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Low income families sidelined despite making 25% down-payment five months ago



Preference given to buyers who made 100% payment

by Suresh Perera

In what was described as “shocking official apathy”, prospective buyers of Sea View Residencies at Lunawa complained that they have been left out in the cold despite making the 25% down-payment plus other “related charges” five months ago to procure a flat.

The 356-unit housing complex was developed by the Urban Settlement Development Authority (USDA) targeting “low and middle income families”, but in what appears to be a mix-up in priorities, those who had the financial strength to make 100% payment upfront were given preference, they asserted.

Applicants who settled the full payment on outright purchases have already moved into occupation, while those who made the required 25% down-payment five to six months ago are still left kicking their heels until a monthly repayment plan on the balance due is worked out by the USDA with a financial institution, they said.

“I made a down-payment of one million rupees plus an additional Rs. 140,000 as “related charges” to acquire a unit under a price range of Rs. 4.56 million to Rs. 5.58 million each. Despite the payment made in February 2021, there’s still no word of the promised repayment scheme being finalized so that I can occupy the flat”, a prospective buyer said.

Apart from the standard “we will get back to you soon” response from a USDA officer handling the project, there’s still no hope of occupying the flat, he noted.

“It’s a double whammy because for the past five months, I have to pay rent on the house I am occupying in addition to servicing the bank facility raised to make the one million rupee down-payment”, he further said.

“It’s so convenient for them to blame their lackadaisical attitude on Covid-19 when they had two full months to sort out the matter before the pandemic situation worsened”, he pointed out.

Even during the travel restrictions in the Western province in May, banks were operational and government officers were supposed to ‘work from home’. However, it appears that USDA officials handling the housing project had been twiddling their thumbs without pushing through the repayment plan, he continued.

He said that it’s a joke to call Sea View Residencies a housing project for “low and middle income families” when those who had the financial capacity to make 100% payment upfront are already occupying the flats, while lesser beings continue to be pushed around.

“That’s correct, we have already given the units to those who have made the payment in full”, says USDA’s Chairman, M. L. Subasinghe Arachchi.

He said the 100% payment factor was based on a Cabinet decision.

Asked about “low and middle income families” who have made the down-payment, but are still kept waiting, he replied, “they can arrange a bank loan, and if necessary, we can give a letter to facilitate it”.

“If we had the collateral to raise millions of rupees as a loan from a financial institution, we wouldn’t have opted for a flat meant for low income families”, a prospective buyer protested.

A USDA officer familiar with the subject said a scheme to work out a monthly repayment facility on behalf of the considerable segment of prospective buyers who had made the 25% down-payment has been forwarded to HDFC Bank.

“We have to submit the deed of the land certified by the Land Registry to finalize the process”, he further said.

“When I made inquiries about the inordinate delay, I was told that the Land Registry had earlier rejected the application because Lunawa (Moratuwa) had been identified by a USDA officer as an area within the purview of ‘Southern Province’ instead of Western Province”, the buyer claimed.

“With such ‘competent’ people around, I cannot imagine how much longer we will be kept waiting to take possession of our flats”, he laughed.

“Anyway, we hope to sort out matters within the next two weeks”, the officer assured.

He admitted that the general practice earlier when selling units in housing complexes specifically meant for low income families was for the government institution concerned to arrange a feasible credit facility through a government financial institution on reasonable interest.

Application forms were initially issued to interested buyers on a non-refundable deposit of Rs. 2,000 each. After shortlisting applicants, interviews were called, where they were assured that after the 25% down-payment on the total value of each unit was made, a credit facility would be arranged through the Bank of Ceylon under a monthly repayment plan at 6.25% per annum.

The applicants were shortlisted on the basis of a monthly household income of Rs. 75,000. The availability of a bank facility was also clearly outlined in letters sent to buyers shortlisted as “eligible applicants” to purchase the flats.

Asked why buyers who made the full payment were given preference, while low income families who sought a repayment plan have been kept waiting for more than five months, the officer explained that some issues that cropped up had to be ironed out.

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Govt. has already spent US$ 60-65mn to procure Covid-19 vaccines – Lalith Weeratunga



By Ifham Nizam

All persons above 30 years old will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 15, Head of the Presidential Task Force for National Deployment and Vaccination Plan, Lalith Weeratunga said.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) on Thursday at Janadhipathi Mawatha in Colombo, he said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is keen on monitoring Covid-19 hotpots and intelligence services are doing a remarkable job in this regard.

Vaccines were distributed on the basis of the vulnerability of the areas, he noted.

He said the President has urged all Sri Lankans not be misled by the false propaganda about the vaccination drive. Everybody should come forward to receive the jab and help the government to overcome the socio-economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He expressed optimism of completing the inoculation campaign by the end of December this year with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We have so far spent US$ 60 to 65 million to procure Covid-19 vaccines”, Weeratunga further said.

He said that more than 8.2 million people have so far received the first dose of the vaccines, while the second dose has already been administered to over 1.8 million.

The government aims to vaccinate 11.5 million people above 30 years by August 31, 2021 and another four million thereafter, he added.

“Moves are underway to give the vaccine to all Sri Lankans between the ages of 12 to 30”.

At present, a mobile vaccination service for those who are ill and unable to leave their homes is in operation on the instructions of the President, he said.

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Swiss team of experts due today to study SL’s agricultural landscape



A renowned team of experts from Switzerland will arrive today (1) to study the country’s agriculture ecosystem. During the 10-day visit, they will meet with key industry stakeholders, visit various sites and facilities, and provide comprehensive training in composting and organic farming.

