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Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund suffers staggering losses due to irregularities

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COPE Chairman Charitha Herath, MP (second from left) is flanked by officials (pic courtesy Parliament)

COPE PROBE

By Saman Indrajith

A probe conducted by the parliament watchdog Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has found that the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust fund incurred a loss of Rs. 673 million from an online lottery, Parliament sources said yesterday.

 It was revealed that Rs 673 million had been earned by an intermediary, who sold the lotteries but did not return the proceeds to the Mahapola Trust Fund.

 In addition, due to insufficient capital gains on securities transactions of companies under the Mahapola Trust Fund, in 2015 and 2016 Rs. 18 million and Rs. 102 million were lost respectively. It was also revealed that a loss of Rs. 13 million had been incurred during the repurchases made using investments in National Wealth Corporation in 2017. The COPE stressed that these irregularities had caused huge losses to the Fund.

COPE Chairman Prof Charitha Herath instructed Secretary to the Ministry of Trade JM Bhadrani Jayawardena to inform the Attorney General of the losses and irregularities and lodge a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department.

The COPE investigation conducted at the Parliamentary complex last week was attended by State Ministers Susil Premajayanth, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, MPs Eran Wickramaratne, Nalin Bandara Jayamaha, Premnath C.Dolawatta and S. M. Marikkar.

The committee also recommended a proper study on the irregularities with regard to the National Wealth Corporation and the National Wealth Securities Corporation, under the Mahapola Trust Fund and ordered that the heads of the institutions be summoned before the COPE forthwith.

The officials who attended the investigation told the committee that the Cabinet had approved the liquidation of those institutions as they were running at a loss. Commenting on this, COPE Chairman Prof. Charitha Herath said that although it would not be a problem to liquidate after punishing the culprits, it would not be appropriate to liquidate those institutions without proper investigation into frauds.

COPE Chairman Herath said that the liquidation should be delayed until those irregularities were properly investigated.

The current situation of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) was also discussed. The committee expressed its displeasure at the fact that even though the SLIIT had been summoned before the Committee it had informed the COPE through Julius & Creasy law firm that it had not been legally bound to do so. Thus, the COPE decided that law firm Julius & Creasy should be summoned to resolve the matter.

The COPE Committee further recommended that as SLIIT was an institution of national importance, after preparing an internal report as an extension of the discussion on that institution and reporting it to Parliament, it would be appropriate to decide on the action to be taken in that regard.

Further, it was revealed that the institution did not have an internal auditor and an accountant. The COPE Committee recommended that action be taken to fill the vacancy as soon as possible, according to sources.



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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce 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.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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