makes big bucks off Ports Authority
In clear violation of the law,
President's Counsel Wijeydasa Rajapakshe, a sitting member of
parliament, has been paid by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA)
in October last year a legal fee of Rs. 99,750.
Rajapakshe was paid for providing legal
services to the SLPA, on October 12, 2004,
while being a sitting member of parliament.
By doing so, Rajapakshe has created a double standard
on the law and principles he himself not so long ago
In effect as an MP, he has had a
contract for legal services with a government institution.
Sri Lankan law dictates that a member
of parliament cannot be engaged in business with state
concerns after or at the time of taking oaths as a member of
But this is exactly the opposite of
what Rajapakshe had done. Every man, as the saying goes, has a price
and this is clearly the case with Rajapakshe.
It is Rajapakshe who fought heatedly in
his capacity as counsel, against Dr. Rajitha Senaratne petitioning
the courts to remove the latter from his parliamentary seat,
espousing that Senaratne had committed a breach of parliamentary
privilege, conflict of interest and was thereby an abuser of the
Representing former Deputy Minister of
Justice Dilan Perera, Wijeydasa Rajapashke in 1999 petitioned the
Court of Appeal insisting that Dr. Rajitha Senaratne who at the time
was an opposition member of parliament had no right to hold office
as MP and sit or vote in parliament. The argument was that Senaratne
had been engaged in business with a government institution while
holding office as MP.
As a result, on March 31, 2000 the
Court of Appeal held that Dr. Rajitha Senaratne had no right to hold
office as a member of parliament.
Article 91 (1) (e) of Sri Lanka's
present constitution states that "no person shall be qualified
to be elected as a member of parliament or to sit and vote in
Parliament" and section (1) (e) of that Article says "if
he has any such interest in any such contract made by or on behalf
of the state or a public corporation as parliament shall by law
The Court of Appeal at the time it made
its ruling in the Senaratne case, also held that it was manifestly
clear that the first respondent, Rajitha Senaratne had entered into
a contract with a government department or a government institution
during his tenure of office as MP and that therefore he has
disqualified himself to be an MP.
The accusation against Dr. Senaratne at
the time was that he had solicited and been awarded contracts to
supply medical equipment to the Health Ministry during his tenure as
a sitting member of parliament.
The Court of Appeal, however, noted
that the law specifically relevant in considering such
disqualification is Article 13 (c) of the Solbury Constitution that
was in effect from 1948 to 1972 (Sri Lanka's present constitution
was introduced in 1978).
Despite this fact, the judgment held that Senaratne must be
removed from his parliamentary seat.
Since the verdict was delivered at 3
p.m. on the last day before court went on vacation for April that
year, Senaratne had no way of contesting or appealing against the
ruling. The order simply directed the secretary general of
parliament to take necessary and consequential steps in terms of the
law. The bench comprised Justices Hector Yapa and Asoka de Silva.
The order stated that it was clear that
Section 13 (C) of the Soulbury Constitution should be considered as
the law applicable as at present when considering the
disqualification referred to in Article 91(1) (e) of the present
The United National Party overcame the
problem by re-nominating Senaratne on the party's national list to
was widely believed that Senaratne had fallen victim to unfair
political machinations due to his continuous and vociferous
criticism of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the then People's
Be that as it may, Rajapakshe is now
guilty of far worse.
It is not only from the SLPA that Rajapakshe picks up big
has often been witnessed appearing on behalf of clients representing
public owned institutions and corporations in Sri Lanka's Court of
case with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority where he has been paid for
his services to the tune of nearly Rs. 100,000 is just one among
In this day and age when the entire
independence of not just the judiciary but even more so the Bar
Association of Sri Lanka is in question, individuals like Rajapakshe
certainly contribute in no small way to the diminishing standards of
Rajapakshe argues that his appearances
are purely in a professional capacity and cannot be construed to be
a "business deal."
(See box for comments)
We beg to differ.
The law very clearly states otherwise. As we have pointed
out, the constitution makes no mistake when it states that whilst
being a member of parliament one cannot have a contract under
Article 91.(1) (e).
