Colombo Telegraph brought out several reports on the protests launched by the students of Uduvil Girls’ College last September against the ‘forced retirement’ of their former Principal Mrs. Shiranee Mills and the violence unleashed on the students by a section of the teachers and some others with close links to the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI) headed by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah.
Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah
This issue led to a campaign by the alumni and well-wishers of both Uduvil Girls’ College and Jaffna College with a view to putting an end to the authoritarian grip the leadership of the Church has on the administration, finances and recruitment at both institutions. Based on credible reports received after investigations, the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds, a fiduciary trust based in Boston that supplies funds for the running of both institutions, decided to reduce the allocations for the first quarter of the year 2017 by 20% in January and strictly requested the Boards of Directors of both institutions to implement 9 key reforms before the 30thof June 2017 to ensure transparency, accountability and good governance in the administration of the schools.
Based on two letters sent to the Bishop, who chairs the Boards of the two schools, by the Trustees since their initial letter dated 5 January 2017, Colombo Telegraph can safely conclude that the Bishop has responded to the Trustees’ initial letter twice, first on the 12th of February and later, on the 15th of March. We covered the first response and the Trustees’ comments on it in our last report. This short commentary is about the subsequent developments.
As we reported in our last commentary, the Trustees were not satisfied with the Bishop’s first response which was not shared with anyone else and insisted that they required a response from the Bishop before the first deadline, the 30th of March detailing the measures that the two Boards had taken to address the concerns raised by the Trustees. The Trustees’ second response which was sent on the 31st of March to the Bishop and shared with 19 others and the alumni notes that the Trustees received another letter from the Bishop on the 15th of March 2017. The Trustees’ letter, overall, indicates that the Bishop’s response and his plans to reform the two institutions have failed to convince the Trustees. It states that they have decided to reduce the funds allocated to both schools by 20% for the second quarter of the year 2017 as well.
From the letter sent by the Trustees on the 31st of March, we are able to make the following observations about the content of the Bishop’s response dated 15 March 2017:
1. The Bishop has along with his response sent drafts of the audited financial statements for both schools and a mater plan for Jaffna College,
But the Trustees require (a) Final copies of these statements, (b) Comments on the quality of the audit process, (c) management letter about internal financial controls and related governance matters)
2. The Bishop has responded to the Trustees’ comments on 8 areas of reforms. But the Trustees are, for the most part, not satisfied with the Bishop’s response. They have requested the Bishop to submit progress letters for items 2-9 before the 30th of June. The Bishop has also been requested to include in the progress letters what steps the two Boards have taken to meet the goals mentioned and a date by which they commit to complete the process.
The Trustees note that they are in general satisfied with the qualifications of those who serve on the Board of Directors. But the alumni of Jaffna College argue that it is important to see how many of these qualified and experienced members can work independently and how many of them can fearlessly challenge the leadership of the Board when it makes decisions that are against the interests of the schools and clear violations of standard administrative procedures. They also note that these members of the Board have done nothing when unsuitable persons were recruited for teaching positions at Jaffna College. Given their complicity in past violations, these members no longer command the confidence of the parents, alumni and well-wishers of the school, the alumni note.