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News

   
 

                           the fate of the poor


A destitute child with nowhere to go uses the Old Kesbewa Road, Nugegoda
as her table to do her school homework, after she lost her home, an
 unauthorised construction which was torn down by authorities last week
 oblivious to the heavy showers in Colombo. No alternative accommodation
 has been provided.

Keheliya on the dock 

By R. Wijewardene 

Documents in the possession of The Sunday Leader suggest that Defence Spokesman and Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare, Keheliya Rambukwella was  intimately  involved   in a series of massive frauds committed by the General Manager of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Agency.

The Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Agency is a state owned company  that provides overseas jobs to Sri Lankans looking for work abroad.  The company established in 1996 is essentially a subsidiary of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment and in 2006 it fell under the purview of the newly created Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare headed by Keheliya Rambukwella.

It is alleged that by appointing his former ministry secretary a Ranjini Nanayakkara as General Manager of the SLFEA Rambukwella was able to engineer a series of transactions through the SLFEA which ultimately benefited only himself or his close associates including his coordinating secretaries and brother.

 Documentary evidence suggests that Rambukwella, drove the SLFEA to purchase an overvalued piece of land at Nawala for   Rs. 60 million when the actual value of the land as per a state valuation was only Rs. 40 million. 

 Documents also indicate that vehicles purchased by the SLFEA including two double cabs and a Montero jeep were being used not by SLFEA personnel but by associates of Minister Rambukwella, including his brother. 

A further massive fraud seems to have been committed through the of payment of $190,000 (over Rs. 20 million) to a Korean company, Bohon Enterprises to which the SLFEA did not it appears owe any money.

 It also appears  that on Rambukwella’s behest over Rs. 3 million of SLFEA funds were diverted to print promotional material for  the Central Provincial Council election.  

The  total value of the various frauds that are alleged to have been committed amounts to over Rs.100 million and further a profitable and functional state owned company was reduced by these transactions to a state of financial ruin.

A clear paper trail seems to lead through Mrs. Nanayakkara to Rambukwella.  Yet when contacted Nanayakkara denied any responsibility for the mismanagement at the SLFEA and further claimed that Rambukwella played no part in the decisions taken at the company.

The documents in the Leader’s possession suggest otherwise and indicate that despite Nanayakkara’s denials there is a case for the Minister of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare to answer.

Unfortunately, Rambukwella is out of the country and was not able to respond directly to the Leader’s Exposé.

Former employees file court case

The Sunday Leader has learned that on Thursday, September 3 a court case was filed by 12 former employees of the SLFEA regarding fraud, mismanagement and mal practice at the  company with Rambukwella cited as the chief respondent.  


Dispute over number of IDPs in camps

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema 

A census carried out by the Vavuniya District Secretary’s office in July has revealed that 10,000 displaced persons who have entered the IDP camps in Vavuniya during the final phase of the war between the security forces and the LTTE were missing.

However, the police and the military have disputed the figure of 10,000 saying it could be even higher or lower than the stated amount due to the lack of accurate figures.

The report prepared by the Vavuniya District Secretary’s office has been handed over to the Vavuniya DIG’s office.

A senior official at the Vavuniya District Secretariat told The Sunday Leader that the census was carried out by the office along with the names registered by the army. However, he said the initial figures were not accurate.

“When the census was carried out, we took the maximum number of people in a camp and found there were many IDPs who were missing from the camps,” he said, adding that the number of missing IDPs does not include those who have been released officially with the approval of the District Secretariat.

The official said that authorities in charge of the IDP camps had not known the whereabouts of the missing persons.

“We are told that an investigation is being held to determine the whereabouts of the missing persons,” the official said.

However, the official said that many IDPs have managed to flee to India.

There are currently between 248,000-250,000 IDPs in welfare camps.

Vavuniya DIG Ravi Wijegunawardena said that he had not received any census report highlighting missing IDPs.

