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Spotlight

 

 

Corruption and party cronyism in the port

By Nirmala Kannangara

Despite continuous allegations leveled against the government for permitting its own party supporters to get involved in public transactions, startling revelations have come to the fore from the country’s main import and export center, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), where, for the first time in the country’s trade union history, the ruling party trade union affiliated to the SLPA has been allowed to register as a company under the company registration ordinance.

The registration is alleged to permit the new company to be involved in SLPA ‘businesses’ in future.

However, along with the SLFP trade union at SLPA being registered as a company, there is also a conflict of interest, as the General Secretary of the trade union also functions as an SLPA Working Director.

SLPA Working Director Prasanna Kalutarage functions as the Managing Director of the newly formed company.

The SLPA’s power

The SLPA is one of the foremost business entities in the land, engages with transactions worth millions of rupees daily and has many affiliated companies. However, the government’s decision to allow its SLPA trade union branch to be registered as a company to get them involved in future SLPA businesses has raised concern among the 14,600 SLPA employees.

A senior manager from the SLPA Legal Division, who wished to remain anonymous told The Sunday Leader that, since the SLFP trade union was registered as a company, there is uncertainty among the employees whether they would be deprived of the benefits they have enjoyed over the years.

“The SLPA could be rated as one of the very few companies in the country that offered many benefits to its employees in the past, but later reduced its facilities due to bad administration,” he said. “Employees’ salary increases have been stopped and overtime has been reduced over the last few years due to bad administration policies. The SLPA is no longer a public institution but has become a political organisation. Rather than looking after its employees, the administration is working to a political agenda and only the SLFP party supporters benefit.”

He further said that family fiefdoms reign at the SLPA and added that since the ruling party trade union was registered as a company the situation could become worse in the days to come.

“The union General Secretary is functioning as the SLPA Working Director and since the trade union became a company this same Working Director is functioning as its Managing Director, which is strictly against the rules and regulations. According to the company law I do not know whether this is legally accepted, but it is clear that the new company would get all future SLPA tenders with the blessings of this particular director, and, if so, the present deteriorating situation at the Ports Authority could lead to a further serious problem,” he added.

This is the first time that a trade union affiliated to an authority has gotten registered as a company under the company registration ordinance.

However, Senior Attorney-at-law Upul Jayasuriya, when contacted by The Sunday Leader to ascertain whether there is any legal provision for a trade union to register as a company, said that although there are no legal objections for a trade union to register as a company, it is completely unethical.

Greed for money

Meanwhile, Secretary Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya - Ports Authority Branch (JSSPA), Udeni Kaluthantri told The Sunday Leader that the sole purpose of the government in getting its trade union to register as a company is to make money for themselves, as seen in how the government members are making money from wherever they can.

“We were surprised when we learned that the SLPA–SLFP trade union had gotten themselves registered as a company, but we expected this to happen from the way the SLFP trade union members at the Ports Authority were involved in business transactions from the time this government came into power,” Kaluthantri said.  

According to Kaluthantri, the intention behind the registration of the new company was not to strengthen the SLPA work but to gain concessions for the party and its members in getting involved in its future ‘businesses.’

“Even a small child would know how much the SLPA earned through its many transactions,” Kaluthantri said. “However, since the UPFA came into power, not only the politicians that meddled with its work but also the party supporters are making full use of the SLPA funds for their benefit. Since the SLFP trade union got registered as a company, they have not only got involved in SLPA work but would also make bids in enormous tenders, bypassing tender procedures.”

Questions have also been raised as to why the government has allowed SLPA Working Director Prasanna Kalutarage to function as the Managing Director of the newly formed company as this alone could benefit the company in securing many SLPA tenders in future.

All attempts by The Sunday Leader to contact the SLPA Chairman to find out why he has allowed Prasanna Kalutarage to hold the post of Working Director at a time when he is functioning as the Managing Director of a SLPA affiliated company were unsuccessful.

However, the JSSPA said that when they raised this issue with the SLPA management they were told that any person could hold office at the SLPA, even if they hold office at SLPA-affiliated companies.

Kalutarage denies charges

Working Director Kalutarage told The Sunday Leader that there is no problem with him serving in the SLPA board while holding the post of Managing Director in the company.

“If I am not drawing a salary as a working director, and if I am the managing director in a company that would bring many benefits to the SLFP trade union members, there is no question over serving in these two boards. Not only the SLFP trade union members would benefit from the transactions of this company but all SLPA employees would benefit,” claimed Kalutarage.

 “We were taken aback when we were told this, as earlier nobody was allowed to be in the SLPA board if that same person was a sitting member of yet another board affiliated to the SLPA,” claimed Kaluthantri.

However, one of the Directors of the newly-formed company, Susantha Wijetunge told The Sunday Leader that their company was registered under the company registration ordinance a few months ago, and added that the entire procedure was carried out legally and that now they could bid at any future SLPA tender.

Meanwhile, according to Wijetunge the new company ‘Nidahas Sevaka Varaya (Pvt) Ltd’ has been registered under PV 63912 and President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Ports and Aviation Minister have given their approval to enter in ‘businesses’ at the Ports Authority in future.

“To get this company registered we got the approval from both the President and Ports and Aviation Minister who have given their blessings for us to enter in businesses at the SLPA in future,” added Wijetunge.  

“We are proud to say that the SLFP Ports Authority Branch was the first trade union that was registered as a company under the company registration act and now we are legally eligible to get involved in future Ports Authority work,” Wijetunge said.

More lucrative opportunities

Meanwhile, the JSSPA alleged that the new company has already taken over the maintenance of the Colombo Port parapet wall that runs from Colombo Fort to Colombo 14 as a first step to making money for themselves.

“The new company has already taken over the maintenance of the port parapet wall and it is learnt that they are going to sell the wall to private companies for advertisements. The estimated revenue from this alone would be Rs. 600 lakhs, and the contract to supply raw food items  to Asia’s largest kitchen. The Ports Authority kitchen has also been taken over by the same company within the last few weeks,” Kaluthantri alleged.

According to Kaluthantri, the SLPA employees will take legal action against the move to register the SLFP union as a company and added that out of the 14,610 employees more than 14,000 would have to suffer as a result of the arbitrary action taken to give the maximum assistance to the UPFA supporters.


 
 
 
 

 

 


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