The team will meet with senior members of the Ministry of Agriculture and related State Ministries, Department of Agriculture, Centre of Excellence for Organic Agriculture (CEOA), National Fertilizer Secretariat, Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy (SLCARP), Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Peradeniya, State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research & Innovation, Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sri Lanka Tea Board, and Tea Research Institute (TRI).

They will visit and observe conventional and organic farmers in Kalpitiya, Thambuttegama, Weliweriya, Radawana, Belihuloya, and Nuwara Eliya. They will also tour markets, poultry farms, dairy farms, tea factories, tea estates and garbage collection centres, where garbage is collected from hotels to process organic manure.

This entire initiative is by A. Baur & Co. (Pvt.) Ltd (Baurs), a leading diversified business group and a name synonymous with pioneering scientific manuring in Sri Lanka, in partnership with two of the world’s leading institutions in organic agriculture based in Switzerland, a country that has the sixth highest penetration of organic farming in the world, with 16.5% of agriculture land being organic farmland.

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is one of world’s leading organic farming research and technology transfer centres dedicated towards sustainable agriculture. The School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL) of Bern University of Applied Sciences offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees including continuing education programs.

HAFL uses applied research to address contemporary issues and futuristic challenges and provides tailored consultancy across Switzerland and globally.

Further, these experts will also conduct two training sessions; one to various teams at the Baurs Fertilizer Factory (CMW) in Kelaniya and the other to Baurs’ staff, agents, dealers, key farmers and compost producers at the Baurs’ site in Anuradhapura. These will be with strict adherence to prevailing Covid-19 health guidelines.

The expert team brings with them years of both academic as well as practical experience, and includes Dr. Christoph Studer, professor of natural resources management at HAFL and Dr. Gurbir S Bhullar, senior scientist in tropical agroecosystems at HAFL, Paul van den Berge, senior consultant at FiBL and Dr. Jacques G. Fuchs, senior scientist in plant pathology and soil quality at FiBL.

With Sri Lanka’s transition to organic agriculture, this is a timely initiative and a need of the hour. The expert team will put together a detailed, practical and scientific plan that will help support Sri Lanka to successfully identify issues and constraints and overcome future challenges.

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CEB engineers ask President to allow completion of coal-fired power plant extension project



‘Before the next power shortage in the country’

By Ifham Nizam

Perturbed by reports that the government will terminate the ongoing 300MW Lakvijaya coal-fired power plant extension project, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) has appealed to the President to allow the completion of this project of national importance.

“We are certain that your Excellency will provide the Ministry of Power and the CEB the necessary directions and assistance to complete the extension project within the shortest possible time”, the Union’s President Eng. Saumya Kumarawadu, says in a letter to the President.

The President earlier decided to implement the 300MW coal power extension project considering the fact that the country is facing an imminent power shortage as a result of not constructing a single large low-cost power plant since 2014, he said.

However, officials at the plant complex said they have not been officially informed so far to halt work on the plant.

The Sri Lankan government has already saved more than USD 2 billion due to the three coal-fired power plants at the Lakvijaya Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai, officials said.

The extension project is now underway with the China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) investing USD 4 million, while the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has injected USD 1 million, they said.

The proposed plant, the fourth to be built at Norochcholai will translate into an annual saving of more than Rs. 27 billion to the government, former CEB, Chairman Eng. Vijitha Herath said.

Last year, Cabinet endorsed the fourth unit should given to CMEC considering the substantial revenue already saved due to the contribution from coal-fired plants under operation.

Kumarawadu said the proposed 300MW extension project will generate nearly two billion units of electricity per year. The fuel cost per unit of the existing coal plant is Rs.10 less than the next lowest thermal option available, furnace oil power plants. Hence, the average annual saving to the country by this plant will be around Rs. 20 billion.

 The savings compared to costly emergency power will be in the range of Rs. 30 to 40 billion per year. The price of LNG is also rapidly increasing compared to coal and even LNG. The cost difference between coal and LNG will be around of Rs. 3 to 6 per unit and savings will be in the range of Rs. 6-12 billion or more annually. So, it is evident that this extension plant will immensely help to overcome the financial crisis both in CEB and CPC and will also provide immense relief to the Treasury as well, he pointed out.

 He further said the investment for the new extension unit was comparatively low. All other power projects in the pipeline, including large-scale renewables, demand enormous investments for infrastructure development with long time span for implementation.

“This should be seriously considered by the government in a situation where the country is facing severe financial hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic,” the CEBEU President stressed.

 All preliminary work related to the project such as comprehensive feasibility studies, finalizing technical requirements, comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, commercial agreements are completed now, he said.

It is just a matter of beginning construction work at site and completing the project before the next power shortage in the country, he added.

The CEBEU also said that there is a massive propaganda campaign against coal and one of the false ideologies promoted by these forces is that many countries are moving away from coal. While agreeing that coal power development is on a declining phase in wealthy developed countries, developing countries have not stopped constructing new coal plants mainly to ease the financial burden on their national economies.

 Citing examples, he said there are new coal development plans earmarked in countries like India, Bangladesh and Vietnam in the range from 22,000MW to 66,000 MW the next 10-12 years. Germany, one of the leading wealthy countries in renewable energy development, commissioned the 1100MW Datteln 4 coal power plant in May 2020. Dubai, another country with a very strong economy is constructing the 2,400MW Hassyan coal plant. The initial 600MW unit of the plant is to be commissioned in 2023, Kumarawadu explained.

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