Defrauded of millions
The Rs. 60 million
house purchased for the
SLFEA at 12, Narahenpita Road, Nawala
made by the SLFEA to
Kuma sticker company
transferred to Rambukwella’s ‘fleet’
Chairman SLFEA to Chairman
stop the land deal
made by Nanayakkara to
her husband Gamini Jayantha
By R. Wijewardene
Keheliya Rambukwella is amongst the most prominent and
powerful of the country’s overabundance of ministers.
Defence Spokesman he is the face of the military
establishment and was throughout the final days of the
war the liaison between a media eager for information
and an army determined to prevent any journalistic
intrusion into the business of war.
successfully managing both international and domestic
media coverage of the war and relentlessly putting
across the view of the government both in the local and
international media Rambukwella won broad plaudits and
came to be seen as an indispensable member of the
government’s inner circle.
Defence Spokesman however is only one of the hats worn
by the able Rambukwella whose primary function as a
government servant is his roll as Foreign Employment
Promotion and Welfare Minister. And it is in this
capacity — as Minister-in-Charge of Sri Lanka’s second
largest source of foreign exchange — foreign employment,
that documents in the possession of The Sunday Leader
suggest his conduct has been less than exemplary.
An ancient sin
fact volumes of documentary evidence now in our
possession suggest that the Honourable Keheliya
Rambukwella has been involved in an ancient sin, a vice
no Sri Lankan public official seems able to avoid, and a
word ubiquitous in Sri Lankan politics — corruption.
common of course is this vice, that the very word
‘corruption’ has been cheapened by over use. In today’s
Sri Lanka abuse of power and authority is so
commonplace that petty thefts, illegal appointments, or
minor frauds committed by government officials are
hardly considered newsworthy.
case of the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Agency (SLFEA)
— a state owned enterprise which falls under the purview
of the Ministry headed my Rambukwella is different
however because of the scale of the fraud that appears
to have taken place.
Documents and sources suggest that a once profitable and
successful government owned company has been defrauded
of millions of rupees as a result of interference from
the Foreign Employment Promotion Ministry.
Allegations extremely serious
evidence in this case is extensive and some of the
allegations extremely serious. The suggestion is that
the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Agency, as that rarest
of things — a profitable state owned company — was
simply viewed as a cash cow by senior officials in the
Foreign Employment Ministry including Rambukwella who by
interfering in the management of the company were able
to defraud the SLFEA of millions of rupees worth of
fully understand the nature and extent of the fraud and
the involvement of the Ministry and Rambukwella however
it is necessary to tell the story of the SLFEA and its
transition from a profitable public company to its
current state as a shambolic and near bankrupt state
enterprise, struggling to pay the salaries of its staff
and stuffed with the inefficient cronies of senior
1996 the government under the direction of then Labour
Minister Mahinda Rajapakse incorporated the Sri Lanka
Foreign Employment Agency — a state owned employment
agency established to compete with the dozens of private
agencies offering local workers jobs overseas.
Provider of foreign employment
licensed and legitimate provider of foreign employment,
the SLFEA was an immediate success and between 1996
-2008 thousands of workers found employment abroad,
particularly in South Korea, through the agency.
charging a fee for these placements the SLFEA was able
to earn healthy profits, and by 2008 the company
possessed almost Rs.160 million in various fixed
healthy finances in a state institution are almost
unheard of. What’s even more remarkable is that the
SLFEA was able to achieve these returns not with the
usual wastage and extravagance associated with the
public sector but with just 35 staff operating out of a
small office in Narahenpita.
every sense the SLFEA was a model public enterprise;
sadly in Sri Lanka models are rarely emulated in fact,
particularly in the public sector profitable models tend
quickly to fall prey to the greed and covetousness of
powerful politicians and their cronies.
appears to be what happened when in 2006 the government
it its quest to enter the Guinness Book Of Records by
creating more ministries than any other nation in the
world established the Ministry of Foreign Employment
Promotion with Rambukwella serving as the relevant
SLFEA fell under the purview of this new Ministry and in
fact with its rich coffers of fixed deposits the Sri
Lanka Foreign Employment Agency was one of the
Ministry’s principle assets.
wealth was to be the company’s undoing, where once the
SLFEA had functioned without significant political
interference in the years following the incorporation of
the Foreign Employment Promotions Ministry, politicians,
it seems particularly Rambukwella would take an
unhealthy interest in the company.
