The meeting was chaired by Eng. S. Suntharakumar, Director, Buildings Department, Northern Province. He extolled what his department has been doing after RTI. He mentioned staff training, noticeboards guiding lodging a request, revising the Establishments Code, and spreading awareness. After Hoole, Hoole was introduced, he congratulated Suntharakumar for being far ahead of many in Colombo in implementing RTI.
Hoole proceeded to give a captivating introduction to the nature of power, starting from Lord Acton’s “Power Corrupts. Absolute Power Corrupts absolutely.” Saying the secret to holding absolute power is secrecy itself, he argued that in a democracy centers of power are broken-up (decentralization) and information made freely available. As an example of the latter he cited how, although he was a member of the Faculty Board at Peradeniya, when he sought data on how Tamils were kept out of Production Engineering by teaching in Sinhalese, the man responsible who had become Dean ordered that he should not have access to the Faculty Board minutes. Even though denial of minutes was illegal even then, under RTI there are prescribed punishments. He reminded listeners of Albert Einstein’s dictum that ones ego is inversely proportional to ones knowledge. It is ignorant administrators with inflated egos who hide behind confidentiality and “you do not need to know.”
It is the urge to hold on to power that has set this good governance government off course by including corrupt persons in the cabinet and makes it difficult for the Prime Minister to be rid of them, he said. Mr. S. Thavarajah of the NPC asked how the RTI request to the Prime Minister’s Office for his declaration of assets was denied and replied by the Speaker. Hoole answered that there is no basis for the Speaker to be the Information Officer for the Prime Minister’s Office. Absolute Power has corrupted absolutely.
Hoole elaborated on his appointment as VC/Jaffna in 2006. He fled owing to LTTE death threats. His appointment was terminated a year later backdated to July 2006. He could not understand how a person was claiming in that year’s period to be Acting VC. To hold an Acting appointment, no one must be in that position. He wrote to the UGC for his status and never had a reply. It was years later that through court action he was able to access his papers. They showed the replacement appointment to be, correctly, to cover his duties, but the person so appointed and University of Jaffna claimed that person was Acting VC. In his biting humor, Hoole said that person was truly Acting as VC. On 2 Feb. 2016 the USAB ruled that Hoole
“is entitled to be recognized as Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna and accordingly direct the [University of Jaffna] to take cognizance that the Applicant was duly appointed as Vice Chancellor of the [University] from 12th March 2006 to 16th July 2006 and, that his name be recognized in the official records of the [University] as having served as Vice Chancellor and that he be paid all his salary and other emoluments and perquisites for that period.”
After many complaints over a period of 11 months, in Dec. 2016, the UGC got the salary paid but even today, 13 months later, the university lists the usurper as “Acting VC” and the UGC seems unable to “regulate the administration” of Jaffna, probably because the usurper is a member of the UGC.
That was Hoole’s point. Administrators cover up for each other and scratch each other’s back. The right to information is therefore most important and is the greatest development in Sri Lanka’s progress towards democracy. It is the way to break the mafia of administrators running our lives. As the UGC Chairman confirmed in a letter to Chandrika Kumaratunga, Hoole showed through an affidavit by Carlo Fonseka, Jaffna is doing this because he is a Christian.
Past Vice Chancellors of Jaffna: Hoole’s place Usurped by a UGC Member 13 months after USAB Order
Thereafter Hoole described the RTI Act, covering its scope, how to request, processing of requests and its exclusions. It was a very useful exchange as the audience raised questions.