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Central Expressway Stage III: Rush to award contract, no rush to answer questions



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The Minister of Higher Education and Highways (still the world’s oddest ministerial pairing) Lakshman Kiriella has announced that the government will go ahead and sign the contract with the Japanese company Taisei Corporation as early as next week, for the construction of Stage III of the Central Expressway. The government’s contention is that unlike the previous government "awhich gave contracts on building expressways without following tender procedures", the present government has "followed tender procedures and ensured transparency in all matters pertaining to the Central Expressway." According to the Minister, Taisei’s bid "received approval of the Economic Committee, headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and also the approval of the Cabinet, led by President Maithripala Sirisena. So, there is no shady business in this contract as professed by certain parties with malicious intents." Therein is the rub, in the convenient confusion over what the tender procedures are and what the role of the cabinet is in approving tenders.

‘Everything was done with cabinet approval’ was the mantra that was heard over and over again when the Rajapaksas were in power. And the present power-holders hammered the Rajapaksas over and over again during the 2015 presidential election for giving sole-sourced contracts straight from the cabinet table. Now, contracts are seemingly being offered, if not straight from the cabinet table, but from some convenient sub-committee somewhere in the cabinet room.

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