2008, a Ranjini Nanayakkara was appointed by Rambukwella
to serve as General Manager of the SLFEA.
Political appointments to key positions in public
companies are of course just par for the course in Sri
Lanka except that in this case it appears that the
installation of Nanayakkara as General Manager, spelled
the beginning of the end for the once well managed SLFEA.
A retired officer
Nanayakkara had previously been Ministry Secretary at
the Foreign Employment Ministry and worked directly with
Rambukwella. And as a pension drawing retired officer
her appointment made without the approval of the Public
Service Commission (PSC) appears to violate the terms of
PSC Circular No. 03/2003 which states that retired
officers can only be appointed to government
institutions with the prior approval of the Public
Despite drawing a salary of only Rs. 40,000, documents
in the possession of The Sunday Leader suggest that
Nanayakkara consistently drew an extravagant fuel
allowance exceeding Rs.18,000, while also, questionably
in view of the PSC circular, drawing a pension from her
previous position as secretary to the ministry.
course the matter of a few thousand questionable rupees
is no more than the slightest of quibbles where
corruption in Sri Lanka is concerned.
serious are documents that indicate she authorised the
company to lease a vehicle — No. WP KK3204 belonging to
her husband for Rs. 40,000 a month violating the usual
practice made for payments in the SLFEA, by herself
approving cheques which were paid directly to her
again Rs. 40,000 worth of pocket money is but the most
minor of peccadilloes, but where dubious transactions in
public companies are concerned of course, what starts as
thousands quickly becomes hundreds of thousand and then
millions, and in this case these initial thousands
appear to have been only the beginning.
cement her position and influence within the company in
early November 2008, Nanayakkara appears to have made a
number of transfers moving some of the senior staff who
had served the company well during its decade of
profitability to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign
acting manager of administration and crucially the
manager of business promotions and publicity were
transferred from the SLFEA to the SLBFE without any of
the normal transfer procedures — inquiry, board approval
being followed. The relevant transfers were effected
with exceptional rapidity and the transferred managers
were in fact barred from entering the premises of the
transfers particularly the removal of the manager in
charge of business promotions and publicity would prove
crucial — in light of what happened next; the Central
Provincial Council elections.
Cut-outs for election
the connection between a Narahenpita based employment
agency and the Central Provincial Council election is
may seem unclear. However, in November 2008 the SLFEA
paid Rs. 2. 5 million to a company named Kuma Printers
to print and fix cut-outs for a promotional campaign.
While the expenditure on these cut-outs was listed as
expenses incurred for business promotion in reality the
cut-outs were posters used for campaigning in the
Central Provincial Council election. It must be
remembered that Rambukwella himself hails from the
Subsequently in December 2008 another Rs.1.8 million was
spent by the SLFEA on printing 100,000 calendars bearing
photographs of Rambukwella. Again the expenditure was
justified as business promotion. Needless to say the
SLFEA’s business promotion manager had never mentioned
the need for 100,000 Keheliya calendars.
the money of a state company was diverted for use in a
minister’s electioneering is in itself a serious
allegation. However in the case of the SLFEA the two or
Rs.3 million that appear to have been diverted to
provide more publicity to Rambukwella is little more
than the tip of the iceberg. The scale of the financial
rape of a once wealthy company would reach an altogether
different level with the purchase in October 2008 and
February 2009, of two new double cab vehicles for over
Used by other parties
vehicles were purchased under the direction of
Nanayakkara. Of course any company needs new vehicles to
function, what is unusual however is that in this case
the vehicles purchased by the SLFEA were not used by the
SLFEA but by other parties only remotely or simply not
connected to the company.
