Fisheries Funds Spent To Boost Rajapaksa Image

  • Image boosting not a waste of money, insists former deputy minister

By Nirmala Kannangara

An election rally of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) regime is accused of lavishly spending millions of rupees to build Rajapaksa’s image in order to reinforce the party’s attempt to hang on to power by deceiving people with public funds.

Such an incident was revealed last week where a staggering Rs.13.2 million had allegedly been spent for just one public meeting, where former President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended in Negombo in the run up to the 2015 presidential election.

It has now been revealed that the money that was spent for this meeting was part of the funds that were allocated for the Negombo Lagoon Development Project.

Former Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, former Chairman of the Ceylon Fisheries Harbour Corporation (CFHC) Upali Liyanage and the former general manager are accused of colluding in spending a large sum of money for the Negombo public meeting held on December 30, 2014 – just nine days prior to the presidential election.

The Sunday Leader will today expose details of this alleged irregularity in the interest of the public.

Copy of the document

When contacted, Media Secretary to the former President, Rohan Weliwita, as to why such a large amount of public money was spent to promote Mahinda Rajapaksa’s image in the run up to the last presidential election, Weliwita said that he was unaware of it, but promised to call back to provide details.

“As I am not aware of this, I have to check with the relevant people and come back to you,” Weliwita said. However, he did not return the call till the newspaper went for publication.

Meanwhile, reliable sources from CFHC, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Sunday Leader how part of the funds that was allocated for the Negombo Lagoon Development Project was used to hold the Negombo meeting in the guise of laying the foundation stone ceremony for the proposed project.

“Since Negombo is the constituency of Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, who was the Deputy Minister of Fisheries at that time and President Rajapaksa was the Minister in charge of the subject (after former Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne crossed over to the opposition), they got a part of this allocation to hold this public meeting in Negombo. Although it was claimed to be the opening ceremony of the Negombo Lagoon Development Project, not a single word was discoursed about the project at this meeting,” sources said.


Covering up 

However, it is interesting to note how the former Deputy Minister and a former Deputy General Manager are now trying to cover up the fraud they were fully involved in by claiming that it was not an election meeting, but was the ceremony to lay the foundation stone which is now proved wrong.

“How can Gunaratne and DGM Chandana Pelpita claim otherwise when we have got all the proof that the laying of the foundation stone ceremony and the unveiling of the plaque had already taken place on January 4, 2014 by the then Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. This staggering amount was paid only to hold the public rally, build the plaque and the monument. The meeting was first scheduled to be held at Kotuwa Pitiya but was shifted to the Negombo Municipal Grounds as the previous location went under water due to continuous torrential rains,” sources added.

According to the revelation, Rs. 8.95 million had been spent to erect a stage and the tents for the election meeting held at the Municipal Grounds in Negombo on December 30, 2014, Rs. 1.848 million for the plaque and the monument, Rs. 1.255 million for caps and T-shirts to be distributed amongst the party supporters who attended the meeting and another Rs. 1. 09 million to print desk diaries which all amounts to Rs. 13.2 million.

It is now revealed how the contracts were offered on an ad-hoc manner without calling for tenders but merely on the instructions of the CFHC administration and Ministry officials. Even the service providers confirmed to The Sunday Leader that they were given instructions over the telephone and exposed how they were requested to submit their prices over the phone.


Upside down procedures

Meanwhile, inside sources said how the payments were first made followed by the Procurement Board’s approval to give the contracts to the relevant parties.

“Although the procedure should be the other way around, the normal procedures were not followed as the Fisheries Ministry and the CFHC were busy spending the money for the election meeting in the guise of this project. Although in most cases the CFHC paid a hefty 50% advance to the service providers, according to the government procurement guidelines, only a 20% advance can be made,” sources alleged.

Meanwhile, Director Operation of Frontier 7 International Pvt Ltd said that they were asked to come for a meeting with CFHC Chairman, General Manager, Deputy General Manager and some other officials to discuss the proposed project.

“We were asked to come in the second week of December 2014 and wanted to give the quotations to erect the plaque and the monument at the Negombo lagoon site. When we were offered the contract we were asked to do the construction within two weeks to which we disagreed as the time was not sufficient. Then we were asked to hand over the finished work by January 3, 2015 as the opening was to be held on the following day,” Director Operation, who wished to remain anonymous said.

According to him, Rs.1 million was paid to them on December 22, 2014 and started their work the following day. “It was a near impossible task as we had to carry out the construction in torrential rain. After we handed it over on January 3, our second payment of Rs. 600,000 was paid to us on January 6 and the remaining Rs.2.48 lakhs. VAT was not paid to us by the CFHC,” he added.

He further said how the CFHC sent his company, a letter of demand asking them to refund Rs. 900,000 claiming that the company had over charged for the construction following a feasibility report by the University of Moratuwa informing them (CFHC) that this construction should have been carried out for Rs.700,000,” the Director Operation of Frontier 7 International Pvt Ltd said. He hit back at the CFHC for now accusing them of carrying out the contract for a higher price without calling for bids earlier. He said how the previous management was in a rush to get all the work done for the Negombo election meeting including the laying of the foundation stone ceremony within 10 to 15 days.

