Business

Tourism Development Authority’s ‘virus’ employee shielded by unseen hand?

A former IT Director at the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), who was said to have been found guilty of several charges of malpractice and corruption through a formal investigation several years ago, reportedly continues to be employed, The Sunday Morning Business learnt.
Furthermore, the employee in question, recently filed a writ petition at the Court of Appeal, citing as respondents 25 current and former board members along with other officials of the SLTDA who were involved in the investigation and the decision to transfer him, it is reported.
Following a formal inquiry in 2018, the petitioner had been reportedly found guilty by an investigation officer of six charges levelled against him by the SLTDA while a recommendation was made to interdict him, The Sunday Morning Business reliably learnt.
This formal inquiry itself had come following an internal investigation through which seven charges in total had been levelled against the petitioner – namely;
1. Allowing an outsider remote access to the internal computer system of SLTDA
2. Deleting data without the authorisation of a relevant officer
3. Transferring confidential data to three outside tourism sector companies , which are said to be owned and managed by his wife and brother
4. Using a personal email address to transfer official data to external parties
5. Removing official documents from the office premises without permission
6. Refusal to co-operate with an internal audit
7. Bringing the SLTDA and the Government into disrepute
The formal probe had been held with the aforementioned investigation officer who was a former Ministry Secretary. The charge sheet was presented to the petitioner specifying all seven charges against him, and he is said to have contested all seven charges with a defending officer.
However, having been found guilty of all charges against him, apart from the refusal to co-operate with an internal audit, two actions were recommended by the investigation officer against the petitioner. The primary recommendation was to interdict him in order to lay down a strong precedent, and the second was to transfer him to a division totally unconnected to the IT division, in the event interdiction was not possible at all, it is learnt.
Considering his seniority of 12 years at the SLTDA and his proven technical capabilities, the Board in 2018, led by then SLTDA Chairman, had reportedly opted for the second recommendation and transferred the petitioner as Director – Research and International Relations.
The petitioner had allegedly responded by not accepting the transfer letter and accused the investigation officer of bias. Thereafter, the board looked into his complaint and concluded that the investigation officer had acted fairly and without bias, it is learnt.
Amidst increasing pressure, on 25 October 2018, the petitioner reportedly submitted his resignation to the then Chairman. However, with the change of Government the following day (Friday), the latter had stopped reporting to work from the next Monday (29 October). Capitalising on this unexpected development, the ex-Director in question sent a letter addressed to the Chairman saying that he was withdrawing the resignation letter he submitted as it had not yet been accepted by the Board.
This issue escaped attention amidst the turbulence of the 51-day illegal coup administration as well as the fact that there was no chairman at the SLTDA. By November, the acting Chairman and the board met and decided to implement the same action taken by the previous board against the petitioner, it is learnt. However, the letter withdrawing the resignation created complications.
Therefore, the board sought the advice of the Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, who reportedly gave the go ahead to implement the second recommendation (i.e. the transfer) as decided by the previous board. However, then the 51-day coup administration ended and the board changed again, once again relegating this issue to the backburner.
In February, it is learnt that the newly-appointed SLTDA Chairman decided to follow the course of action adopted by the previous boards and go ahead with the transfer of the ex-Director, which the latter accepted belatedly after approximately three months. Remuneration to the petitioner, which had been withheld since 25 October – when he submitted his resignation, was resumed at this point supposedly along with the withheld payments of the previous few months.
However, when a new IT Director was being recruited for the position, the ex-Director supposedly emailed each and every board member stating that this position should be kept vacant as he would return shortly following an appeal. The Board had acknowledged this email, but stayed firm on its decision to hire the new IT Director.
It is at this point that the former director in question filed a writ petition at the Court of Appeal, citing as respondents, 25 current and former members of the board of SLTDA, and other officials at the Authority who were involved in the investigation and the final decision to transfer.
In an interesting turn of events, it has now come to light that a legal officer of the SLTDA, who allegedly had been an accomplice of the petitioner and has admitted to the Board that he / she passed on confidential and sensitive information to the same officer. It is reported that action is currently being initiated against her.
However, the ex-Director continues to be employed by the SLTDA in spite of this chain of events and the charges against him, leading officials to question whether there was a powerful invisible hand protecting him.