Public corporations are defined in the
constitution under Article 170 to be any corporation established by
written law with funds or capital wholly or partly provided by the
government. As is the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
Even if Rajapakshe would like to
believe otherwise, we will jolt his conscious to remember that the
relationship of a lawyer with a client is both professional and
contractual. For example there are certain duties imposed by
professional rules and etiquette in respect of his client.
It is contractual because he agrees to represent or advise
his client for a fee or reward.
The legal profession in Sri Lanka was
first established in two branches. advocates and proctors. This was
done away with by Section 33 of the Administration Justice Law No.
44 of 1973 and fused into one branch called attorneys-at-law.
Section 34 of this law permits
attorneys-at-law who render professional advice or assistance to a
client to sue for and recover any fee due to him.
This fusion of the legal profession
continues in as much as the Supreme Court today still admits and
enrolls attorneys-at-law without distinction between advocates and
Earlier counsel could not sue for their
since they are attorneys-at-law they can do so. So, the contractual
relationship has been strengthened.
Thereby a contract is established between the counsel and
this Authority in terms of article 91 (1) (e) because he has an
interest in receiving his fee. That Rajapakshe is doing so as a
sitting member of parliament is nothing but a clear and blatant
violation of this law.
President's Counsel Wijeydasa
Rajapakshe denied that he is guilty of contravening the law in
having accepted a legal fee from the Sri Lanka Ports
He said that his having done so was not a business
deal, but payment for professional services.
"I don't do any business. That was a fee only for
my professional services," he said.
Rajapakshe said the case against Dr.
Rajitha Senaratne was "very different."
According to Rajapakshe, "Dr. Senaratne was doing
a business with the Health Ministry. I am not. I only accept
payment for my professional services provided in my capacity
as legal counsel. That, by no means, can be construed to be a
Bandaranaike and Udaya Nanayakkara
By Frederica Jansz
Even the tsunami has failed to dent the
towering egos of this island's politicians and political
bureaucrats. Despite its trail of overpowering death and
destruction, the killer waves have not in anyway succeeded in
And in focus is very predictably, a tug
of war between the two ex brothers-in-law, Anura Bandaranaike and
Udaya Nanayakkara. A cold war of sorts that was long in the making,
way before the tsunami, but has since surfaced.
Nanayakkara is perceived to be a
favourite of the President while her brother has had to fight,
shedding copious tears in the process, for government position.
Nanayakkara you can bet your bottom dollar never shed a tear.
And while Sri Lanka, bruised and
battered to the hilt tried to raise herself from the ravages caused
by the tsunami, Bandaranaike and Nanayakkara were poised for battle.
As fate would have it, the two were set
to work collectively (a word they both abhor) in an attempt to
revive Sri Lanka's badly shattered tourism sector. "Bounce Back
Sri Lanka" they call it. Certainly a more apt description could
not have been chosen. One can only wonder if indeed the idea was all
Nanayakkara's and if so, did he choose the words, tongue in cheek.
Stooges at the Tourism Ministry claim
the boss of the Tourist Board is media savvy and fond of seeing his
name and mug splashed across the pages and screens of both the print
and television media. Hence, he was the first to claim the spotlight
in advertising a website dedicated to informing the world that Sri
Lanka's badly hit tourism trade is well set to bounce back on the
But Nanayakkara's attempts to take
control and begin a focus driven initiative has been stalled by his
ex brother-in-law and current boss who unfortunately for Nanayakkara
is also Tourism Minister.
Long before the tsunami hit,
Nanayakkara and Bandaranaike have been engaged in battle. One, where
the two never confront each other. But Bandaranike has on more than
one occasion clipped Nanayakkara's wings as he settled firm in his
chair determined to take the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) to new
Bandaranaike has been determined to
prevent Nanayakkara from being given the kudos for lifting the
travel trade in the country to new heights. Months before the now
dreaded T-word in the travel industry hit, Nanayakkara was certain
Sri Lanka was poised to make the 2005 crystal-ball "hot
list" of travel publications around the world. Now, the
industry has had to bow to the tsunami which has joined its
nightmares of terrorism of airlines, hoteliers and tour operators.
