By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has reminded the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of the inordinate delay in responding to queries raised by the parliamentary watchdog committee at a recent session that revealed staggering losses amounting to at least Rs 2.6 bn over a period of time.
ICTA bosses had been present at the meeting along with representatives from the Auditor General’s Department.
COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (12) said that they recently sent ICTA a reminder.
The SLPP National List lawmaker said that the COPE would pursue the matter. The MP said so when The Island asked him whether ICTA responded to concerns raised by the parliamentary watchdog committee. The Island raised the issue with the COPE in the wake of ICTA entering into a major contract with the Justice Ministry on Thursday (11) for the digitalization of the entire court system.
Those controversial projects that had been inquired into by the COPE were implemented during the previous Rajapaksa administration in 2013 as well as yahapalana administration, according to the Communication Department of the Parliament.
The COPE is empowered to report to Parliament on accounts examined, budgets and estimates, financial procedures, performance and management of Corporations and other Government Business Undertakings.
The Island also sought an explanation from the Justice Ministry regarding its agreement against the backdrop of the COPE questioning ICTA’s integrity. An authoritative ministry spokesperson said that the issues that had been referred to by the COPE happened before the incumbent board took over. “ICTA will act as consultants and the project would be awarded after competitive bidding process expected to begin in March 2021,” the spokesperson said.
The change at the helm of the institution took place close on the heels of the recent revelation of massive waste, corruption and irregularities at the country’s apex ICT institution.
Justice Ministry Media Secretary Chamila Wijesekera said that local contractors would receive preference in the project funded by the Treasury.
In terms of the project, the Justice Ministry envisaged maintenance of files, management of the courts, maintenance of files pertaining to court proceedings, issuance of court records and payment of fines et al.
According to Wijesekera though some sections had been computerized, there hadn’t been previous project to digitalize the entire setup. Wijesekera said that ICTA would be responsible for overall planning, execution, monitoring and technical operations. The Justice Ministry said that the project would benefit all stakeholders.
Prof. Lalith Gamage, who has been a member of the ICTA board, succeeded Jayantha de Silva whereas the latter received appointment as Secretary to the newly created Technology Ministry.
The current ICTA board consists of Prof. Lalith Gamage, Reshan Dewapura, the Chief Executive Officer at GSS International (Pvt.) Ltd., Vimukthi Janadara, Director General, Information Technology Management Department, Oshada Senanayake, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, Kushan S. Kodituwakku, Managing director of Orel Corporation, Mano Sekaram, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) & Co-Founder of 99X Technology Ltd and Madu Ratnayake, Group CIO and the Center Head for Virtusa Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNF Government established ICTA in terms of the Information and Communication Technology Act No. 27 of 2003, (ICT Act), was subsequently amended by the UPFA by Act No. 33 of 2008.
According to the Communications Department, a high profile ‘e-Pensions’ project launched in late Oct 2010 had been abandoned on Nov 1, 2013 after spending a staggering Rs 510 mn. At the time of the launch of the project involving ministries of Public Administration and Home Affairs, ICTA had been under the Presidential Secretariat
The abandoned project was meant to develop the required hardware and software for its implementation in the Western Province covering the District Secretariat, the Armed Forces, the Department of Prisons, the Department of Railways and the Department of Civil Defense.
The COPE asserted that ICTA performances in respect of other failed developments, too, could be compared with the disastrous ‘e-Pension’ project.
The COPE also examined Google Loon project officially announced in June 2013 but finalized in late July 2015, too had been abandoned after spending Rs 1,851, 322 mn to clear Google Loon equipment from the Customs, in addition to Rs 64 mn spent on project promotions.
It also revealed that another high profile project called ‘Lanka Government Network’ or LGN launched in Nov 2016 by then Minister Harin Fernando amidst much fanfare to provide internet services countrywide, too, failed to achieve desired results with the progress asserted at just 17 per cent. Of Rs 850.47 mn approved for the project, Rs 148.33 mn had been spent, the COPE bared while categorizing LGN, too, as a failed initiative.
Funds amounting to Rs 32.5 mn allocated for ‘e-NIPO’ (project undertaken for the National Intellectual Property Office) had been utilized by the I.C.T.A to pay salaries of its officials.
The country’s apex ICT body came under scrutiny over some employees receiving monthly salaries in the range of Rs 755,000 to Rs 245,000 outside public sector salary scales though they were paid by the taxpayers’ money.
The COPE also found fault with ICTA for not including Rs 39 mn spent on ‘e-Local Authorities’ yahapalana project in the performance reports.
