Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs &
Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Sir Baron Jayathilake Mawatha
Dear Hon. Minister,
Re independent inquiry into Sri Lankan school in Doha
I write this to you based on a news report in the "SriLankaMirror" news website on 24 August 2017 and also in few other news media that says the "Sri Lankan government" has decided to hold an independent inquiry into the management of the only school in Doha that caters to over 1,000 Sri Lankan students, whose parents are Sri Lankan migrant employees in Doha, Qatar. I write this also as a person who is quite familiar with SL migrant labour issues and all the ills and corruptions that goes with it. And therefore believes, as Foreign Minister of this "Yahapalana" government you should be briefed on what the Ambassador and the Qatar embassy staff don't brief you on.
This mention of "SL government deciding to hold an inquiry" no doubt means the SL Embassy in Qatar is going to hold an inquiry. Let me say forthwith the Embassy nor the Ambassador have any legal right or authority to investigate any enterprise or agency established under the Qatari law. Thus no right to investigate the management of the Stafford School in Doha.
What therefore has to be explained is the reason for such intrusion by the SL embassy.
This school which is constituted under Qatari law as a "non-profit" business organisation has over the years raised over 09 million QR as a standby fund deposited with the Doha Bank, though the SriLankaMirror says QR 17 million. This QR 09 million is now worth LKR 380 million, some senior embassy staff no doubt is much interested in. The allegations Ambassador Liyanage has drafted against the management of the school is an attempt to interfere in the management to gain access to funds and certainly is not about closing down the school. But, let me stress, the end result of this unwanted, unnecessary and illegal intrusion into the management of the school would result in chaos for the innocent children and their education and that would be as good as closing down the school.
Having said that, let me also give you a short brief about this school and its legal standing, so as to prove the SL embassy in Qatar has no legal role in it other than supporting the school and the parents on the moral ground and the government's obligation that it serves citizens of Sri Lanka who are earning much needed foreign earnings to Sri Lanka.
The Stafford school in Qatar was begun way back in 2001 by a Sri Lankan in Qatar, one Kumudu Fonseka to provide education to children of SL parents employed in Qatar. According to Qatari law, the school had to be established as a business enterprise, but was categorised as "non profit". Qatari law also required a minimum 51 per cent Qatari investment and ownership. Thus Mr. Kumudu Fonseka invited a Qatari businessman, Yusuf Ahamed al Ferudeen who agreed and is still the major shareholder of the managing company of the school. Apart from the Qatari businessman and Mr. Kumudu Fonseka, there are also 18 other shareholders, none of whom earn any profit out of their investments in the school.
About 06 years ago, the management company had requested the Embassy to be its patron expecting better support and co-operation to improve the school. But that acceptance has in no way made the Embassy a legal entity to interfere in the school or in its management. This was proved when Ambassador Liyanage wrote to the Doha Bank claiming the embassy is receiving complaints over mismanagement and requested the bank to freeze the bank account of the school.
1. As the request was made by the accredited representative of a sovereign State, the Doha bank on courtesy froze the account immediately.
2. After perusing documents pertaining to legal ownership of the school, the Doha bank was convinced the embassy has no legal position and immediately removed all restrictions in operating the bank account.
The Ambassador thereafter complained to the Supreme Council of Qatar citing complaints by parents. Again as the complaint was by the accredited representative of a sovereign State, Sri Lanka, and also because the school is legal entity under Qatari law, the Supreme Council inquired on the complaint. The shareholders including Mr. Kumudu Fonseka, I am informed was in restricted mode in answering allegations raised by the SL Ambassador, as Qatari law prohibits criticism of any foreign diplomat accredited by its government. Nevertheless, nowhere has it been accepted the Embassy or the Ambassador of SL in Qatar has a legal hand in interfering in the school management.
The Ambassador a businessman and no career diplomat, I believe is being led by officials in the embassy, who perhaps got the Ambassador to inform the school management they should not raise funds without embassy approval, saying it is illegal as the school is a non-profit educational institute, This not only shows how ignorant the embassy is, but also its interest in getting involved in school finances.
The school is not only a non-profit institute but the lowest fee levying private school in Doha, levying QR 400 to 800 per term beginning from pre school to secondary. This is to make education for SL children affordable in Qatar. Therefore the management has only one option in finding funds for maintenance and improvement of the school. That is by fund raising, any kid would understand. Fund raising does not need embassy approval in any way as it is already proved the embassy has no legal binding on the school.
I doubt very much accreditation of a diplomat as the official representative of Sri Lanka allows the ambassador and his embassy staff in Qatar to go beyond playing the role of promoting Sri Lanka, facilitating trade and socio cultural exchanges and taking care of SL migrant labour needs which includes their safety.
About this claim by the Ambassador there are complaints received by the embassy over mismanagement, could most probably be fake complaints the embassy can manoeuvre for their own interest through many Sri Lankan associations that work closely with the embassy. And also with a false promise that the embassy will grant permission for children of this Stafford Sri Lanka school will be allowed entry into Sri Lankan universities, when they cannot even sit for the SL G.C.E O/L and A/L exams held in Sri Lanka.
It is not impossible there cannot be complaints over numerous issues in a school management. But about a school that had gained the confidence of parents to grow from 14 children to over 1,000 in about 14 years, complaints if any should be able to find answers for through parent representation and not by embassy interference.
All the above either imply or even prove there is a sinister plot within the embassy to reach the Qatari Riyal school fund for their own benefit for which the Ambassador and some in the embassy is trying to make case for.
I would therefore request you as the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs to, immediately instruct the Ambassador and the senior staff in the SL Embassy in Qatar to refrain from further intervening in the SL Stafford school in Doha as that would create unnecessary and unwanted problems for both parents and their children. With such instructions to also initiate an inquiry at the ministry into why the Ambassador requested the Doha bank to freeze the school bank account and complained against the school management to the Qatar Supreme Council. For such an inquiry at the ministry would allow the Sri Lankans involved in the school management to state their position without being held back by Qatari law.
This would also allow the foreign ministry to understand how scrupulous deals are worked out and corruption grows in most Mid East embassies, with the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau also accused of being a party in aiding and abetting corruption.
I shall be copying this email to the Hon. State Minister Vasantha Senanayake as he was quoted in the news report mentioned above.
Journalist /Political Critic and Writer
Colombo – Sri Lanka