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COPE unearths irregularities costing billions in construction of Central Expressway

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By Saman Indrajith

Massive irregularities in the construction of the Central Expressway were revealed by the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) on Friday.  Sources said the irregularities had caused losses running into billiions of rupees.

They said it had been revealed that more than Rs. 1.7 billion were spent on the feasibility study on the road alone.

The delay in the commencement of work on the first section of the Central Expressway, from Kadawatha to Mirigama, during the period 2015 to 2019, had caused a financial loss of Rs. 8 billion.

Sources said it had also been revealed that the selection of SMEC Holdings for the first feasibility study had been done without following procedures.

A change in the original plan to construct the road from Kadawatha, instead of Enderamulla, to Mirigama, had warranted a new feasibility study, which had cost a lot of money. That decision had been taken by the Cabinet in 2015 without consulting experts, sources said.

COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath directed the Secretary to the Ministry of Highways to submit a report on the financial losses incurred due to the abrupt change in the original project.

It was disclosed that an amount of Rs. 159 billion rupees had been allocated and that the decision at issue had been taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM). It has also been revealed that the construction work was delayed for four years due to a payment issue and work commenced only in late 2019, and the delay caused a loss of nearly Rs. 8 billion.

Irregularities in the procurement process as regards the Pothuhera-Galagedara stretch, which is the third section of the Central Expressway, have also been exposed.

The CCEM had pushed for granting the tender to Fujita although MS Taisei should have been given it in accordance with the process and this had led to the delay, sources said.

The COPE has revealed that only 5% of the work on the Kadawatha-Mirigama section has been completed and 75 percent of the work on the second section from Mirigama to Kurunegala had been completed.

The Secretary to the Ministry of Highways said the construction could be completed by next June.

The COPE recommended that a progress report be submitted on the progress of the first, third and fourth sections of the Central Expressway.

It was also revealed that a feasibility study for the construction of this expressway, prior to 2012, had cost about Rs. 284 million.

COPE Chairman also directed the Secretary to the Ministry of Highways to report on the impact of all feasibility studies on the project and its success.

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, State Ministers Sarath Weerasekara, Dilum Amunugama, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, MPs Eran Wickramaratne, Jagath Pushpakumara and Premanath C. Dolawatta, Ranjan Ramanayake and D. V. Chanaka were present at the Friday’s COPE meeting held at the parliamentary complex.



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Aircraftsman sets swimming record with flying colours

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Leading Aircraftman Roshan Abeysundara of the Air Force yesterday set a new Asian record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in Rameshwaram. During his preparation for the event, Abeysundara renewed the national open water swimming record twice. He has also created a new record by swimming a 25 km distance from Matara to Koggala on 03 Jan, clocking 10 hours and 37 minutes, and went on to surpass the record by swimming a distance of 49Km from Matara to Hikkaduwa and back to Unawatuna on Feb 27 in 23 hours and 10 minutes.

He started swimming from Talaimannar at 2 am on Saturday and reached Dhanushkody and returned to Talaimannar around 7 am yesterday by completing 59.3 km in 28 hours 19 minutes and 43 seconds, breaking a 50-year-old Asian record set in 1971 by V.S. Kumar Anandan’s, who took 51 hours to swim across the Palk Strait. Abeysundara also set a new Lankan record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in 19 hours and 31 minutes.

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JVP women raise fears about cost and safety of food for New Year

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By Saman Indrajith

The JVP women’s wing led by Women for Rights says that exorbitant prices of food and fears over their safety will make the forthcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year a miserable affair.

“The prices of essential food items are at unprecedented highs. In addition, there are fears in the minds of the people about the quality and safety of food items being sold in the market. There were no such fears and doubts whether the food items in the market were fit for human consumption in the past as it is now,” Secretary of the WFR Samanmalee Gunasinghe said addressing a press conference held at the party headquarters in Pelawatte Friday.

Gunasinghe said that all those issues with regard to food prices and their standards and safety were about food security of the country. “Food security is a prerequisite for national security which this government promised to achieve. Food security no longer exists in this country and, worse, people are worrying about food safety.”

She said that social media was full of posts expressing people’s concerns about food safety.

“They are afraid because the government is putting their lives in danger not only by permitting coconut oil imports with high levels of aflatoxin but also allowing the adulteration of other food items. Some months ago, they brought down container loads of canned fish past shelf life and released them to the market. There are fears that milk, chilli powder and packaged food items contain various toxins. Scientists make statements to the effect that the fertilizers being used for paddy cultivation contain huge amounts of arsenic.”