However, he said the number of IDPs missing from the camps could be even higher than 10,000, as there were no accurate figures on the number of IDPs who initially entered the camps.

Military Spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara also said there were no actual figures of the IDPs who initially entered into camps.

“However, there may have been several IDPs who have managed to flee the camps, as they cover a vast area and security cannot be provided to cover the entire area,” he said.


Tourism minister on an elimination spree  

By Nirmala Kannangara  

In an unexpected move which is likely to throw the country’s tourism sector into turmoil, Convention Bureau Chairman Prema Cooray and Ceylon Hotel School Chairman Cornel Perera have been asked to step down with immediate effect by Tourism Ministry Secretary George Michael.  

Speculation is rife that Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairman Bernard Gunathilake too would be removed within the next few days.

Ministry Secretary Michael on the orders of newly appointed Tourism Minister Nandana Gunathilake issued the removal order on Cooray and Perera.

Michael confirmed to The Sunday Leader that orders were issued to the two officials to immediately step down from their posts. He however refused to comment on the speculation of the possible removal of SLTDA Chairman.

Tourism sources however criticised Minister Gunathilake expressing their disappointment on the turn of events.

“After 30 long years with the end of the war, there were plenty of hope for a revival in the tourism industry but the sudden decision to remove the two Chairmen who have done a great deal of work towards the upliftment of the industry will definitely have a negative impact on the industry,” sources said.

They emphasised that such actions done for petty political gain would only result in the industry facing a further beating.


Colombo Dockyard in Rs. 525 million customs dispute 

By Faraz Shauketaly 

The Colombo Dockyard Ltd (CDL) is in a serious dispute with Sri Lanka Customs, in an attempt to avoid payment of a customs assessment of Rs. 525 million. The case has far reaching consequences for the manner in which customs collects revenue apart from duties — like TT / GST / NSL and Stamp Duty.

Sri Lanka Customs had asked the Attorney General to launch an appeal of a previous judgement, in the Supreme Court asking the nation’s highest court to rule on what the customs perceives as an ambiguous judgement delivered in the Court of Appeal with far reaching consequences.  

The case stems from the sale of 21 vessels by Colombo Dockyard Ltd. during a four-year period between 1997 and 2001. CDL had supplied 12 vessels to the Sri Lanka Navy and nine vessels to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). Under the terms of sale, the sale price included the  customs duty and the various levies, which CDL would then remit to Customs after delivery.  In the case of Sri Lanka Navy, the duty and levies were to be borne by the Navy and payable to customs by CDL

Customs had launched an enquiry into these sales and found that CDL had, in violation of the BOI agreement signed by them, not processed customs documents at all in respect of 15 of the vessels and in respect of the balance six had submitted customs documents after the vessels were delivered to the buyers. The amount in question is a staggering Rs. 525 million.

In a move that has the customs investigators in a complete muddle, the Attorney General, who was due to support this application in the Supreme Court early next week, has instructed his counsel to inform court that this will not be supported as agreed. This attempt by the Attorney General to attempt to settle this matter without reference to the petitioners and the Customs Investigating Officer, has drawn the wrath of the customs unions. They say that with the President not entirely happy with the level of revenue collection emanating from customs, this is yet another attempt to showcase customs in a poor light.

Vowing to institute action, they were confident that justice and fairplay will ensure that Article 28 (D) of the Constitution is not violated in any shape or form by customs officers and investigators.


Greed preventing President from implementing 17th Amendment – JVP

By Munza Mushtaq 

President Mahinda Rajapakse has come under heavy flak from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which has alleged that sheer voracity of the President has led to the non implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. 

JVP Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath told The Sunday Leader that it was obvious that the President did not want to implement the legislation because it would mean the pruning of his executive powers.

“Instead of trying to make the police, judiciary, public service and elections establishments independent, the President is politicising them,” he charged.

The JVP frontliner also noted that it was impossible to hold a free and fair election in the country due to the non-implementation of this legislation.

