Big land transaction proposed by President, not by Malik
President Maithripala Sirisena submitted a Cabinet Memorandum ( dated July 19 2016) to obtain approval for the transfer of state land located at Baladaksha Mawatha) between Beira Lake and Shangri La Hotel on a 99 year lease to a Singapore based company. It was approved.
The extent of three acres, three roods and five perches will go to Perennial Real Estate Holdings (PREH), a subsidiary of the Shangri La Group. Originally it was meant for a US$ 200 million mixed development project including a condominium unit. However, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) thereafter decided in June last year that the Chief Government Valuer should revalue the project since the previous valuation had been done in June 2014.
The Defence Ministry’s then Secretary Karunasena Hettiaratchchi told the CCEM that it was the previous Government that had called for offers for the land in question and picked on Perennial Real Estate Holdings.
There were some serious errors in references made to this land transaction in the box story on this page headlined “Commission to probe Sri Lankan and Mihin Lanka.”
Malik Samarawickrema, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade has sent in a letter where he says ,“Please be informed that your statement that I submitted a proposal for three acres of state land to be sold outright at Galle Face Green is completely untrue. If a ministerial colleague of mine has given this wrong information to you, all I can say that it is a deliberate mischievous attempt on his part to create dissension among the Cabinet of Ministers and two main parties.
“For the record I wish to inform you that the original Cabinet Paper on this subject was presented by H.E. The President as Minister of Defence since the land was occupied by the Ministry of Defence. The Cabinet has already approved the proposal to give this land to the investor on a lease basis…..”
The error is deeply regretted. As confirmed by Minister Samarawickrema, President Sirisena’s Cabinet Memorandum, a copy of which was seen by the Sunday Times, recommended that the Commissioner General of Lands be directed to transfer the block of land to the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka as a free outright grant within the provisions of the State Lands Ordinance. It was decided that the BOI would thereafter lease out the land on a 99-year lease subject to obtaining a fresh valuation from the Chief Government Valuer to the project company incorporated to implement the project.
It was decided that the BOI should recover the lease premium upfront in a single instalment, based on the valuation by the Government Chief Valuer and remit the entire lease premium to the Consolidated Fund of the Treasury. The BOI comes under Minister Samarawickrema.
When the subject came up for discussion at the weekly ministerial meeting on October 31, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka expressed some reservations. As a result, President Sirisena sought a week’s time to respond. It came when the confirmation of minutes of the earlier Cabinet meeting was taken up. Petroleum Corporation (CPC) was also delayed. Initially it was expected to arrive on November 2 but was delayed till November 8. The supplier (TOTAL) meanwhile flew in a representative to Colombo. He suggested that they can do ship to ship filtration and correct the stock. He explained that this was a standard practice
when particles, surfacing to the top when the ship is moving, are corrected.
This offer was discussed at the Technical Specifications Committee (TSC) meeting of the CPC and the CPSTL on October 25. It had been pointed out that once the product is clearly filtered from one ship to another, it will amount to a new product in a new ship with a new Bill of Lading. It had also been discussed that the stocks will be allowed to be discharged at the two ports in question subject to specifications of the product being certified by CPSTL.
Petroleum Minister Arjuna Ranatunga who chaired the meeting had declared that the stock will not be accepted. LIOC Managing Director Shyam Bohra’s appeals, explaining that previously such practice had been allowed were turned down by Minister Ranatunga. Thereafter, the Technical Specifications Committee (TSC) is alleged to have changed its earlier stance that the LIOC had agreed to go by the Minister’s decision – reject the stock. However, the LIOC has strongly denied this assertion. By then, word had leaked and there was panic buying of petrol stocks. However, LIOC cancelled its contract with TOTAL and ordered another stock of 15,000 metric tonnes of petrol. This was due on November 9. The LIOC and Total are now in a court battle.
Did any local official try to create or seize the opportunity to make spot purchases of petrol, which is more costly? Would that mean more commissions? The matter is also now being examined. Making it worse was the fact that President Sirisena had not been briefed that there could be a shortage although some officials knew it. Nor was Premier Wickremesinghe briefed.
There is little doubt that this week’s petrol shortage, besides earning the wrath of the people, has other adverse effects. One is on the Government’s repeated calls for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Would-be investors will be discouraged by the Government’s failure making them believe fuel supplies could be interrupted at any time. Another is tourist arrivals with some of the tourists stranded in the outstations unable to visit Colombo for their departures. Utopian ideals of modernising Sri Lanka, venturing into state of the art communications, grandiose projects and promises of a million jobs among others are of no use if a Government cannot ensure there is no petrol shortage that badly disturbs the lives of almost every citizen. That it comes at a time when there is strained relations between the two coalition partners is even more worrying. More so, when one UNP minister had allegedly been responsible for most of the ills and no corrective action has been taken.