But it was in this context, of a rise
in the tourism trade, Nanayakkara in the middle of last year chose
15 officers attached to the SLTB to travel to Singapore for a
training course. But Bandaranaike would have none of it and
cancelled the tour not once, but twice.
He then made certain that the state
media was tipped off and the Daily News carried a front page story
asserting the Minister had stopped the overseas "jaunts"
of Tourist Board officials. Nanayakkara could only chew and spit on
the unpalatable decision.
Bandaranaike has been determined to
cash in on the rewards of the trade if indeed they are in the
making, and equally determined is he to prevent his one time
brother-in-law from being given credit.
Bandaranaike may take long overseas
sojourns, but he is determined that Nanayakkara will not overtake
him in a race that can only be compared to that of the tortoise and
Hardly had Nanayakkara taken over as
chief of the SLTB when he mooted a plan to run the organisation
independent of the Ministry. Bandaranaike was furious with the very
idea and immediately lobbied his sister hard to prevent Nanayakkara
from holding sway. Nanayakkara on his part is equally determined to
break the public tie that now binds him to Bandaranaike and is more
than convinced that he together with a board of directors would do
well - away from Bandaranaike and his ministry.
But Bandaranaike loyalists who swore
The Sunday Leader to secrecy to protect identity, maintain that
despite Tourism Minister failing to return post haste in the
aftermath of the tsunami having destroyed a two third of Sri Lanka's
coastal belt and with it, 25 star class hotels, that he regularly
"monitored" the situation via long distance, issuing
instructions on how his Ministry should respond to the crisis.
"He even set up an action committee" they said. Where and
who and what this committee did we can only hazard a guess, because
it is Udaya Nanayakkara who was seen actively engaged in the revival
process. Whether he made certain, he was quoted and photographed as
he did so, is another matter altogether.
Nanayakkara loyalists have a different
version to that of their counterparts in the Tourism Ministry.
Hardly able to conceal their dislike for Bandaranaike they claim it
is their boss who rose "magnificently" to the occasion
meeting the crisis head-on with almost military precision setting
the wheels in motion for a rehabilitation and reconstruction
process. "All this while the Minister continued his
holiday," they say.
It is Nanayakkara who claims to have
initiated a website providing easy access to vital information in
the aftermath of the tsunami. Bandaranaike, at the time, was still
in L.A. The page was dedicated to giving information on missing
foreign visitors as well as aiding relatives in gathering
But when Nanayakkara attempted to
launch a new webpage called www.bouncebacksrilanka.org and organised
a tamasha at the Colombo Hilton on Wednesday, January 19, to
commemorate the event, he was rapped hard on his knuckles by a
furious Minister. So much so, the entire show was called off and
Bandaranaike missing the point of the whole exercise, determined
that he would preside as chief, re-scheduling the launch for
Thursday 20, at the auditorium of the Industries Ministry.
Nanayakkara had not even an invite
issued to Bandaranaike for the initial launch at the Colombo Hilton.
Bandaranaike on the other hand did invite his ambitious
brother-in-law and exchanged pleasantries for the sake of public
appearances, but his comments made in private to colleagues cannot
Nanayakkara on the other hand by this
time had already bagged some credit for all the "hard
work" he had put in since the tsunami. The webpage
bouncebacksrilanka.org already carries his comments on the disaster
including a blurb on Sri Lanka's touristic potential.
This is what one of them says.
"Out of the seven World Heritage Sites.... 5102 square
kilometers of national wildlife parks - or eight percent of the
total land mass.... a hill country that retains all the charm of a
bygone era. These are just a few of the unique tourist attractions
that were completely untouched by the tsunami. And now the Sri Lanka
Tourist Board wants to tell the world by publishing a special
"Facts about Sri Lanka" online at http://www.bouncebacksrilanka.org/facts.htm
The page goes onto quote. "The
impression that has been created over the past two weeks is one of a
devastated country whose tourism infrastructure has all but been
destroyed," said Nanayakkara.
"This is not the case at all. And
now it is time to put things into perspective."