The COPE also made the shocking revelation that a 2017 Corporate Plan that had been prepared at the cost of Rs. 2,737,000 mn was thrown away without seeking approval from the board. One of the challenges faced by the new Chairman is to conduct an internal inquiry as regards preparation of Corporate Plans beginning 2003-2019.
Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill
… alleges bid to turn Port City into Chinese territory
Over 12 petitioners move SC against proposed law
By Shamindra Ferdinando
SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC, yesterday (15) alleged that the proposed Bill, titled ‘Colombo Port City Economic Commission,’ would transform the reclaimed land, adjacent to the Galle Face Green into a Chinese territory.
Addressing the media at the Abhayarama temple, under the auspices of Ven Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Rajapakshe, warned of dire consequences if the government went ahead with what he termed the despicable project.
Sixteen parties had filed action against the Bill. Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda thera was among the petitioners.
The ruling party had placed the Bill on the Order Paper on April 8, just 15 calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette. In terms of the Constitution a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill had to do so within one week from the Bill being placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said.
Among those who moved the SC were the General-Secretary of the UNP and the Chairman of the UNP. The Attorney-General has been named a respondent in the petition. The BASL, too, moved SC against the Attorney General. Three civil society activists, Oshala Herath, Dr. Ajantha Perera and Jeran Jegatheesan also filed action.
Lawmaker Rajapakse explained how the proposed Bill, if enacted, could allow independent status to USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Former Justice Minister alleged that the Colombo Port City project was far worse than the selling of the strategic Hambantota port to the Chinese by the previous administration.
The Colombo District MP said the Parliament wouldn’t have financial control over the Colombo Port City Project whereas its independent status would legally empower those managing the project to finalise agreements with external parties
Referring to the previous administration, the former UNPer alleged that China had bribed members of Parliament. MP Rajapakse questioned the rationale behind China providing computers to all members of Parliament and officials as well as jaunts to China.
Rajapakse said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t give in to Chinese strategies aimed at bringing Sri Lanka under its control. The former minister explained the threat posed by the growing Chinese presence including the Colombo Port City, a terminal in the Colombo harbour and at the Hambantota port.
Sooka pushing UK for punitive action against Army Commander
An outfit, led by Yasmin Sooka, a member of the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE), has urged the UK to take punitive measures against the Commander of the Army, General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The Army headquarters told The Island that the matter had been brought to the notice of the relevant authorities. It said that it was all part of the ongoing well-funded campaign against the Sri Lankan military.
Issuing a statement from Johannesburg, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said it had compiled a 50-page dossier which it has submitted to the Sanctions Department of the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on General Shavendra Silva. The Submission argues why Silva, who is Sri Lanka’s current Army Commander, should be designated under the United Kingdom’s Global Human Rights (GHR) Sanctions Regime established on 6 July 2020.
“We have an extensive archive of evidence on the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, meticulously collected by international prosecutors and lawyers. The testimony of victims and witnesses – many now in the UK – was vital in informing this Submission, and making the linkages to Shavendra Silva and those under his command,” said the organisation’s executive director, Yasmin Sooka.
The ITJP Submission details Shavendra Silva’s role in the perpetration of alleged gross human rights violations including of the right to life when he was 58 Division Commander during the final phase of the civil war in 2009 in the north of Sri Lanka. It draws on searing eyewitness testimony from Tamils who survived the government shelling and bombing of hospitals and food queues in the so called No Fire Zones, many of whom now reside in the UK as refugees. The Submission also looks at Silva’s alleged involvement in torture and sexual violence, including rape, which is a priority area of the UK Government’s foreign policy.
“The US State Department designated Shavendra Silva in 2020 for his alleged role in the violations at the end of the war but the remit of the UK sanctions regime works is broader and includes his role in the shelling of hospitals and other protected civilian sites during the military offensive. This is important in terms of recognising the full extent of the violations, as well as supporting the US action,” commented Ms. Sooka. “UK designation would be another significant step forward in terms of accountability and would be in line with the recent UN Human Rights Council Resolution passed in Geneva for which Britain was the penholder,” she added.
Political will in applying the UK’s new sanctions regime to Sri Lanka was apparent in a recent parliamentary debate which saw 11 British parliamentarians ask why the UK government had not applied sanctions against Sri Lankan military figures, including Shavendra Silva, who was named six times in this context.”
Ten lives snuffed out in road accidents during festive period
Road accidents had snuffed out 10 lives during the Sinhala and Tamil New year, police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said yesterday, adding that 121 accidents had been reported on April 14 alone.
Twelve of the accidents took place on the Southern Expressway.
DIG Rohana also said that 758 drunk drivers had been arrested on April 14. He added that such drivers would not be released on police bail.
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