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No proper probe yet, says COPA

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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.



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Geneva HR vote:

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UK, Canada seek to influence member states against Lanka

The Sri Lanka Core group members, Canada and the UK, are campaigning hard to muster support for their resolution against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka Core group consists of Canada, Germany, the UK, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi.

Canada High Commissioner David McKinnon met the Bangladesh High Commissioner Tareq Ariful Islam, at the Canada House, Colombo 07.

Sources said that meetings between diplomats of those countries were rare. Bangladesh is a member o the f UNHRC. The meeting at the Canada House took place close on the heels of the UK HC Sarah Hulton meeting South Korean Ambassador Woonjin Jeong. South Korea is also a member of the UNHRC.

The 47-member UNHRC is divided into five groups on regional basis. The Asia-Pacific Group consists of Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Uzbekistan; Western Europe and Other States consists of Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and UK; Eastern European States consists of Armenia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine; Latin American and Caribbean States group consists of Argentina, Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela and African States group consists of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Gabon, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo. (SF)

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CEB Chairman: Country would have been facing daily power cuts if not for MR’s initiative

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by Ifham Nizam

The country would have been facing a daily power cut of eight hours if not for the initiative taken by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, when he was the President, to commence the first coal fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, said Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman Engineer Vijitha Herath at yesterday’s inauguration of the first Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) power plant in Sri Lanka.

PM Rajapaksa was the Chief Guest at the event. The CEB head stressed that if not for the Norochchoali plant the country would have lost more than Rs. 100 billion annually.

Power Minister Dullas Alahaperuma said that since the construction of the Norochcholai power plant in 2013, no large scale power plant had been built.

“Today, we are paying for this. Only small hydro power plants and solar power plants have been added to the national grid,” Alahaperuma said.

The power minister said that the LNG plant was coming up at an important time and would bring great relief to the economy which was heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

“Let there be a power sector that is not dependent on fossil fuels. The new power plant has been constructed at Kerawalapitiya, Wattala. This has been designed in accordance with international standards with minimal environmental damage. This power plant will have the highest efficiency F class gas turbine installed. The Kerawalapitiya Power Plant is a dual cycle power plant and will be completed in two phases. The installation of the first phase, or gas turbine, will generate 220 MW, which will be completed within 21 months and added to the national grid.”

Alhaperuma said that the second phase would add another 130 megawatts to the national grid via a steam turbine, which was expected to be completed in 12 months. With a total capacity of 300 MW over the next three years, the plant was expected to meet the country’s growing electricity demand, he said.

Speaking at the event Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stressed that the government wanted to provide electricity at affordable prices using the most advanced technology. There had been many delays in building power plants under the Yahapalana regime; but the current government would fast-track power projects, he added.

Minister Alahapperuma also said: “The LNG power plant will be a great relief to the economy. Renewable energy is the future. It was clearly mentioned in the President’s vision of prosperity as well as in the Mahinda Chinthana. Our goal is an economy fully armed with renewable energy.”

State Ministers Duminda Dissanayake, Susil Premajayantha, Nimal Lansa, Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy Wasantha Perera, LTL CEO of Lakdanavi Affiliates U.D. Jayawardena, and a large number of people’s representatives and government officials were present.

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US Secretary of State names Lankan for International Women of Courage (IWOC) award

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Lankan Human Rights Activist and Attorney-At-Law Ranitha Gnanarajah is among the recipients of this year’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) award presented by the United States Secretary of State.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will host the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards virtual ceremony to honour a group of extraordinary women from around the world on Monday, March 8, at 10:00 am, the U.S. State Department announced.

The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden will deliver remarks to recognize the courageous accomplishments of these women.

Now in its 15th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment – often at great personal risk and sacrifice, the US State Department says.

According to the biographies of the finalists for the 2012 IWOC Awards, Sri Lanka’s Ranitha Gnanarajah, a lawyer, and Head of the Legal Department of the Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) Sri Lanka continues to fight for and defend the rights of the marginalized and vulnerable communities in the country, despite threats and challenges by the state.

“Ranitha has dedicated her career to accountability and justice for victims of enforced disappearances and prisoners detained often for years without charge under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act by providing free legal aid and related services. As an individual personally affected by the conflict and based on her extensive experience working with victims and their families, Ranitha has demonstrated tremendous passion and dedication to justice and accountability, especially for Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable populations.”

From the inception of this award in March 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries.

U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.

Following the virtual IWOC ceremony, the awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) virtual exchange and connect with their American counterparts.

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