"We are not trying to paint a
bright picture for the sake of tourism, just tell it like it really
"In addition, by providing a
concise, no-nonsense and up-to-date view of our island, we can help
restore confidence in the tourism industry, which is integral to the
rebuilding process of Sri Lanka."
Bandaranaike is yet to stage an
appearance on this page - despite having hijacked the official
And Nanayakkara has not stopped with
this website. His previous, soon after the tsunami also carried
ample quotes from him. This one claimed to have been established by
the SLTB to provide easy access to vital information in the
aftermath of the tsunami.
Launched on Wednesday, December 29, the
website promised to provide information on latest developments
concerning the evacuation of foreign tourists, contact information
for hospitals, police stations and airlines.
The status of hotels affected by the
tsunami was also posted on the site, with contact numbers of those
hotels still in operation.
"While we have people manning our
general information hotline (9411 2437 061) around-the-clock we want
to provide as many avenues as possible to help people get the
information they need about relative and friends who are still in
the country," Udaya Nanayakkara has been quoted saying.
It is pretty obvious that Nanayakkara
scored on Bandaranaike taking time to get himself on a plane and
back to Sri Lanka as soon as possible. Only time will tell if this
lapse will foretell disaster for the Minister.
For the moment, it is not just the
T-word the travel trade has now to fear, but a tsunami of a
different nature, nevertheless as deadly, which is certainly in the
making, as daggers are drawn and battle lines clearly demarcated.
Bandaranaike has been heard to growl
that it will be over his dead body that Nanayakkara will shift the
SLTB away from the purview of
his Ministry. Nanayakkara loyalists have been quick to quip,
dead or not, Nanayakkara will certainly not ever bother to attempt a
high jump over the very ample proportions that is all of
One way or the other - one aspect is
certain - and that is one or the other if not both, are well set to
take a fall flat and fast on that Herculean size pride.
move to cancel multi million $ agreement
Tittawela, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala
By Frederica Jansz
President Chandrika Kumaratunga
together with a close confidant and advisor is attempting to smuggle
through a cabinet paper canceling a multi million dollar tender that
has already been earmarked for award to a Japanese firm.
This is despite the government having
accepted aid from the Japanese government in the aftermath of the
tsunami to the tune of US$ 80 million. Irrespective of the monies
rolling in, Kumaratunga has set the stage to surreptitiously knock
out a Japanese firm, despite the company having qualified fully, to
supply the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) with an upgraded hi-tech
information technology system.
The cabinet memorandum claims to
outline a three year business plan for the SLPA and Airport and
Aviation. But, additionally details the cancellation of an existing
tender awarded to a Japanese owned information technology company -
Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Company (MES).
Drafted on the President's instructions
by Senior Advisor to the President, Mano Tittawela, Clause 3.2 of
the memo states, "cancellation of existing terminal management
system tender and call tenders by newspaper advertisement based on
new terms of reference done by SLPA in order to implement a terminal
management system." This memorandum is to be presented on
January 27, when cabinet is scheduled to meet next.
Interestingly, the memorandum, has even
bypassed Mangala Samaraweera, who is Ports and Aviation Minister and
top officials at his Ministry. The cabinet memorandum has been
forwarded to the President inclusive of a covering letter signed by
Ports and Aviation Ministry Secretary,
Ariyaratne Hewage said he knew nothing of this memorandum.
"I know nothing," he said,
maintaining, "This is the first I am hearing of it." Asked
if it would have been the norm to have been consulted and involved
in the drafting of such a cabinet memorandum together with his
Minister, Hewage said, "Yes, definitely." After all, the
memorandum does entail a business plan both for the ports as well as
airport and aviation, all sectors for which Hewage and his minister
are expected to play key roles.
The senior government servant had no
explanation when asked why in this instance he and his minister have
been bypassed by the President and Mano Tittewella. "I simply
don't know," he said, sounding bewildered.
Already this tender has caused tensions
to erupt between Japan and Sri Lanka after the awarding of a US$ 9.4
million contract to a Japanese computer firm was held back after the
new SLPA chief insisted the deal is too expensive and unsuitable for
This is despite the fact that the
contract had already been recommended and approved by a Cabinet
Appointed Tender Board (CATB). This tender was initially called
during the reign of the previous United National Front (UNF)
government in order to install a new computer terminal management
system to service the Jaya Container Terminal (JCT) and the North
Pier Development Project at the Port of Colombo.
