‘A Rs. 600mn rip-off’
by SURESH PERERA
Scores of prospective buyers of housing units at a proposed condominium project in the outskirts of Colombo have been ripped off for at least Rs. 600 million in, what was been described, as a “major scam” by a developer whose company now remains shut.
In the backdrop of a private sector bank announcing moves to auction the 42-perch site of the envisaged condominium complex as the developer had raised Rs. 120 million in capital financing against the property, distraught victims of the swindle bemoaned that they have now “lost all their hard-earned savings”.
“There are around 52 prospective buyers, most of whom dished out anything between Rs. 5 and 10 million each as downpayment for the apartments”, says Gehan Samaranayake, president of ‘Ramanathan Avenue CM Condo Buyers’ Association’.
He said the developer M/s Civi-Mec Construction (Pvt) Ltd., started selling apartment units for the proposed CM Towers condominium project at No. 14, Ramanathan Avenue, Dehiwala, in 2014 and began construction the same year with the approval of the Dehiwala Mount Lavinia Municipal Council.
At that juncture, approval was given to the developer for a G+17 storied housing complex encompassing 112 middle class apartment units with four floors for parking vehicles. The developer of the project, M/s Civi-Mec Construction, had only one director with a registered office at W. A. Silva Mawatha, Colombo 6. The land earmarked for the housing project was mortgaged to a private sector bank to raise funds for the proposed condominium, Samaranayake noted.
“After entering into sales agreements, we paid a considerable downpayment and continued honoring the subsequent monthly installments to meet the balance as the developer laid the foundation with piling in line with the approved G+17 floor building’, he recalled.
“However, with the change of government in 2015, we were told the new administration restricted the number to nine residential floors, and the reason adduced was that some officials responsible for granting approvals were demanding substantial inducements to give the green light for the original plan of G+17 floors”, the Association’s president asserted.
He said at that point, the private bank, which agreed to finance the 112-housing unit project, stopped further funding as it was considered non-viable to invest on heavy foundations and have only nine residential floors with 64 condominium units, instead of 17 floors.
The developer abandoned the project at this stage in 2018 and stopped paying the loan installments to the bank, closed his office and went into hiding. The desperate buyers made complaints to the Police, CID and the Fraud Bureau, with some opting for civil cases as well. Subsequently, the CID arrested the director of Civi-Mec, who was remanded and later released on bail by the Mount Lavinia Magistrate’s Courts, Samaranayake noted.
“There are many of us in the Association, who have paid more than Rs. 10 million each for apartments and according to our records, the developer has collected from the known buyers alone Rs. 600 million, without any interest calculated”, he claimed.
He further said that the bank, citing the default of Rs. 120 million loaned towards the project, exercised the powers vested on its board of directors and initiated the process of recovering the loan by auctioning the property by the end of this month.
Vacating an earlier stay order, the Commercial High Court has allowed the bank to auction the property to recover an accumulated Rs. 160 million, inclusive of other costs, he said, while adding that the bank has already given notice of the auction on October 28, 2020.
“Most of the prospective buyers of this proposed middle-class condominium complex are retirees, who had invested their life’s savings on what they thought would be their ‘dream home’. All their hopes have now been shattered”, Samaranayake stressed.
Repeated attempts by The Sunday Island to contact the
director of Civi-Mec Construction on the phone number listed on its website were futile as there was no response.
As indicated by the ‘Ramanathan Avenue CM Condo Buyers’ Association’, the developer’s office in Colombo 6 remained closed. As a result, there was no possibility of contacting the director concerned for comment on the issues raised by those who have now been left in the lurch after forking out millions of rupees.
“If the buyers of the condominiums had entered into sales agreements, we can initiate legal action against the developer”, says Sarana Karunarathna, Chairman, Condominium Management Authority.
“They can write to the Authority so that we can pursue the matter”, he noted, while adding that he was unaware of the developments until The Sunday Island brought the matter to his notice.
COVID-19: Jaffna faces serious risk
Top medical man in North threatens lockdown
Five villages isolated in Ganewatta DS area
20% of IDH patients need oxygen
By Dinasena Ratugamage and Rathindra Kuruwita
Tough restrictions would have to be imposed in Jaffna if religious leaders did not help health authorities, Northern Province Director General of Health Services, Dr. A. Kethiswaran said yesterday. Jaffna was facing a serious risk of COVID-19, he said.
Dr. Kethiswaran said so during a meeting with religious leaders at his office. He said that a large number of devotees were seen at various places of religious worship during the festive period.
“None of these people follow health guidelines. It is impossible to control the virus because of this. At this rate we will have to impose travel restrictions in the Jaffna District. We need everyone’s support, if we are to avoid this fate.”
He then urged religious leaders to inform devotees of the dangers of the virus and not to gather at places of worship in large numbers.
Dr. Kethiswaran also said that a large number of policemen in Jaffna had contracted COVID-19. About 258 PCR tests had been carried out on Wednesday after it was found that 13 policemen attached to the Jaffna Police station were infected. Altogether 788 PCR tests were done in the Jaffna District on Wednesday, Dr. Kethiswaran said.
