Rs. 1.5 bn squandered on building rent :
Ex-minister blamed for deal, now member of House Watchdog Committee
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The government hadn’t conducted a proper investigation into the squandering of over Rs 1.5 bn to rent the DPJ Towers owned by Upali Jayasinghe at No 288, Rajagiriya, Kotte, in early 2016 though the transaction received media exposure and a complaint was lodged with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).
This was revealed at the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) session chaired by MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana in Parliament on Tuesday (19).
The then Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry Bandula Wijeratne signed the agreement without following proper procedures. At the time the government inked the agreement, it hadn’t received the endorsement of the then Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe. The then yahapalana Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake is now a State Minister in the ruling SLPP party. SLFPer Dissanayake contested the last general election on the SLPP ticket.
State Minister Dissanayake particpated at the meeting as a member of the parliamentary watchdog committee.
Following the COPE meeting, the Communication Department of the Parliament said that the decision to shift the Agriculture Ministry from the state-owned Govijana Mandiraya, which was used to house the offices for oversight committees of Parliament had been taken by the then Cabinet of Ministers.
The then President Maithripala Sirisena chaired the cabinet.
Well informed sources told The Island that in addition to the two Cabinet papers submitted by Minister Dissanayake, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, submitted one.
Wickremesinghe submitted his cabinet paper on Sept 15, 2015 to establish Sectoral Oversight Committees in the ‘Govijana Mandiraya’ building, which previously housed the Agriculture Ministry.
COPA Chairman Prof. Vitharana has suggested that the government should decide on the space available for public officials to express their views on disputed or debatable decisions taken by the Cabinet. However, sources pointed out that though the Cabinet had made policy decisions relevant officials tasked with preparing cabinet papers had ample opportunity to point out shortcomings.
Prof. Vitharana said so at the discussion on Special Audit Report on the acquisition of the building. The COPE called for a formal inquiry regarding leasing of the building at a cost of Rs 1,524 mn. The COPE held that those responsible for the transaction acted contrary to the procurement process.
Agriculture Secretary retired Maj. Gen. Sumedha Perera has assured COPA that ministerial level investigation was underway.
The Committee discussed at length the need to formulate a proper system to prevent such incidents from reoccurring. The committee also focused on the need to formulate new rules and regulations for this purpose.
Minister Udaya Gammanpila, State Ministers Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Duminda Dissanayake, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Members of Parliament D.Y.G. Ratnasekera, Dr. Upul Galappaththi, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Tissa Attanayake, Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Buddhika Pathirana, S. Sritharan and government officials were present at this meeting.
Karu Jayasuriya, who was the Speaker at the time of the signing of the controversial agreement, told The Island that the decision to shift the Agriculture Ministry to a private building had been taken by the government and not by parliament contrary to a claim by Mahinda Amaraweera, who succeeded Duminda Dissanayake in a mini cabinet reshuffle.
In spite of finalising an agreement for a five-year period at a cost of Rs 1 bn, the building at Rajagiriya-Kotte wasn’t occupied for well over a year.
Wickremesinghe and Dissanayake appeared before the Presidential Commission appointed by President Sirisena following the SLFP’s exit from the yahapalana government. However, the police never initiated action despite the commissions’s findings and revelations by the Auditor General in his report.
DG Information ignorant of basic election laws and regulations: ECSL
by PRIYAN DE SILVA
The Election Commission (EC) has expressed its disappointment at controversial statements made by some public officials about elections. It says some top government official, including the Director General of Government Information, are not familiar with the basic election laws and regulations laid down in the Constitution.
The EC says it may be due to his ignorance that the Director General of Government Information has issued the Special News Release, on 29 January, claiming that ‘the gazette notification, with the signatures of the Chairman, and other members of the Election Commission, required for the commencement of the Local Government Election process, has not yet been sent to the Government Press for printing’. The EC has said such notices have to be signed and sent by the relevant Returning Officers in accordance with section 38 of the Local Authorities Election (Amendment Act) No 16 of 2017, and not by the members of the EC.
The EC has confirmed that the notices from the Returning Officers were sent to the Government Press on Monday (30).
The EC’s Media release also points out that the DGI may be unaware that Article 104GG of the Constitution states that if any public official refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to comply with the Commission he or she has committed an offence.
