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SLC funds amounting to Rs 29 mn in US bank: SLC caught lying before COPE

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (9) said that the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had taken contradictory positions in respect of Rs. 29 mn deposited in an account belonging to an American identified as Diamond Channel.

SLPP National List lawmaker Prof. Herath made the revelation when The Island raised the simmering controversy over unbridled corrupt practices in respect of SLC operations over the years. The former Media Ministry Secretary pointed out that the SLC took up vastly different positions on the money transfer before the previous COPE, chaired by JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti, on Feb 20, 2020 and subsequently on Feb 11, 2021 and April 06, 2021.

Obviously, the possibility of a deliberate bid to deceive the parliamentary watchdog committee couldn’t be ruled out, the MP said.

Prof. Herath declared that the SLC lacked even the basic financial discipline expected of such a high-profile institution. How could the SLC deposit funds received as the third installment in broadcasting revenue due to it from the Sri Lanka-South Africa 2018 series in an American’s account? lawmaker Herath asked. Their finances had been run in such a shoddy manner, anyone of those in key positions could have moved funds anywhere with impunity, the first-time entrant to the parliament said, in response to another query.

The Island Sports yesterday reported that an abortive bid had been made by the SLC to deceive the Sony Company to transfer USD 5.5 to an offshore account in Hongkong.

According to records available with the COPE, initially the SLC’s Legal Officer Chalaka Silva had categorized the relevant agreement with the Sony Company for television broadcasting rights as a contract for radio broadcasting. When the then COPE Chairman Handunnetti pointed out what he asserted was a deliberate move to mislead the parliament, the Legal Officer promptly apologized. The Legal Officer also said that the SLC’s head of finance usually provided the relevant party – in this case Sony of the required bank details.

Asked whether the parliamentary committee received a plausible response when the top SLC administration was summoned by the COPE on April 6, 2021, Prof. Herath said the body seemed to be in chaos in the wake of continuing investigations into what he called unspeakable financial impropriety

The meeting called to examine the Auditor General’s 2017-2018 report on the SLC and its current status were lawmakers, Mahinda Amaraweera, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, D.V. Chanaka, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Eran Wickremaratne, S.M. Marikkar, Nalin Bandara, Premanath C. Dolawatte and S. Rasamanikkam.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ashley de Silva assured the COPE that the matter was under investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Prof. Herath said that it couldn’t be such a difficult task for the CID to ascertain the relationship between the SLC and the person who received the money.

The agreement with the Sony Company signed in July 2015 specified all details, including the account number of the Bank of Ceylon account maintained by the SLC. Prof. Herath noted Ashley de Silva had signed the contract on SLC’s behalf.

The Communication Department of the Parliament quoted Prof. Herath as having instructed Sports Ministry Secretary Anuradha Wijekoon to conduct an inquiry into this matter and submit a report within three months to the COPE.

Prof. Herath acknowledged that in spite of periodic examinations of SLC finances by the parliamentary watchdog committee, the country’s most influential sporting authority had managed to escape any penalty. That was the undeniable truth, the lawmaker said, adding that the SLC’s rash explanation as regards the hiring of Chandika Hathurusingha as the country’s head coach in Dec 2017 was similar to that of plot in a detective story. Referring to the explanation given by CEO Ashley de Silva, who had played three Tests and four ODI in 80-90s for the country, Prof. Herath said that the relevant agreement had been finalized by two outsiders, namely Hathurusingha, one of the parties to the agreement and a lawyer named Kaushalya. The SLC took up the position the agreement was prepared in secret as Hathurusingha insisted he wouldn’t go ahead with the contract if it was revealed under any circumstances. Prof. Heath said that the whole exercise seemed to be something out of a detective story.

The then Sports Minister Harin Fernando called for Hathurusingha’s removal in the wake of Sri Lanka’s poor performance at the sixth ICC World Cup in 2019. Hathurusinghe sued the SLC over the premature termination of his contract. The COPE was told the role played by the then President of the Board of Control of Cricket Tilanga Sumathipala and Vice President K. Mathivanan, who quit the post in July 2020 following a spat with other board members.

Prof. Herath has told the COPE meeting on April 6 if the court case in respect of Hathurusingha’s removal went against the SLC, in terms of the contract, the latter would have to pay the former coach Rs 100 mn, in addition to legal fees amounting to Rs 30 mn so far incurred. Prof. Herath pointed out that the SLC was paying a heavy price for negotiating a contract under mysterious circumstances.

Sports Ministry Secretary Wijekoon declared before COPE that he was not satisfied with the way the SLC managed its finances. Wijekoon revealed various persons had received monthly payments ranging from Rs 200,000 to 600,000 under questionable circumstances.

In spite of changes to the top management team, CEO Ashley de Silva has remained at the helm for 13 years. During the tenure of Tilanga Sumathipala as the President of the Board of Control of Cricket the CEO received an unprecedented salary increase, well informed sources told The Island. Shammi Silva succeeded Sumathipala in Feb 2019.

Prof. Herath said that some former members of the SLC executive committee were not allowed to participate at the April 6 meeting though they arrived at the parliament.

Prof. Herath said that those responsible had allowed the deterioration. The failure on the part of the Director General of Sports and the absence of proper procurement guidelines, too, has been highlighted along with payments made to various cricket associations with an eye on cricket board elections.

At the conclusion of the April 6 inquiry Prof. Herath instructed Sports Ministry Secretary Wijekoon to initiate legal proceedings against those members of the SLC’s executive committee found guilty of financial impropriety. Wijekoon was also asked to secure the assistance of the AG in this regard.

Responding to another query, Prof. Herath said that he discussed the issues at hand with Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa. The issues raised included the continuation of Ashley de Silva as the CEO regardless of happenings at the SLC.



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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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