Meanwhile, JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe addressing a public rally last week declared that the country immediately needed an independent election commission and an independent police commission if the country is to witness an election which will be both free and fair.

Amarasinghe emphasised that the setting up of both these commissions was vital as a presidential election was slated for next year. “The opposition has no faith in the police because most of them are government henchmen, so it’s imperative that these independent commissions are appointed immediately,” he reportedly said.  

The execution of the 17th Amendment will result in the establishment of independent commissions to administer the police, judiciary, public service and elections.


Lasantha murder trial fixed for Sept.17 

The Mt. Lavinia Magistrate on Thursday, September 3 released the telephone data report of the Moratuwa University to the Mirihana Police for further investigation into the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Considering the request  of the Mirihana Police to record another statement from the alleged suspect in custody, the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate released the telephone data report to the Mirihana Police together with Wickrematunge’s mobile phone. The Wickrematunge murder trial will be taken up once again on September 17, at the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate’s Court.


Engineers cry foul against mega LNG power plant

By Munza Mushtaq 

The country's first ever 1000 MW Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fired power plant in Kerawalapitiya has run into fresh controversy with the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) alleging that authorities have resorted to unscrupulous methods in awarding the contract to the Australian company with local affiliations.

Highly placed sources attached to the union told The Sunday Leader that the plant which was inaugurated in May this year has been given the green light even without the vital feasibility study which will ascertain whether the power plant is a viable project for Sri Lanka or not.

The CEB commenced the feasibility study around six months back with Japanese assistance but Ministry of Power and Energy and other highly placed government officials have bypassed regulations and given the go-ahead for the inauguration of the project even before the study has been completed.

"When a similar study was carried out around two to three years ago, it was determined that a LNG plant of such a magnitude was not viable for a country such as ours, however, this time around even before the respective study has been completed the plant has been inaugurated, which means the plant has not followed the legal requirements," sources emphasised.

Meanwhile, the union sources also highlighted that the plant has not only bypassed general requirements but was also in contravention to the new Electricity Act, which was passed in parliament in March 2009.  


UK denying visas to local students

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema 

Many students planning to return to their universities to complete their degree programmes following the summer vacation, and those seeking to receive fresh admission to universities in the UK, are facing many difficulties due to the rejection of their UK visa applications.

Most of these students would miss out on the first few lessons of the new semester.

Visa Services Colombo Consultant Preethika Silva told The Sunday Leader that visa applications forwarded by students who were in Sri Lanka during the summer vacations, as well as new students, have been rejected.

The reason for this mass rejection of UK visa applicants has been attributed to the ‘fast changing criteria’ the UK Border Agency uses in granting visas.

Silva said the rejection of visa applications was mainly due to the Point Based System introduced by the Border Agency, where visas are approved according to points received by the applicants.

“The rules and regulations keep changing so fast that the students cannot cope with it,” she said. She explained that the problem faced by the students concerns the question on the maintenance fund where students are required to show they possess sufficient funds for the completion of the course. Meeting this requirement adds 10 points to the visa application.

A student seeking admission to a university in London is required to show the availability of 800 pounds for a period of nine months in his/her account under the maintenance fund question.

Silva noted that although the required amount is 800 pounds, certain questions in the visa application form on funds available to the applicant has made it important for the applicants to show all the funds in their possession. “If the applicant has not given the entire funds available, the Chennai officer rejects the application form,” she said.

The visa applications have so far been rejected on the basis of insufficient fund availability.

Therefore, any student applying for a visa needs to have between Rs. 8-13 million in his/her account. Previously, students were required to show funds amounting to one year’s course fees in their bank account, in addition to other assets.

Students returning within four months are required to show a two-month maintenance fund (800 pounds per month for a university in London and 600 pounds per month for a university out of London).

“We have now asked all students to write down their entire funds to prevent any confusion,” Silva said.

When asked if many students have been refused visas to the UK, Silva said that there were quite a few, and that they would even miss out on the first part of their semester if the applications are not processed fast.