President of the WFR Saroja Savithri Paulraj said that children of the country had not been able to celebrate the last Sinhala and Tamil New Year because of the COVID pandemic and now the people were gripped by fear of toxic food and their prices. Price of kilo of green grams is now Rs 850-1000, cowpea Rs 1,200, Undu (urid) Rs 1,700, chicken Rs 800, Chillies nearly Rs 1,000.

“This government has no answers for the problems created by the Easter Sunday terror attacks even after two years. The forests are being cleared and no responsible action is taken to prevent them. Women who become victims of micro-credit schemes are staging protests. Farmers staging protests in various places in the country. It is with those problems that people this time are compelled to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.”

Exco member of WFR Prabhashini Wickramasinghe also addressed the media.

 

 

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Govt. claims SLPP-SLFP relations remain strong

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… admits Easter Sunday carnage a contentious issue

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (11) strongly denied reports that a section of the ruling party coalition, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was on a collision course with it. Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage insisted that in spite of some minor disagreements among coalition members there was absolutely no threat to the government.

Participating in a newly launched live SLBC programme, the Kandy District MP accused the bankrupt Opposition, that was struggling both in and outside Parliament of propagating lies.

Acknowledging that a section of SLPP lawmakers had met at the SLFP Office at Darley Road, under former President Maithripala Sirisena’s chairmanship last Thursday (8), Minister Aluthgamage said that members of a coalition administration could hold diverse positions on a particular issue.

The Minister was responding to interviewers, Himananda Rajapaksa and Inusha Weebedde on ‘Kannadiya’ produced by Sudarmika Wijeratne. Rupavahini and The Island were represented by Vijaya Dissanayake and Shamindra Ferdinando, respectively.

Referring to what he called a contradictory position taken by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa in respect of some contentious issues, Minister Aluthgamage said that the stand taken by the former JVPer on the East Container Terminal (ECT) proved right. Minister Aluthgamage appreciated the cancellation of the proposed agreement on the ECT following protests by a section of the government. Earlier the government announced plans to transfer ECT’s controlling shares to India’s Adani Group.

The minister said that the consensus on the ECT should be compared with the previous administration handing over the controlling shares of the strategic Hambantota port to China.

Minister Aluthgamage also dismissed claims that the SLFP led group was planning to conduct a separate May Day rally. The minister insisted the coalition was still strong regardless of issues – a situation experienced by coalition administrations in the past. Aluthgamage asserted that divergent views among coalition members were helpful in facilitating a better stand on a particular issue.

The programme was told difficulties experienced by the government should be examined against the backdrop of former President Maithripala, one of those named by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday carnage now being a member of the SLPP led government.  The SLMC and the ACMC flayed over the Easter Sunday massacre switched their allegiance from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the breakaway UNP faction recognized as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

It was also told that the break-up of the coalition was unlikely though in political turmoil.

Top SLFP spokesman and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera confirmed the stand taken by his ministerial colleague, Aluthgamage. Declaring the role played by the SLFP in helping wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa win the 2019 presidential election, Minister Amaraweera reiterated their commitment to the government.

The SLFP group in the government consisted of 14 lawmakers. The government parliamentary group comprised 145 members.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (ret.) Sarath Weerasekera explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government handled the Easter Sunday issue.

Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera, Presidential Secretariat Director General – Legal Affairs said that the government’s response was three-fold. “We provided relief, punishment to those responsible and remedial measures to prevent similar attacks,” Rohanadeera said.

Dismissing accusations as regards the ongoing investigations/process, Rohanadeera pointed out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having consulted the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith retained the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.  The lawyer underscored the government determination to implement the CoI report along with the recommendations of the Sectoral Defence Oversight Committee.

The Presidential aide explained the need to address issues without being diverted by political factors. The official rejected assertions that the CoI was meant to delay justice to those killed and their families.

The interviewers raised issue over SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera reiterating concerns that the person recently named as the mastermind wasn’t so and there were other powerful interested parties bent on destabilizing the country.  The programme was reminded of former UNP lawmaker and one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, warning of Western destabilization projects as long as the Hambantota port remained in Chinese hands.

The previous UNP led government finalized the deal on Hambantota port in 2017.

The programme was told the high-profile Western intervention at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) largely influenced by the ongoing battle for supremacy between the US and China. However, almost all political parties represented in parliament had been in one way or another implicated in the Easter Sunday violence.

Near simultaneous Easter suicide attacks claimed the lives of 270. Over 500 received injuries.

The mystery of India infiltrating the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), too, was raised though there was consensus Sri Lanka should be grateful for intelligence provided by India in the run-up to Easter blasts. The interview was asked of the need to be wary of foreign intelligence services operating in Colombo.

 

PIC SAVED AS MAHINDANANDA

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