“If the institution had really planned the foundation stone laying ceremony well in advance, they would have called for quotations and offered the job to the lowest bidder without waiting till the last moment. We were asked to appear before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry for Mass Scale Frauds and Corruption and were told that their estimate was Rs.400,000 for this construction. We do not say that we are the only party that has the technique and the ability to carry out these constructions but there are many parties in this field as well.

If so without stating now that this work could have been obtained for a lesser price, the previous CFHC management and politicians involved should have called for tenders and offered the job to the lowest bidder. We did not go behind them asking to offer the contract to us. The price given by us is our standard price. The issue was the previous CFHC administrators did not have enough time to follow the general tender procedure and had to carry out the work before the presidential election. Anyhow we are the losers and we were not paid the remaining Rs.2.48 lakhs,” he alleged.

Meanwhile, Kelum Pushpakantha of Display Media Advertising, who was given the contract to put up the stage and tents for the public meeting in Negombo told The Sunday Leader how he was offered the contract that amounted to Rs. 8.9 million.

“We were taken on a site tour to Negombo by the CFHC administration and the Ministry officials together with NARA and Moratuwa University team and said that the foundation stone for the proposed project would be laid on December 28 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and offered me the contract to put up the stage, marquees, VVIP and VIP chairs for the stage, 10,000 normal chairs for the general public, a dancing troupe and a music group to provide music for the dancers in between the speeches and for lighting. I gave my estimate, which was Rs. 8.9 million, and without any hassle the CFHC agreed for my estimate and wanted us to carry out the work at the Kotuwa Pitiya, adjacent to the Negombo lagoon.

We started our work on December 22 and while we were carrying out our work on December 25, we were told that the venue had been changed and wanted us to put up the stage and the tents at the Negombo Municipal Grounds, which is about two-and-a-half kilometres away from where we were putting up the tents,” Pushpakantha told The Sunday Leader.


No quotations called

According to Pushpakantha, the former Fisheries Deputy Minister Gunaratne, the then CFHC Chairman Upali Liyanage and Deputy General Manager Chandana Pelpita were directly involved in all these arrangements and offering contracts to the parties and added that although they were told that this meeting was organized for the foundation stone laying ceremony of the proposed Negombo Lagoon Development Project, when the former President addressed the people, not a single word was spoken about this project but it was a mere presidential election meeting.

“If it was an opening ceremony, the President would have laid the foundation stone and unveiled the plaque. I was there in person at this meeting and not a single word was spoken about this project nor were there any banners with regard to this ‘opening’. So how can they say that it was the foundation stone laying ceremony,” Pushpakantha added.

When asked whether he submitted quotations to provide the service, Pushpakantha alleged that the CFHC never followed any tender procedure, but offered the job to his company as he has earlier provided certain services to the CFHC.

“No quotations were called for and I was asked to give my price, which I did. I was offered the contract and on December 30, I was given Rs. 5 million and another Rs. 3 million on January 6. When I deposited the Rs.3 million cheque, I was informed that the bankers had been given instructions to stop the payments after the fall of the former regime. Although I inquired about the matter, the CFHC officials who obtained my services remained silent and since they owe me Rs. 3.95 million, I sent them a letter of demand,” Pushpakantha claimed.

Pushpakantha who had also got the contract to print 2,000 desk diaries for CFHC said that quotations was never called for this as well and added that Chairman Liyanage, General Manager Piyal Abeysekere and Deputy General Manager Pelpita spoke to him over the telephone and offered the contract.

“I got a call from the CFHC Deputy General Manager asking whether I take orders to print diaries. When I told him that my firm does take such orders, I was asked to print 2,000 desk diaries and to supply them within six days. Since it was difficult to print 2,000 diaries within six days, I promised to deliver 500 copies within that period and the rest on a later date. As promised I delivered the first order on December 30, 2014 and the remaining 1,500 on two separate dates,” he added.

According to him, his bill to print 2,000 desk diaries, which amounts to Rs.1.09 million, was settled by the CFHC on December 30 when he delivered the first 500 diaries.


Minister’s contact 

Meanwhile, Iththamalliyagoda Wickremage Don Arjuna Dhananjaya of Arjuna Graphics, Negombo who was given the contract to print T-shirts and caps for Rs.1.255 million said that he is known to Deputy Minister Gunaratne personally and mentioned that as the reason as to why he was given the contract for the T-shirts and Caps.

“It is I who print posters and banners for Gunaratne and that was why I was given this contract. I did not give any quotation in writing but I gave my prices over the phone. Since the former President was to come to Negombo, I was asked to print the T-shirts and the caps within a shorter period. Former Minister Gunaratne’s private Secretary Kumarasinghe sent me the necessary wordings for the T-shirts and caps on an e-mail which read as - Gamana subai, Jaya niyathai – Mahinda Rajapaksa and for caps - Meegamuwa Sarath Kumara Gunaratne,” Dhananjaya said.