She said that when a visa is rejected it takes time for the applicant to re-apply. However,  delays are possible because of the backlog created by new applications, which are processed along with re-applications. British High Commission Spokesperson Dominic Williams was not available for comment.


Cooking his way to Matara’s rest house 

By Raisa Wickrematunge 

Matara, one of the major cities in the south, is often touted as a tourist destination. Apart from being the terminus of the southern railway line, it is home to temples built by ancient kings, as well as being a bustling centre of industry. Of course, there’s also the beachfront for vacationers to enjoy.

Matara has fallen under Dutch and Portugese rule in the past. As a result, the area is rich in history, with foreign rulers incorporating their own architectural styles into the buildings. The city boasts two forts reflecting this: the Star Fort and the Matara Fort. Nestled within the larger Matara Fort is much of “old Matara.”

Full of culture, it drew many sightseers, some of whom, no doubt, made sure to stay at the Matara Rest House. This rest house is unique in that it is built on the old site of an elephant stable. Part of the stables has been preserved on the premises, which overlook the beach. This idyllic getaway has now become the centre of heated debate.

On August 27, it was reported that President Mahinda Rajapakse had taken steps to lease out the rest house building. The lease was to be at a price of Rs. 88,000 a month, for 33 years. The lucky recipient? A man named Sarath Kandambi, who allegedly cooked for the Rajapakses and the Medamulana Walawwa, the President’s ancestral home.

The Matara Rest House building is owned by the Urban Development Authority (UDA). However, the land on which the rest house stands belongs to the Matara Municipal Council (MMC).

A company named UDA Rest House Limited allegedly transferred the building and land to Kandambi. After that, chaos ensued. Matara Mayor Upul Nishantha intervened and refused to let anyone enter the premises, saying the transfer had been an illegal transaction. Meanwhile, it was reported that the President and the Working Director of the Lowland Development Board, Dishan Gunasekara, demanded that the key to the rest house premises be handed over to Kandambi. 

Kandambi himself said the agreement was not for ownership but simply for management of the rest house. He said the UDA had taken over management in 1982. Kandambi confirmed that the lease agreement meant he had to pay the UDA Rs. 80,000 per month. In addition, Kandambi said he was not the President’s cook, but had catered at some events held by the President.

Matara Mayor Upul Nishantha agreed that the Urban Development Authority only acquired the management of the rest house, not the land, in the1980s. The land belonged to the Municipal Council, he asserted. Nishantha claimed that the 2004 tsunami had destroyed the rest house, after which the UDA didn’t do anything to restore it.

The Matara Municipal Council had decided to call for tenders from the public for the rest house, according to Nishantha. However, Nishantha said that before this could be carried out the UDA had signed an agreement with Kandambi. He added that the UDA had not contacted the MMC about this agreement, as they should have done.

Around 10 days ago, Nishantha said he received a call from some officers saying someone was using heavy equipment at the rest house, and was “demolishing and repairing” the premises. “We didn’t know who this person was who was carrying out work on our land,” Nishantha said. Accordingly, the Mayor speedily rushed to the site with some police officers.

“The person said he had permission from the UDA, specifically from a company named UDA Rest House Ltd. We have never heard of this company. Moreover, the UDA did not tell us anything about Kandambi,” Nishantha said.

Enraged by what he considered an illegal act, Nishantha then told the people to “get out,” and threatened legal action. Since then, Nishantha confirmed that the rest house has remained closed. He added that the MMC was going to advertise the public tender in the newspapers, and said they would choose the best offer, and this person would get ownership of the coveted rest house. Nishantha said he was not averse to the idea of Kandambi getting ownership, provided he made the best offer. Until then, no one would be allowed access to the Matara Rest House, Nishantha said. 

Nishantha said that, to his knowledge, Kandambi was maintaining restaurants in Matara. He knew little else about him. He said Kandambi was not Rajapakse’s personal cook, and he heard from sources that Kandambi had never been a cook for the President.