The multi million dollar contract was
earmarked for award to Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Company (MES).
The financial offer by MES cost an estimated Rs. 945 million (US$
9.4 million). Monies for which are to be drawn out of an aid loan
amounting to Rs. 1.3 billion (US$ 13 million) by the Japan Bank for
International Coorperation (JBIC) to Sri Lanka.
But Dileepa Wijeysundara since taking
over as chairman, SLPA in April last year, publicly condemned the
Japanese supplier selected by a Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC)
and a CATB. Wijeysundara is on record telling The Sunday Leader last
year that the UPFA government was to soon call for fresh bids, of
which he said those who made offers previously will be requested to
do so once again, and their bids re-evaluated. Interestingly though,
Wijeysundara told us he had already identified "suitable
Wijeysundara's comments only now serve
to corroborate the memorandum to be presented to cabinet by the
The issue is set to cause a furor with
the Japanese government having already indicated its displeasure at
the handling of this tender and made veiled comments that it might
withdraw financial support to Sri Lanka in the event this is
Japan has been one of the largest
donors to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the tsunami having pledged a
massive US$ 80 million to help rebuild Sri Lanka's shattered
The matter has been serious enough to
prompt Chief Representative, JBIC in Colombo, Shafiya Ejima on
October 8, 2004 to write to the Director General, Department of
External Resources at the Finance Ministry. In this letter Ejima
urged the Sri Lankan government to solve this issue amicably and
probe "the possibility of negotiating with the selected
applicants for a mutually beneficial solution to the issues now
raised" by this government.
Later, Japan's Foreign Minister
Nobutaka Machimura met his Sri Lankan counterpart, Lakshman
Kadirgamar when the latter paid a visit to Tokyo. During their
discussion Machimura quizzed Kadirgamar on this matter, but was
assured by Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister that the SLPA award to
Mitsui would hold.
Obviously, Kadirgamar in similar vein
to the rest of his cabinet colleagues has been kept in the dark on
the reality of this award which the President had even then, every
intention of canceling. A decision she has now put down in black and
The three suppliers, meanwhile,
identified by Port Chief, Dileepa Wijeysundara as being "more
suitable" were among seven bidders who made offers when this
tender was initially called in June 2003 by the previous UNF
government. However, two out of the three were disqualified at a
The seven offers initially received by
the UNF government were from Navis LLC - Access International
Venture, Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co., Japan, CMC - SSC
India Joint Venture, Marubeni Corporation, Japan, Cosmos, Belgium -
Tomen, Japan - JRC, Japan Joint Venture, HPC / HHLA , Germany and
ICICI Infotech Joint Venture - India.
After having examined the bids, Navis -
Access JV, CMC - SSC JV, Marubeni Corporation and ICICI JV were
determined as failing to qualify with required criteria. The
remaining three were recommended for acceptance. Bidding documents
were then issued to the three pre-qualified applicants.
On March 1, 2004, CATB granted
permission to open the financial packages of MES. A date to do so
was fixed for March 22. The concurrence of JBIC was also obtained
with regard to the technical proposal submitted by MES. The
financial proposal was opened in the presence of the bidder's
representatives and prices read out. On April 7, 2004 the TEC
submitted its report on the financial proposal to the CATB. The CATB
approved and recommended that this contract be awarded to the
Japanese owned MES.
Subsequently, the parliamentary
Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) summoned Dileepa Wijeysundara
and questioned him in detail as to why he is insisting on canceling
a tender which had already received approval and recommendation by a
COPE members Ravi Karunanayake, Rohitha
Bogollagama, Dilan Perera and Sripathy Sooriarachchi vigorously
quizzed Wijeysundara insisting he give adequate reason why he
personally is seeking a cancellation of this contract to the
Japanese firm when even the new CATB under the chairmanship of
Ariyaratne Hewage is yet to take a decision on the matter. COPE
called for a detailed report, reiterating no decision can be made
until it studies thoroughly the charges put forward by Wijeysundara.
