Corruption and Cover-up at University of Jaffna

by John Ratnathurai

(February 11, Jaffna, Sri Lanka Guardian) I read Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam’s long piece containing rather incoherent thoughts rambling between my piece, her own achievements and problems and other extraneous religious matters. There are also factual errors in her response which need not detain us here. Ms. Paramsivam is obviously talented. She is an activist and I admire her for it. What I seek to focus on, however, is her inexcusable excusing of the pursuit of pleasures by Prof. Shanmugalingam which she implies were not “seen and/or known to have interfered with his work, or in breach of rules.”

Unfortunately this lascivious behavior by Council members and senior academics does interfere with work when for example a) the grades of students rely on compliance with requests for sex or b) girl students handing in assignments have their hand handing in papers grabbed and kissed by Prof. Shanmugalingam and they cannot respond for fear of getting low grades.
Or take for example the much more serious incident involving a senior female English academic aged about 60 at the time. She had to fly to Colombo on work with Prof. Shanmugalingam. Taking a trishaw from Ratmalana, Shanmugalingam directly asked her for sex and she virtually jumped out of the trishaw. Can anyone work for or with this Shanmugalingam? Does it not interfere with university work?

All this is well known at the university. Several of the senior academics have mistresses in public and accost their students for sexual favours. How can an activist like Ms. Paramasivam – who I note is a woman – make excuses for this foul behavior? Even if the misbehaviour is off campus, is the university not a place for building character where teachers are role models?

The financial irregularities at the university are also well known. One of the VC candidates and Dean of Arts, Prof. Gnanakumaran, recently claimed reimbursement for expenses based on altered receipts and included his personal medical expenses with his claim. The Dean of Science who was in charge of the relevant project, noticed the alteration and reported it. The relevant shop-keeper confirmed that his receipts had been doctored. Shanmugalingam who is weak because he too needs his own misdeeds covered up, did nothing. So in effect the only punishment was that even the genuine part of Gnanakumaran’s expenses were not reimbursed. The university is a great system for a crook. The higher up you are the less the chances that anyone will ever question let alone charge you.

Or take the case of another VC candidate. In his letter dated 08 June 2004 the Auditor General queries Jaffna’s then VC Prof. S. Mohanadas about “Unauthorized payment for the procurement of Computer Network Facilities to the Medical Faculty” by Prof. Vasanthy Arasaratnam (His Ref. NE/JF/A/JU/2004). The Auditor General says in that letter signed on his behalf by Asst. Auditor General S. Sivaguru “The Dean … has deviated from the procurement procedure … and ordered equipment at a total cost of Rs. 3,000,000 whereas the procurement by a Dean is limited to Rs. 100,000. When the availability of grants was Rs. 963,000 order was placed for Rs. 3,000,000. No tender/quotation was called … to obtain the lowest and efficient bid. A sum of Rs. 722,550 … had been paid without any supporting documents. … The price quoted by Delven Computer had been reduced to half of the original prices after negotiation made subsequently. It shows that the price had been quoted arbitrarily. .. All equipment purchased was not installed. … The entire expenditure incurred could be considered irregular, unauthorized and fruitless.”

This lady has not learnt her lesson. Even today living in Jaffna when she goes to Colombo she claims hiring car charges from her permanent address in Chavakacheri to Jaffna and makes trishaw claims for Rs. 1000 from Wellawatte to the university lodge in Elvitigala Mawatte when others making the same journey get trishaw bills for only Rs. 300.

These are details. But what is the bigger picture – it is LARGE SCALE COVERUP. The then minister was notified by the Auditor General and he did nothing. No one asked who at the university authorized payment for Rs. 722,550 without any supporting documents for equipment which was never installed. The then VC is now on the UGC “regulating the administration of universities”! There is widespread talk about officials buying houses in Colombo and hotels in Madras.

It seems that almost everyone is dirty so no one wants to raise questions. Is that perhaps why a mason’s complaint of seeing Shanmugalingam having sex in his office with a student was not inquired into by the Council? A Council of a dean with a history of eating fish curry brought daily by a mistress to the university while the wife (another lecturer), other teachers and students stood by and looked on; of a former professor and appointed council member who absorbed into his staff and promoted a student reading for an MA who used to sit on his lap and kiss him while his peon invited all and sundry to come and look through a peep hole, etc., etc.

One Council member explained that the mason was an outsider so his testimony is invalid. How one wonders. Another explained that they did not bother to inquire because witnesses will back off at an inquiry. Did the poor mason who risked so much not deserve better without even trying him? A peon who says he has seen Shanmugalingam misbehaving with students adds that he did not dare complain because Shanmugalingam was close to the Tigers and now too he does not dare speak up because he is close to army intelligence going to Palaly with fine arts girls.

The same cover up will explain how another VC candidate as the person in charge of the external examination allowed many persons to earn degrees without ever sitting an exam. Explained a Council member that they decided not to look into it because, having given the degrees, the university would have faced human rights charges if the degrees were withdrawn. Clearly that was an excuse when no such charges can be sustained by someone who earned a degree fraudulently. Was the Council so stupid to believe this or was it simply an excuse to protect a friend? Jaffna’s only President’s Counsel Shantha Abimanasingham who did painstaking work while on the council exposing the corruption at the external examinations section, gave up in disgust when no action was taken and is no longer on the Council.

Today the university has become a huge racket. The Ramanathan Academy is another place where there are questions about the only two male teachers in the midst of plenty of females. Recently when Shamugalingam recruited a person overlooking a more qualified person, Emeritus Mathematics Professor Tharmaratnam pursued the matter at his own time and got judicial authorities to reverse the decision. If others had such support, many appointments by Shanmugalingam and his compliant Council would not stand scrutiny.

Almost every professorship is tainted because many including deans have been made professor based on fraudulent assignment of assessment marks. It is said at the university that a high official, a former UGC Vice Chairman, came recently as the UGC’s representative on the selection committee for an agriculture professorship and disagreed strongly with the way marks were added to reach the required level. But he too backed off from his objections when Shanmugalingam argued that that is how we do it in Jaffna! So the well-thought out checks and balances in the system are not working. And mind you, when an unqualified person draws a professor’s salary, he is defrauding the state, aided and abetted by not only Shanmugalingam but everyone who looks the other way. And now when deans (such as the university’s Dean of Medicine) who have hardly published but magically earned the points to get professorial rank, sit on selection committees and the Council, who is there to speak up?

That is University of Jaffna’s problem – corruption so widespread and pervasive in all areas (sex, finance, degrees, recruitment, promotion etc.) that there are few in authority who are clean. Students allege that even Rs. 25 mn in relief funds given for them by the President has been shared by professors without a cent reaching a student. We are all cheated – we parents who send our daughters to Jaffna University, we tax payers who are defrauded of our money, and our children who are taught by unqualified professors at the university and by school teachers who have Jaffna degrees without ever being examined.

No more excuses please! The Minister for Higher Education and the UGC had better do something.

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