Article 104GG of the Constitution says: (1) Any public officer, any employee of any public corporation, business or other undertaking vested in the Government under any other written law and any company registered or deemed to be registered under the Companies Act, No. 7 of 2007, in which the Government or any public corporation or local authority holds fifty percent or more of the shares of that company, who – (a) refuses or fails without a reasonable cause to cooperate with the Commission, to secure the enforcement of any law relating to the holding of an election or the conduct of a Referendum; or (b) fails without a reasonable cause to comply with any directions or guidelines issued by the Commission under sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (4) or sub-paragraph (a) of paragraph (5), respectively, of Article 104B, shall be guilty of an offense and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
AKD says no improvement at Sapugaskanda oil refinery since it went into production in 1969
The capacity of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery (SOR) has not increased since it was established in 1969, National People’s Power (NPP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says.
Speaking at a public rally recently he that in 1969, the SOR used the most advanced technology available at the time.
“CPC started construction in 1968 and SOR started operations, refining oil, on August 5th, 1969. During that time, the CPC could refine 50,000 MT of crude oil. 55 years later, the capacity remains the same. In 1969, the CPC started with the most advanced technology available at the time. Technology has improved now. We are still refining oil with 1969 technology,” he said.
Dissanayake said that Sri Lanka built a fertiliser factory to use the byproducts of the refinery and, in 1982, a newspaper reported that 5000 MT of urea, produced by that factory, was exported to Pakistan. Today, that factory is closed.
“The CPC also had a nylon factory, as a subsidiary. We built our own nylon thread fish nets. By-products of the refinery were used as pesticides and insecticides for our pineapple and flower production. Those factories were closed, too. We had a candle industry from the by-products, we produced lubricant oil. It was sold to American Caltex. Refinery produced fuel for airplanes. It has the capacity to sell USD 1.4 million worth airplane fuel per day. We can buy crude oil, refine, and sell to ships. These are opportunities we must use to earn foreign currency. Recently this section of the CPC was privatized,” he said.
The ruling class has failed to secure even the most important assets, he said. Agriculture, land, gems, ilmenite, our natural resources, so will these rulers protect what is left, he asked.
“They have absolutely no plan to build this country. Selling our resources, closing down factories and selling valuable machinery is what they know. Every government has taken part in the destruction of the refinery. This is why we need a change in the economy. We need to transform our economy. Only NPP can do that,” he said.
The NPP leader said that the existing constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the executive president. Sri Lanka has had this executive presidential system for 40 years and executive power was used against the people, repressing them.
“Our economy was destroyed. It has done no good to this country. One man cannot develop the country. Individuals have capacities and limitations. We need to unite our capabilities to govern this country. It’s a collective effort and the NPP is the only party to undertake it. That’s the point of difference. There are talented people from all fields like history, economy, mathematics, law and so on. There are lawyers, university academics and professionals. The government has to unite these capacities and talents to bring optimum results for the country. NPP will do that. For that we have to abolish executive presidency and rewrite the constitution vesting more powers in the Parliament. We will bring about this change,” he said.
Dissanayake said an NPP administration will limit the number of Ministers to 18. He added that crossovers have distorted the democratic system and corrupted the political culture.
“People vote for them in one party but for money and positions they change political allegiance. This has become a public nuisance. Some MPs demand ransom to stay in the party. We will add a provision to the Constitution to ban crossing over,” he said.
JVP: Where are President’s influential foreign friends?
By Rathindra Kuruwita
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assumed duties, claiming that he had very influential friends overseas, now claims he can hardly afford to pay government servants, National People’s Power (NPP) MP Vijitha Herath says.
“If anything, things are worse than before. The government is afraid of the people and is trying to postpone elections,” Herath said, adding that the March 09 local council election would mark the beginning of the end for the Ranil-Rajapaksa administration.
Herath said so addressing an NPP election rally recently.
“They will no longer be able to pretend that the people are with them. Not that they have any legitimacy, locally or internationally, but the level of their unpopularity will be seen on 10 March,, when the poll results are announced” he said.
Strong winds over Eastern, Uva, Western, Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces and in Galle, Matara, Mullaitivu, Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts.
DG Information ignorant of basic election laws and regulations: ECSL
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