on Sri Lanka’s tour of Australia for the T20 World Cup (Oct. 09-Nov. 13), in 2022.
The National Audit Service Commission (NASC) appointed in April this year consists of retired justice Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, Nandaseeli Godakanda, Gnananantharajah Thevagnanan and A. M. Dharmajith Nayanakaantha.
Wickramaratne said so in response to Sri Lanka Cricket President Shammi Silva’s declaration that SLC hadn’t spent its own funds on outsiders including actresses. The former Nalanda cricketer was referring to growing accusations that over two dozen outsiders, including model-turned-actress Shalani Tharaka, joined the group at the SLC’s expense.
Ex-officio Chairman of the NASC Wickramaratne said that there couldn’t be any issue with regard to the draft report prepared on the basis of official documents received from relevant parties.
Having failed to qualify for the quarter finals, the disappointed national team returned to Colombo on 07 Nov.
Addressing the media at the SLC headquarters, Silva said that if the accusations were proved his administration would quit forthwith. However, he admitted that SLC had helped outsiders obtain Australian visas by issuing letters. Vice President in charge of International Cricket Jayantha Dharmadasa, who has been accused of recommending a visa for Shalani Tharaka and another person identified as A. S. Edirisinhe denied having taken them to Australia.
The Island raised the issues at hand with Wickramaratne after SJB MP Hesha Vithanage lodged a complaint with the CID against the SLC. He has told the media that his complaint was based on the auditors’ draft report.
Wickramaratne said that the draft report in the public domain was not the final written report on Sri Lanka’s tour of Australia. The AG said that his officers had personally handed over the draft report, dated June 14, to Sports Secretary K. Maheeshan requesting their response, in writing, within 14 days.
However, the Auditor General’s Department has granted additional time for the Sports Ministry to respond. Wickramaratne said yesterday morning that he hadn’t received the response yet.
Wickramaratne insisted that NAO had not released the report to the media. “We’ll post it on the AG’s Department website once the final report is submitted to Parliament after having taken into consideration the response provided by the Sports Ministry.
Dismissing assertions that SLC could be left out of government audit, Wickramaratne said that the Secretary to the Ministry, as the Chief Accounting Officer of the Ministry, was responsible for all financial matters. Therefore, in terms of Section 13 of the National Audit Act No 19 of 2018, the AG enjoyed the power to seek explanation from those bodies coming under his purview. SLC is no exception, Wickramaratne said, emphasizing the pivotal importance of state audit.
Wickramaratne said that the draft report in question shouldn’t be misconstrued as an effort to target any individual, a group of individuals or an institution. The report dealt with a range of issues and once tabled in Parliament after having examined the SLC response a wider discussion could take place.
According to a copy of the draft report seen by The Island, the SLC has spent a total of Rs 67,693,679 on 14 members of the Executive Committee including seven Office Bearers. The expenditure covered air tickets, visa fees, insurance, allowances and tickets for matches. Three of them, however, had paid back Rs 2,596,759.
In addition to them, Rs 18,079,741 was spent on four other SLC employees who joined the team during this period. Of them, two have paid back Rs. 3,321,850.
The Executive Committee, at a meeting held on July 07, 2022, decided to provide funds for all committee members for a maximum period of 10 days and business class travel for Office Bearers.
Altogether the number of players and staff of assistants comprised 36 persons. Of them, five players and one coach had been sent after several players in the original squad suffered injuries.
The SLC has sought approval from the Sports Ministry to take altogether 52 persons on this tour. Of them 17 were outsiders. However, the draft report subsequently stated that 35 persons not connected with the SLC had been issued letters to secure Australian visas. That group included 21 relatives and friends of SLC Chief Shammi Silva.
Of those who obtained a visa, a person identified as Sports Instructor at the Colombo Municipal Council Sanjeewa Nishantha Perera had disappeared in Australia.
Sports Ministry Advisor Sudath Chandrasekera hadn’t joined the tour though George Stuart Travels was paid Rs 60,650 as visa fees. Altogether Rs 1,228,450 had been paid as visa fees for players, officials and Executive Committee members.
In spite of the Executive Committee deciding to procure air tickets on July 7, finally SLC resorted to emergency purchase of air tickets and that, too, bought separately thereby depriving SLC of an opportunity to get a discount.
The state audit has also questioned the process followed in purchasing air tickets. It has been pointed out that of the five agents selected two received special treatment. The state audit also questioned why two officers bought the tickets for two groups.
The AG also pointed out various other discrepancies relating to air travel on the basis of information obtained from the Immigration and Emigration. According to the draft report, SLC Executive Committee members have been subjected to scrutiny and an explanation has been sought from the Sports Ministry.