But obviously, the President cares
least for the concerns articulated by COPE.
And by the end of this month will no doubt have the seal of
her entire cabinet approving the multi million dollar cancellation.
The cabinet paper also details a plan
outlining deviation from the Treasury approval process to change the
tariff structure to reflect market changes at short notice.
The document further states that
progress with remediation of the breakwater at Kankasanthurai with
SLPA funds will begin and reconstruction of breakwaters on Dutch
Government Funds (ORET), and a soft loan from Dutch Government, and
Also, to clear the current debtors list
of government agencies amounting to Rs. 208 million. For a code of
governance to be adopted by the authority. For the authority to
develop and implement policies and procedures in relation to human
resources, such as retirement, recruitment and promotions.
For public administration circular
issued by the Treasury to apply in the event it is specifically
stated as applicable to the SLPA. And to increase the present
authority limits of board of directors on the procurement of goods
and services from Rs. 20 million to Rs. 100 million. This means the
SLPA will not require either Treasury nor Ministry approval in the
procurement of items up to Rs. 100 million.
cannons boom in the tsunami aftermath
water resources policy drafters, Presidential order to draft
policy and Cabinet paper 04/1702/013/020
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
WHILE Sri Lanka mourned the devastation
wreaked by the tsunami, the UPFA government has slyly set the stage
to sneak legislation through parliament to meet a fresh World Bank
deadline of March 15, to regulate the island's water resources.
In the process, the government has got
the vociferous critics of all governmental attempts to privatise
water, the Janatha Vumukthi Peramuna (JVP) on board and effectively
transferred the life sustaining essential requirement to a mere
The initiative to regulate water
resources through a permit system has been mooted since the late
'90s, but the first step towards achieving the end was taken in
February 2000 when the People's Alliance government signed a
Memorandum of Understating with the World Bank.
It remained an undisclosed dark secret
until the JVP, environmentalists and civic rights groups stood in
the government's way. There was vehement opposition to the attempt
to issue permits for water rights, which they identified as only
being a step behind from privatising the country's water resources.
The United National Front (UNF) that
ascended power in 2001 swiftly moved to achieve the WB set target
and even won the appreciation of the lending institution for
"efficient and praiseworthy attempts" to meet their
deadline. In fact the UNP had four ministers dealing with the
country's water resources - Arumugam Thondaman to handle drinking
water and Jayawickrema Perera, Lakshman Seneviratne and H. G. P.
Nelson - all three holding portfolios connected to ground and
surface water. It was then that the JVP galvanised itself into
massive protest meetings demanding that the country's resources not
be sold to Western nations with vested interests.
Yet, the UPFA of which the JVP is a
constituent ally, today are pushing the same water bill through
parliament now - at a time when the nation is benumbed by the
tsunami devastation and is not paying attention to other issues of
The hypocrisy of both the PA and the
JVP is stunning as the coalition originally pledged to protect the
country's resources from all types of plundering is doing exactly
the opposite. Rata Perata (Way Forward), the UPFA's masterfully
worded manifesto, categorically states that all initiatives for
management of water resources would be stopped and the institutions
created for that purpose would be abolished. It is pertinent to
recall that the PA's 1994 manifesto too paid lip service to
protecting water rights of the masses by abolishing the water tax
imposed by the previous UNP government.
The dislodging of the commitment became
apparent when the Rata Perata commitment clashed with the UPFA's
lesser-known manifesto, Our Policies and Action Plan presented to
the donor and diplomatic communities which reiterated the PA's
previous commitment to regulate water resources and to "
complete the process".
"It is incredible that a
government could adopt two positions at the same time to hoodwink
the people. This is why we are lodging our strongest protest against
the government's sly attempts to pave the way for the privatisation
of water resources," says Executive Director, Lawyers for Human
Rights and Development (LHRD), Kalyananda Thiranagama.
