Batticaloa Campus | Sunday Observer

Batticaloa Campus

Founder Chairman M.L.A.M.Hisbullah
Founder Chairman M.L.A.M.Hisbullah

The founders of the Batticaloa campus (Pvt) Ltd last week declared that they were willing to bend backwards to get the campus project, shrouded in controversy, back on track and commence academic activities by January 2020.

Founder Chairman of the campus, former Eastern Province governor, M.L.A.M.Hisbullah, addressing media in Colombo said that they were willing to go for a Public Private Partnership (PPP) to clear the obstacles to open the private degree awarding institute soon, but insisted the Government cannot take over the campus arbitrarily even under emergency regulations since it is a BOI project.

Recommendations

One of the key recommendations of the Parliament Sectoral Sub-committee on Higher Education and Human Resources which looked into the alleged “shady”project was for the private higher education institute to be affiliated to the Eastern university.

“According to the existing law such a takeover is not possible,” Hisbullah said at a press conference.

The Sectoral Subcommittee chaired by MP Prof.Ashu Marasinghe, which looked into the allegations against the private campus tabled many irregularities in the project which had Rs.3.6 billion being infused for its construction from a UAE Charity. Among the irregularities pointed out in the report by the sub-committee were the suspicious manner in which the funds had been transferred from a New York account owned by the said Charity to a Bank of Ceylon account of the Hira Foundation and how the 43 acre land was acquired from the Mahaweli Authority. The Hira Foundation is a charity run by former Governor Hisbullah and his son, Hiras Hisbullah. Dubbed as the Sharia university, the Batticaloa campus(Pvt) Ltd, being built in Punani in the Eastern province bordering the Polonnaruwa district, was to commence in June this year, but due to the latest revelations spotlighted post Easter Sunday massacres by Islamic terrorists, the opening has been postponed to January 2020.

At the press conference the former Governor denied it was a campus dedicated to teach Sharia law but later admitted to the Sunday Observer that this had been the plan at the outset. “It was the earlier plan but in 2017 we sought approval from the Higher Education Ministry to have only eight study courses,” he said.

On September 8, 2017, approval was sought for Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electric and Electronic Engineering, Quantity Surveying, IT, Law and Agriculture and Tourism. Hisbullah said the Batticaloa campus was never intended as an Islamic university but was to be dedicated to children of all ethnicities - Sinhala students from North Central province, Tamil students from the Vakarei area and Muslim students from the East. He said it was located in Punani, with this objective, otherwise he could have built it in Muslim dominated Samanthurei.

The university is designed as a self sustaining campus city and once completed will accommodate 3,000 students. Hisbullah claimed that it was unethical as well as a conflict of interest for Prof.Marasinghe to lead the investigations into the private campus since he had worked against it from the beginning.

“He presented a private member motion calling for the takeover of the private campus on May 7. Thereafter, the Sectoral Subcommittee on Higher Education led by him began the probe into the campus project. On June 21, their report was submitted to Parliament endorsing what is in the private member motion by Prof.Marasinghe,” Hisbullah charged.

Seeking to counter the findings of the Parliamentary Subcommittee, the administration of the private campus has submitted a report dated July 9, 2019 to the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to look into the matter. At the time this Cabinet subcommittee was evaluating the findings of the Parliamentary Subcommittee which proposed the takeover.

Money transfer allegations

On money transfer allegations , he said the SWIFT transfers were done as recommended by the Bank of Ceylon and that he was unaware of its dark side.”It’s the duty of the bank to tell us the correct method,” he claimed.

In a covering letter issued with the report, Hisbullah stated the parliamentary probe did not provide them enough opportunity to submit clarifications and justifications before the Subcommittee’s report to Parliament was finalised. He offered documentary proof that the extra eight acre land was demarcated as a buffer zone for the canal running across the campus property and the high tension cables owned by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB). “It is wrong to say we have acquired 43 acres wrongfully when it is only 35 acres that has been allocated to the campus by the Mahaweli Authority,” he added. Hisbullah also denied misusing his office to approach the then Higher Education Minister to obtain some approval for the private campus. He said the letter (dated July 2015)written to the Higher Education Minister was in reference to University College, Batticaloa, in Kattankudy and he was not the Deputy Minister of Economic Cooperation then.

“We are very keen to commence the functions of the Campus to serve the people and the nation and are always ready and prepared to negotiate with the Government for a Private Public Partnership (PPP) agreement or whatever the possible ways to manage it successfully within the law of the country.”

He said the state can even be given rights to appoint the Vice Chancellor for the private campus and he was ready to do anything necessary to clear suspicions created in the minds of the people re the Batticaloa campus.

Pic: Kelum Liyanage

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