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Aluthgamage reveals how previous regime rented out JEDB property for a song

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By Saman Indrajith

Some buildings belonging to the Janata Estate Development Board in Colombo had been rented at Rs.13.7 a square foot during the yahapalana government, Parliament was told yesterday.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage acknowledged this revelation made by Kandy District SJB MP Velu Kumar, who said that the JEDB had 28,800 square feet space in its buildings in Colombo City and three of them had been rented to public sector institutions while eight had been rented out to the private sector. “The rate that they had been rented out to the private sector institutions is Rs 13.67 a square foot. The JEDB is incurring losses as a result. I like to know what the minister is going to do about it.”

Minister Aluthgamage: I thank the MP for raising this issue. It was during the time of the yahapalana government those buildings had been rented out. One building is at Darley Road opposite the HNB. A square foot of that building has been rented at Rs 13.67. That was how JEDB became a loss making venture. It used to be a profit making institution but some actions of your government’s ministers made it incur losses.. One Minister rented out 100 acres in the same manner to his wife, Minister Aluthgamage said.

Ratnapura District SJB MP Hesha Withanage: Can we know where that land is?

Minister Aluthgamage: At Hantana in Kandy. During the time of the yahapalana government JEDB could not even pay the salaries of its workers. Their salaries were paid by the Treasury. We no longer get funds from the Treasury. By 31 of December this year, we will make JEDB into a profit making institution. We can do so because President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed capable persons who know the subject to head the institutions.

Aluthgamage added that he had found that 150 properties of the Plantations Ministry had been given to private sector institutions without assessing their value or calling for tenders during the previous administration. The Minister said that all those properties had been undervalued. Aluthgamage promised that as the Minister he would not hand over any property under his ministry to private entities.

Instead of leasing out or selling government properties, the current administration would make state owned enterprises profit earning ventures, he said.

“I found that a 500-acre estate in Nawalapitiya was to be rented out to a private company to set up a two MW hydropower project, for Rs 8,000 a month. I cancelled that agreement. We have sent letters to private companies who had rented JEDB properties at the rate of Rs. 13.67 a square foot. I also found that some individuals had exchanged low value land they had for high value government lands.”

Lands valued at Rs. 50 a perch had been exchanged for lands in Hantana where a perch was worth Rs one million, Minister Aluthgamage said, adding that during the first week of assuming duties, he had thwarted a move to give away 25 acres in Hantana to a private individual.

MP Withanage: We are thankful to the Minister for the exposure he made and request him to inform the House of the former ministers responsible for those crimes so that we would be able to identify who actually caused the loss of our government. Will the Minister submit the names of those responsible to this House?

Minister Aluthgamage promised that he would table in Parliament this morning (1) the list of names and details of 150 projects that had been initiated during the yahapalana time and later cancelled by him during recent months.

 

 



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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