With pressure mounting on the new
government, President Chandrika Kumaratunga swore in as Mahaweli
Minister, SLFP General Secretary and loyalist Maithripala Sirisena
from whose hands she could wrest control of the Ministry when
required. The decision nearly broke the coalition with the JVP
insisting on the Mahaweli Ministry along with the lands portfolio
and refusing to be sworn in unless the demand was met. To settle the
raging political dispute, a new mechanism was adopted - a tail was
added to Sirisena's portfolio making it River Basin and Raja Rata
Development. What is not well understood is that it is Sirisena who
has the right of control to manage the country's water resources.
Even before dust could settle on the
first political flare up between the two main constituent parties of
the UPFA, talks commenced with Kumaratunga on the need to establish
a Sri Lanka Mahaweli and River Basin Development Authority. To
satisfy the donors, an interim authority was swiftly set up.
When the Asian Development Bank (ADB)
officials arrived in Colombo to renew the World Bank proposed water
rights regulation scheme in June 2003, one significant politician
they did not meet was Agriculture, Livestock, Lands and Irrigation
Minister Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who has been breathing fire about
attempts by anyone to privatise water.
The ADB during a 10 day tour that
commenced on June 15, 2004 met Finance Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama
- a man who persistently pursued the water privatisation programme
and organised 'Wari Sabha' (water councils) to promote the concept,
Mahaweli Minister, Maithripala Sirisena, Secretary, Mahaweli
Development Ministry, T M Abeywickrema, Secretary, Ministry of
Public Security, Law and Order, Tilak Ranaviraja, Deputy Minister of
Agriculture, Livestock, Lands and Irrigation, Bimal Ratnayake and
Senior Consultant to President, S.M.S.B. Niyangoda - head of Jalani,
a group of policy makers promoting global water partnerships - and
several representatives of non governmental organisations.
However, at this point - a
much-embarrassed Minister Dissanayake began making public protests
that as long as he held the portfolio, all attempts to privatise
water resources would be foiled. Yet, the bitter truth about his
deputy Bimal Ratnayake meeting the ADB officials was concealed from
the public lest it earns the JVP the public ire for its duplicity in
the entire exercise.
According to Executive Director, LHRD,
Kalyananda Thiranagama, an open letter was sent to Minister Anura
Dissanayake demanding a response on several pertinent issues
relating to the water privatisation initiative. "We personally
handed it over to his secretary to which we received no response,
but to watch their own back, articles began appearing in the pro -JVP
tabloid, Lanka," says Thiranagama.
While discontent simmered, the ADB
extended the deadline for introducing a new water resources
management bill, paving the way for regulatory rights once more. The
earlier deadline to complete the task was November 15, 2003 which
could not be followed due to political turmoil and a fresh deadline
was set for November 24, 2004. This agreement was reached after the
ADB suspended the US$ 21 million facility for failure to meet the
Embarrassed by the government programme
yet unwilling to abandon ship, Anura Dissanayake swiftly moved to
protect his own back by getting a water resources conservation
policy drafted by August 6, 2004. The policy never came to life, as
the SLFP camp within the government suppressed the policy and
prevented it from being translated into a parliamentary act, which
would have seriously hampered their efforts to regulate water to
receive the aid on offer.
With Ministers Sirisena and Dissanayake
working at cross purposes, it was decided in November 2004 that the
two drafts of the respective ministries should be amalgamated for
better results - giving birth to the current National Water
Resources Policy which is to be translated into an Act of Parliament
by March 15, the latest.
to Mahaweli Ministry sources, the Attorney General's Department
should sanction the draft bill by February 2005 and it should be
presented in parliament before March 18. To receive the pledged
money of US$ 21 million, the bill has to become law by May 15.
Under the initiative, ADB is pushing
two ideas - the setting up of a National Water Resources Authority
and the construction of a bridge in the Kelani River area. An
Interim National Water Resources Authority has already been set up.
JVP on board
deadlines set and the government using the bemused state of a
tragedy-struck nation to push a crucial bill through the House,
activists are agitating against the contents of the draft bill.
However, the previous vociferous critics - the JVP - has quietly
slipped on board, unable to swim against the tide yet making
passionate statements about preventing such
So much so that Minister Dissanayake
has just last week reiterated his call to prevent the privatisation
of water resources or any act that paves the way for that - whereas
the government to which he belongs is working towards reaching a
specific May 15 deadline to obtain the pledged US$ 21 million.
