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.
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam
The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.
Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.
A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.
The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.
According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.
The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.
DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.
PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners
By Norman Palihawadane
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.
Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.
The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”
Thilo Hoffman remembered
A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.
Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.
The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.
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