double cab WP PB 7251 was issued to Waruna Lasantha
Liyanage, a coordinating secretary to Rambukwella, not
on the staff of the SLFEA.
second Double Cab PB 7729 was issued to a Anura
Weerasekera, also a coordinating secretary to
Rambukwella not employed by the SLFEA.
reality it seems the second vehicle is used by a
Buddhist monk, Ven. L. Seelanada Thero, one of 17
coordinators on the payroll of SLFEA, but who according
to sources in the company has never set foot in the
building nor done any service to the SLFEA.
course the expenses for both vehicles, fuel, maintenance
etc., are borne by the SLFEA despite the fact that the
vehicles do not appear to be used for SLFEA work. Both
vehicles draw monthly fuel and service bills in excess
of Rs. 30,000.
transfer of a vehicle bought by the SLFEA to
coordinators of Rambukwella not attached to the SLFEA is
suspicious. However far more troubling is the matter of
the Montero jeep WP HM1897 belonging to the SLFEA which
is now reportedly being used by the brother of Minister
Minister’s brother Lalith Rambukwella operates a
catering business and a rival foreign employment agency
called ‘Sheikh,’ one which actually competes with the
no direct connection with the SLFEA which begs the
question as to why he is currently using a vehicle
belonging to the SLFEA. Once again the fuel expenses of
the Montero are of course borne by the SLFEA.
every case documents authorising the purchase and
transfer of the vehicles concerned were signed by
Nanayakkara without the approval of the company’s board
of directors — which was required for transactions
involving more than Rs. 500,000.
there is a clear and questionable nexus between
Nanayakkara and Rambukwella with Nanayakkara authorising
transactions which appear to benefit her former boss
Rambukwella, without consulting the chairman and board
of the SLFEA.
millions spent on vehicles that were eventually
transferred to the ‘fleet’ of Rambukwella would have
paid the salaries of all the original 34 employees at
the SLFEA for years. But of course the list of dubious
transactions apparently effected by Nanayakkara for the
benefit of Rambukwella does not end there — in fact the
value of these transactions only continued to increase.
January 2009 Mrs. Nanayakkara’s dealings moved from
vehicles to real estate.
January 8, 2009 through its GM, the SLFEA paid Rs. 62
million for a house in Nawala.
However the same house had been valued by a government
valuation dated 24.09.2008 just four months previously
at Rs. 42.5 million. It is also reported that the seller
divulged that he wanted only Rs. 52 million for the
Therefore in purchasing the property for Rs. 62 million
the SLFEA paid Rs. 10 million above the asking price and
20 million more than the government valuation suggested
was the real value of the property.
again begs the question why did the SLFEA spend so many
millions above what the government valuer considered was
the real value of the property?
Minister had personal interest
answer according to senior officials at the SLFEA is
that Minister Keheliya Rambukwella had a personal
interest in the sale of the property.
extraordinary letter from Chairman, SLFEA, N.M. Shaheed
written to Chairman, Foreign Employment Bureau Kingsley
Ranawaka, Shaheid implores Ranawaka to use his influence
with Minister Rambukwella to dissuade him from
purchasing the house.
letter Shaheed writes, “I am reliably informed the value
of the property has come down these days and this
property will not fetch more than Rs.50 million. I met
the Minister and told him we had better look for another
property … but the Minister is keen because he is being
pressured by his brother.”
Shaheed goes on to state that the SLFEA as a service
organisation does not need such large and expensive
premises. And explains that the SLFEA currently pays Rs.
140,000 as monthly rent and that the expenditure of Rs.
