Big land trans­ac­tion pro­posed by Pres­i­dent, not by Ma­lik

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS -

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.

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