DGM refutes allegations

Deputy General Manager Chandana Pelpita meanwhile refuting the allegations levelled against him in this alleged irregularity, said that he was not involved in any dealing and added that his name had been dragged into this scam by those envious of him. “After the fall of the previous regime, I got a job at the Fertilizer Corporation and that was why my name had been dragged to this fraud. I really do not know what exactly happened and there is no document to prove that I was involved in this racket and that I gave instructions,” Pelpita said.

According to Pelpita, although he visited Negombo in the run up to this meeting with some officials, he was not involved in any illegal process and added that all these meetings were held in the Ministry and not at the CFHC.

Although Pelpita refuted the allegations levelled against him claiming that he was not involved, the service providers confirmed to The Sunday Leader the role of Pelpita when giving contracts to them.

When further questioned, Pelpita continued to deny any knowledge on the alleged deals.

Image boosting

Meanwhile, former Deputy Minister Sarath Kumara Gunaratne, when contacted said that spending such an amount for a meeting attended by former President Rajapaksa did not amount to wastage.

“The former President came to Negombo to open the plaque officially and the CFHC spent money out of the project allocation,” Gunaratne said.

When asked as to why the CFHC failed to call tenders to give the contracts to the lowest bidders, Gunaratne said that they did not have time to follow the tender procedure as the former President confirmed his visit to Negombo only in mid-December.

“When the former President said that he planned to come to Negombo, we knew that it was the best opportunity to lay the foundation stone for the proposed project and got the work done in a rush. So is this wrong?” Gunaratne queried.


Corporation officials threatened

The General Manager of CFHC, Piyal Abeysekera however said how they came under pressure from the former deputy minister and senior officials of the Corporation wanting him not to follow tender procedures but to make this event a success, if not it was bad for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign.

Former CFHC Chairman Upali Liyanage, also refuting the allegations, said that tenders were offered after calling for bids and that no one can accuse them for misappropriation of funds. “This was organized by the Fisheries Ministry and they were in a rush to get this done. So we helped them out from our side but we did not bypass any government regulations but abided by tender procedures,” Liyanage claimed.

2 Comments for “Fisheries Funds Spent To Boost Rajapaksa Image”

  1. punchinilame

    The Sunday Leader has led the Exposes of illegal happenings during MRs period
    with remarkable output. The current summary could be as follows:

    1. Case No. 474/2015 at Fort M.C. dealing with Hedging Fund and involving A.N.Cabraal, PB Jayasuendra, A de Mel, L.Karunaratne (Rs.200-700 Million ) 2. Case No. 24327/2015 at Chief M.C.(3) In the matter of Lanka Hospital shares and connected to G. Rajapakse, Roshini ,Cabraal, N.Godahewa, D.Jayaweera, M. Medihewa, W.Amunugamuwa, D.P.Y. Wijesinghe. (Rs. 600 million) 3. B26907/3/15 at Colombo M.C re Housing deals connected with W.Weerasena,B.K.J.K.Perera. 4. B/40/2015 at Kaduwella M.C. re Land purchases, involving Mrs. W.Weerasena, C.S.Ranasinhe. 5. B323/15 in Tangalle M.C. about Carlton Pre-school construction involving State Eng. Corporation Staff (Rs. 35 million) 6. 8674/15 in Pugoda M.C. re Development works, involving B.Rajapakse, N. Thirukumar 7. B22467/1/15 at Colombo Chief M.C. re Money Laundering by M. Aluthgamage (Rs. 3 – 27 million) 8. B22468/1/15 in Colombo Chief M.C. on Wealth acquired of Dr.P.B. Wickrema. 9. B25389/1/15 at Colombo C.M.Court re Money Laundering by G.Senarath. 10. B25166/3/15 at Colombo Ch M.C. Teleshan TV Network with A.Pilapita S.Wickremasinghe, and Sil Reddi with L.Weeratunga and Ven.V.Somananda Thero. 11. B9825/15 at Kaduwela M.C. re CSN Channel involving ITN Directorate & Staff. 12. B35/15 at Kaduwela M.C. re ownership of Marriot Hotel in Dubai with N.Lokuwitharne and M.Rajapakse ( Rs. 48 to 190 million) 13. B27453/1/15 at Hultsdorf M.C. about Lanka Logistics Arms importing connected to G.Rajapakse, P.B.Jayasundera, Mohan Peiris, J.Wickremasinghe. 14. B/663/15 at Fort M.C. on Bank of Ceylon, Seychelles by M. Rajapakse & family 15. Greek Bonds purchase with names of Cabraal & Rajapakse in Petition Colombo M.C of 15.8.15 involving Rs. 1257 million 16. Sajin Vass Gunewardena in abuse of Public property, at Fort Magistrate Court, remanded since May, 2015. Also at Bribery Com. for questionable Assets. 17. Petition accepted in Supreme Court on 6.8.15 re Vehicle Permits abuse 18. Case No. 50/10 at High Courts, Kandy: Captain Wickremasinghe`s activity in Giritale Army Camp re Torture Chambers – under G. Rajapakse`s directions? 19. On Bail – Rohita Bogollagama
    20. B/C Case – BC/2370/2011/B1 – 1 Billion heist: Pradeep Gunawardana (C`man State Trading Corporation) E.& O.E



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