64 million would cause a dramatic and devastating
decrease in the value of the company’s fixed deposits.
concludes by beseeching Ranawaka to use his “good office
with the Minister and drop this idea of buying this
allegation in this case is shocking. In his letter
Shaheed claims that at the behest of his brother
Rambukwella is driving the purchase of the Nawala house
at an inflated price.
clear that Shaheed at least firmly believes that
Rambukwella was behind the transaction.
course despite Shaheed’s initial objections on January
8, the relevant documents were signed by Nanayakkara and
the SLFEA purchased the Nawala property for Rs. 62
the nexus between Nanayakkara and Minister Rambukwella
is clear with the former secretary to the ministry
executing transactions favourable to her former boss.
result of the land transaction the SLFEA saw its fixed
deposit base decimated.
company that paid only Rs. 140,000 a month in rent paid
Rs. 62 million for a new property worth not more than Rs.
50 million. But most shocking of all is the fact that
the house at No. 12, Narahenpita Road, Nawala continues
to stand empty.
SLFEA has not made any steps to transfer its operations
to the new premises and continues to pay rent.
Waste is outrageous
waste is outrageous and the allegation that it was
driven to further the interests of a Minister and his
family is extremely grave.
this point the extravagant purchases authorised by
Nanayakkara – millions of rupees in printing, and tens
of millions for vehicles and the new but unoccupied
premises had left the once profitable and financially
stable SLFEA desperately short of funds. It seems
however that the company had not yet been bled enough.
January 2009 the SLFEA would be the subject of yet
another dubious and massive transaction.
SLFEA specialised in finding Sri Lankan workers
employment in Korea. The majority of these workers were
sent to Korea through an industrial placement scheme and
the SLFEA paid a $700 fee to a Korean agent, Bohon
Entrust Company for each successful placement.
4000 trainees had been sent to Korea through this scheme
and according to senior employees of the company all the
money owed to Bohon had been paid.
However, in August 2008 Bohon claimed that as a result
of a subsequent agreement signed by Kingsley Ranawaka of
the SLBFE an additional $46,000 was owed to them — $40
for every trainee sent to Korea since 2006.
demand was startling as former employees of SLFEA claim
that all the money owed to Bohon had already been paid.
However on December 5, 2008 the SLFEA received a letter
from the Bohon Chairman claiming that $195,000 was in
fact owed by the SLFEA to the Bohon company but that the
Korean company was prepared to settle for just $ 46,000
leaving the balance $150,000 as a ‘donation.’
However on January 12, the same Korean company wrote to
Keheliya Rambukwella demanding the full 195,000 dollars.
The Minister then wrote to the Chairman of the SLFEA
Shaheed saying “look into this if the amount stated is
in the accounts as a liability make the necessary
Shaheed then called for a report from SLFEA’s accountant
to investigate the reality behind Bohon’s claims,
however before that report was delivered on January 15,
$195,000 — over Rs. 20 million was transferred to the
Money deposited at DFCC
transfer was doubly suspicious as $ 46,608 — the amount
originally demanded by Bohon was transferred to a bank
in Korea while $146,692 was transferred to a DFCC Bank
account numbered 007106001006 allegedly maintained by a
Korean national, Mr. D. J. Kim.
an open question therefore if the 146,000 dollars paid
to the local bank account ever reached Korea.
is ultimately alleged is that a spurious transaction was
carried out – as no money was really owed the Korean
company and no investigation into the accounts showed a
payment was authorised by Nanayakkara in violation of
the company’s rules which required that the approval of
the company’s chairman and board of directors be sought
before the transfer of such large amounts of money.
as only $46,000 was sent to Korea what happened to the
remaining $148,000 is a mystery and as this transaction
too appears to have been driven by Nanayakkara whose
actions previously seem to have benefited Rambukwella
rather than the SLFEA the final destination of the money
Whatever happened to the money allegedly paid to the
Bohon company the effect of the $195,000 payment was to
cripple the SLFEA.
company once running at a healthy profit was now running
at a loss and a voluntary retrenchment scheme was
announced in July 2009 to allow the company to cut
alleged of course that only the gross mismanagement of
the SLFEA’s assets made the retrenchment programme
necessary and that for the most part productive long
term employees of the SLFEA are now being retrenched
against their will.