Meanwhile Dishan Gunasekara, a relative of the President who, according to an earlier news report, threatened to forcibly enter the premises unless the key was handed over, said he was not connected with the fracas over the rest house in any way. “I am not involved,” Gunasekara said.

So, for the time being, the rest house goes ownerless. Which of the parties will prevail, the UDA or the MMC? Who is in the right? Will a prolonged legal battle commence as the premises lie unused? Will Kandambi finally get the keys to the rest house? Only time will tell.

One thing, however, is clear. Kandambi must be a consummate cook — a cordon-bleu chef of the highest order. Perhaps Kandambi charmed the President by producing mouthwatering crab curry at an event. Perhaps his achcharu or his kotthu rotti put everyone else’s to shame. Certainly he must have done something right, if, indeed, the President is keen for him to manage the Matara Rest House. 

Remember the saying: “The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”


Gods Law?

By R. Wijewardene

In his response to the outcry over the sentence passed on journalist J.S Tissainayagam Media and Information Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa was reported last week as having claimed that "discussing, criticizing and commenting on the judgments delivered by a court of law are sub judice and can be considered as Contempt of Court."

Understood verbatim this suggests that even talking about the sentence given to J. S. Tissainayagam ‘discussing’ can be considered Contempt of Court.

Yapa’s statement is patently and flagrantly false and seems to represent a deliberate attempt to intimidate the media and the general public. In no country on earth including Sri Lanka is it contempt of court to discuss a verdict.

Contempt of Court is a serious charge and conviction on contempt charges carries a mandatory jail sentence as was discovered by S.B. Dissanayake. By claiming that discussing or commenting on a verdict constitutes contempt of court Yapa is threatening the media and public with jail should they so much as mention the verdict given to Tissainayagam or in fact any other verdict ever delivered.

Fortunately according to leading lawyers Yapa’s statement is little more than bullying nonsense.

" He has not understood the meaning of sub judice," claimed Upul Jayasuriya, Attorney-At-Law and President of the Colombo Law Society. Explaining Jayasuriya said sub judice is meant only in cases that are under consideration; cases that are currently being heard where a verdict is pending.

Sub judice does not apply once a verdict has been passed as obviously the case is no longer under consideration. At this point the media or anyone else is free to comment on the verdict.

According to Presidents Counsel Srinath Perera; "A bona fide analysis and comments upon a judgment are permitted without casting any aspersion on the judge or the court which delivered such a judgment."

Therefore analysis and comment on a judgment is permitted so long as these comments do not cast aspersions – essentially defame the judges and the court responsible for the verdict.

Again discussion comment and even criticism of a judgment is permitted-and all that journalists and the public need be mindful of is that they do not in their criticism defame the judges or the court concerned.

Despite their essentially nonsensical nature Yapa’s comments raise a serious point.

Contempt of Court can be interpreted extremely broadly – and in Sri Lanka unlike India there are no clear statutes governing its interpretation.

The late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar raised this issue prior to his assassination and called for clear parameters regarding the interpretation of contempt of court to be defined.

However this initiative seems to have has fallen by the wayside. Yapa’s comments however make a strong case for the need for more clarity regarding what does and what does not constitute contempt of court. What is certain however is regardless of Mr. Yapa’s opinion both the media and the general public are free to discuss, comment on , and or even within reason criticize any judgment made by by any court - Sri Lanka in 2009 is not Orwell’s 1984 - at least not yet.


 

 

 

More News....

 

Dispute over number of IDPs in camps

 

Tourism minister on an elimination spree

Colombo Dockyard in Rs. 525 million
customs dispute
 

 

 

Greed preventing President from
implementing 17th Amendment – JVP

 

Lasantha murder trial fixed for Sept.17 

 

Engineers cry foul against mega
LNG power plant

 

UK denying visas to local students

 

Cooking his way to Matara’s rest house

 

Gods Law?


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