What is truly ugly about the entire
exercise is besides pushing a bill discreetly, it also seeks to
hoodwink the masses who are made to believe that the UPFA under no
circumstances would support privatisation of the country's water
resources. Yet in reality, the act not only applies to ground and
surface water but also extends - interestingly enough - to the hot
A drastic provision contained in the
bill provides for the setting up of a Water Resources Fund - an
addition to the UNF draft which will render the authority a mere
regulatory board with no powers over management or control over the
"It is purely charged with the
duty of creating the legal framework. It is specifically stated that
the authority should not do resource development," says
Environmental Lawyer, Jagath Gunawardene.
Once it is created, the authority
continues - irrespective of government changes and would be an
autonomous body under an independent ministry. "It is strange.
Hereafter water would not come under a subject minister, but would
be a plaything of some politician handpicked for the purpose,"
However, the process suffered a setback
when the Supreme Court last year decided that the water resources
belonged not to the centre but to the respective provincial
With the PA and the JVP that used to
breathe fire accusing the UNF government of selling the country's
assets at the drop of a hat to foreigners for a pittance now
effectively silenced by money pledges, the National Water Resources
Bill is set to sail through - with the ultimate effect of converting
an essential requirement into a commodity - and one that would
hereafter be more available to those who foot bigger bills. After
all, consumer is king according to Kumaratunga's water policy - and
who's to be blamed?
The English draft of the new policy -
drafted largely for the benefit of the ADB has 13 points and
the Sinhala draft has only 10.
Besides the lack of number agreement,
the contents of the two drafts are also at war.
The English draft categorically refers
to the granting of water rights through permits whereas the
counterpart recognises the rights of water users - touching
words meant for an unsuspecting populace.
The English version states that bulk
users should register the rights of users - a tricky provision
excluded in the Sinhala draft.
More significantly, the English draft
calls for the ensuring of the allocation of water for
competing demands for the highest economic value - another
provision that has earned public wrath, but toned down in the
Interestingly, the English version
declares water to be "a limited resource with an economic
value" and the Sinhala version does not refer to economic
value at all - but states it is a limited and precious
The English draft even connects gender
to water-and promotes the involvement of women in decision
making - a point excluded in the Sinhala version.
Similarly, while the English draft
refers to " ownership" the Sinhala
version speaks of
Most significantly, the Sinhala draft
does not include the provision relating to "water
one of the most hotly debated issues and a passionate
subject for most.
Chronology of events
||PA government signs Memorandum of
Understanding (MoA) with the World Bank
||Cabinet approval signified
||Water Services Reforms Bill prepared by
|November 25, 2003-
||ADB's first deadline to introduce water
|November 30, 2003-
||UNF requests time till December to introduce legislation
|May 19, 2004-
||ADB commenced talks with President Kumararunga
||ADB representatives arrived to renew
the WB proposal for regulation of water rights
|15-25 June, 2004-
||ADB meets ministers and institutional representatives
|June 25, 2004-
||ADB extends deadline to introduce fresh water bill
||ADB suspended the US$ 21 million
|August 16, 2004-
||Anura Dissanayke prepares draft policy
on water conservation
|September 06, 2004-
||S M S B Niyangoda entrusted with task
of drafting a new national water policy
||Drafting of a national water resources
|November 24, 2004-
||fresh ADB deadline to introduce the
|December 21, 2004-
||cabinet sanctions draft National Water
||Final deadline to implement deadline
one of the richest industries in the world
One of the biggest profit making
industries in the world, some of the biggest multinational
companies deal with water and have now set their eyes on the
Sri Lankan water resources.
World water giant, Viveldi of France
and three reputed British companies will be among the
competitors when the island's ground and surface water is
finally up for grabs.
Predicting a water scarcity in Sri
Lanka in 2025 - a fact challenged by ecologists who claim that
Sri Lanka would not suffer a reduction in drinking water in
the next century - the bill is being pushed through to
"prepare the nation" by introducing resource
The annual transactions concerning
water alone allow some global water partnerships and companies
to earn US$ 400 billion - an industry thrice as big as the