Further while permanent staff of the SLFEA are now being
retrenched the company continues to maintain 17
coordinators appointed by Rambukwella. These
coordinators including a Buddhist priest, the
aforementioned Seelananda Thero and UPFA provincial
council member Linton Wijesinghe, have according to
staff at the SLFEA never set foot on the company’s
Further, the allowance of approximately Rs. 25,000 each
– or Rs. 500,000 a month in total paid to these
coordinators by the SLFEA is not paid directly to the
individual concerned but deposited directly in the bank
account of Anura Weerasekera, the coordinating secretary
the final destination of the money is open to question
but what is clear is that the SLFEA has ultimately been
ruined by a series of poor investments. The financial
state of the company in early 2008 compared to its state
in July 2009 hardly a year after Nanayakkara was
appointed GM is testimony to its mismanagement.
However more than simply mismanagement there is evidence
to suggest that the transactions that brought the SLFEA
to its present penurious state were driven by
Nanayakkara to further the interests of Rambukwella.
scale of the alleged fraud amounts ultimately to over
Rs.100 million and even more significantly the
destruction of a revenue generating public company.
the severity of these allegations cannot be
overestimated as at every level there are suggestions of
flagrant mismanagement – imprudent transfer of vehicles,
land purchases and huge financial transfers without
documentary evidence behind these transactions in almost
every case leads to Nanayakkara and through her to
coordinating secretaries at the Ministry of Foreign
Employment and to Rambukwella himself.
The Sunday Leader was informed that Rambukwella is not
in the country at present and that he will only be able
to comment on these allegations when he returns to Sri
Lanka on Monday.
the gravity of the allegations and the weight of
documentary evidence in our possession we are eagerly
awaiting his response.
The other side of the coin
Ranjini Nanayakkara claims that the allegations
against her and Rambukwella are completely false.
While documents in the possession of The Sunday
Leader suggest that the mismanagement at the SLFEA
stemmed from the appointment of Nanayakkara as
General Manager of the company there are always
two sides to every story and when contacted the
SLFEA’s GM denied that either she or Rambukwella was
responsible for the mismanagement at the SLFEA.
Instead Nanayakkara claimed that the mismanagement
began in the years prior to her appointment during
which time one Shaheed was chairman of the company.
She alleged that before her appointment transfers
were made without proper authorisation and the
finances of the company were in disarray. She
further claimed that the SLFEA was grossly
overstaffed as private employment agencies employed
just five or six staff compared to the 34 at the
Further she claimed that the majority of these
members of staff were in fact political appointments
who not only failed to work for the benefit of the
company but actively sabotaged her efforts to
restructure the business. She claimed that a fire on
the premises was started by these employees who were
disgruntled by her efforts to make the company more
transparent and efficient.
Regarding the allegation of the overvalued property
at Nawala she claimed the purchase was necessary as
the SLFEA would have to quit its current premises at
Narahenpita later this year. She continued however
that due to the poor financial state of the company
the SLFEA had been unable to carry out the necessary
refurbishment of the building at Nawala and that
therefore the SLFEA would in the short term be
compelled to find alternative premises perhaps
within the Employment Promotions Ministry.
However this explanation begs the question as to why
such an expensive building was purchased in the
Regarding the issues of the vehicles purchased by
the SLFEA but used by other parties including
Rambukwella’s brother she claimed that all the
vehicles in question were used by coordinators who
found business for the SLFEA.
Throughout the conversation she insisted that
Rambukwella had nothing to do with transactions at
the SLFEA and that all the transactions had gone
through the company’s Chairman and Board of
Directors. She blamed the allegations and documents
in the possession of The Sunday leader on
disgruntled former employees.
Given the two widely contrasting account of events
at the SLFEA The Leader will leave it to the public
to decide what they believe really happened at the
However we eagerly await the response of Rambukwella
as the documents in our possession regardless of
Nanayakkara’s defence suggest that there is a case
for him to answer.