One hundred and forty eight new COVID-19 cases had been detected in several villages in the Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area, Divisional Secretary Niranjala Karunaratne said yesterday.
On Wednesday alone 733 PCR tests had been done there, she said, adding that about 175 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 there.
Given these developments, Tittawelgala, Hunupola, Siradunna, Aluthgama and Hettigama Grama Niladari divisions at Ganewatta Divisional secretariat area have been isolated.
Travel restrictions were imposed on Kuliyapitiya Town, Thunmodara, Dhandagamuwa – West, Kanadulla and Pahala Weerambuwa as COVID-19 cases were increasing there.
PHI in charge of Divulapitiya said that 84 new COVID-19 cases had been reported from the area during the last 48 hours. However, no decision had been taken to impose travel restrictions in the area, PHI, S.A.U.T Kularatne said.
“Twenty-eight of these patients were among people who attended a sports event organised for the New Year in Aswennawatta Grama Niladari area. Forty-four people who went on a trip at Mellawagedara have also tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. If people are not careful, things might rapidly deteriorate,” he warned.
Deputy Director of IDH said that over 130 COVID-19 patients were undergoing treatment there although the hospital could accommodate only 120 patients.
All eight ICU beds at the IDH are occupied and 20% of the patients there need oxygen. The number of people admitted to hospital had increased after the Sinhala and Hindu New year, health ministry sources said.
Director General of Health Services – Western Province Dr. Dhammika Jayalath urged people to refrain from travelling to Colombo unless it was very urgent.
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardane said that the coming three weeks would crucial.
Covid figures: Govt. accused of misleading the country
By Rathindra Kuruwita
The College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) yesterday claimed that State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals, Prof. Channa Jayasumana was making statements on new strains of SARS-CoV-2 without any scientific proof.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Prof. Jayasumana said that there had been an increase in the spread of Covid virus in the country, especially among the young people and that was due to a new strain of the virus.
President of the CMLS, Ravi Kumudesh said: “The Minister claimed they were doing a research on this. As far as we know, neither the Ministry nor the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has done any research to identify this new strain. The Ministry of Health stopped identifying new variants a long time ago.”
The Ministry of Health could neither plan for new variants of COVID-19 nor determine what vaccine was effective as it simply didn’t have the equipment to identify new strains, Kumudesh said, adding that identifying COVID-19 variants across the country had been outsourced to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura.
“I have repeatedly said that the Health Ministry officials can’t make science and evidence-based decisions or statements on new strains. Institutions under the Health Ministry do not have the ability to identify new strains of the coronavirus; only the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has a gene sequencing machine. We said this was having a disastrous impact on the country’s pandemic response and here we are,.”
Kumudesh said that identifying various strains of COVID-19 was essential to respond to the pandemic as everything from PCR testing to selecting a vaccine, depended on that.
“There are a number of strains of the virus in the world now and we now know that the new variant that led to a lockdown in the UK is here. We have to be ready to identify what strains are coming.”
Kumudesh said that since the country had opened its airports people from various countries would arrive, carrying new strains. He added that there might also be a new strain that originated here without “our knowledge because we don’t do adequate gene sequencing.
“To identify new variants, we must sequence the genes of viruses detected through PCR testing. We need many gene sequencing machines because one cannot identify new strains through a PCR test. However, the Ministry of Health has not provided a single gene sequencing machine to labs under its purview.”
CEA accused of turning blind eye to cardamom cultivators raping Knuckles Forest
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow cardamom plantations inside the Knuckles Forest Reserve, which came under the Forest Conservation Department,it was already having a negative impact on the ecosystem, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) said.
Chamikara said that Knuckles Forest Reserve was not only a unique ecosystem but also an important catchment area for rivers such as Mahaweli and Kalu.
“Illegal Cardamom planters had been operating in the forest area for many decades and there had been many attempts to get rid of them,” Chamikara said
About six years ago, there was an attempt to remove illegal Cardamom planters from the Knuckles Forest Reserve. When the Forest Conservation Department tried to remove these encroachers, based on a court order, several politicians and officials intervened on their behalf, the environmentalist said. Due to those interventions, illegal Cardamom planters could not be removed from the Knuckles Forest Reserve, he added.
“In many areas of the Dumbara mountain range, forest undergrowth has been cleared to make way for cardamom plantations. This has drastically increased soil erosion and the soil that is swept away by rains have been deposited in many reservoirs after being taken downstream to the Mahaweli Ganga. Moreover, many trees have been cut to use as firewood to dry cardamom. There are many structures used to dry the cardamom dotting the Knuckles mountain range and these activities cause significant damages to the ecosystem.”
Chamikara said it was illegal to cut trees, cultivate and clear land in a Conservation Forest. The offences carried jail terms or fines or both. Moreover, the court could estimate the damage done to the forest and make the guilty pay that amount. Under the law, even people who encouraged such violations could be prosecuted.
“The CEA has the power to act against those who carry out such illegal activities. According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without obtaining approval, the CEA can present such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both. Unfortunately the authorities concerned are turning a blind eye.”
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