News

Politics

Focus

Issues

Editorial

Interviews

Insight

Review

Sports

Business

Arts

Letters

Nutshell

Fashion

Archives

23rd January, 2005  Volume 11, Issue  28

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Spotlight

MP 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 vociferously articulated.

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 parliament. 

Wijedasa Rajapakshe, PC

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 law.

Contrary

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 prescribe."

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 constitution.

The United National Party overcame the problem by re-nominating Senaratne on the party's national list to parliament.  It 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 Alliance government.

Be that as it may, Rajapakshe is now guilty of far worse.  It is not only from the SLPA that Rajapakshe picks up big bucks.  He has often been witnessed appearing on behalf of clients representing public owned institutions and corporations in Sri Lanka's Court of Appeal.  The 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 many.

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 the bar.

Rajapakshe argues that his appearances are purely in a professional capacity and cannot be construed to be a "business deal."  (See box for comments)

Law clear

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 proctors.

Earlier counsel could not sue for their fees.  Today 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.

-  Frederica Jansz

"I am innocent"

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 Authority.  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 business deal."


Brothers-in-war

Anura 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 bending egos.

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.

Battle

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 road again.

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 heights.

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.

No overtaking

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 the hare.

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.

Regular monitoring

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 information.

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.

No invitation

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 be printed.

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 is."

"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 launch.

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.

Impending fall

"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 Bandaranaike.

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.


Secret move to cancel multi million $ agreement

Mano Tittawela, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera

President's cabinet memorandum

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).

Ignorance

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 Mano Tittewela.

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.

Clueless

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 the SLPA.

Suitable suppliers

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 suppliers."

Wijeysundara's comments only now serve to corroborate the memorandum to be presented to cabinet by the President.

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 cancelled.

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 coastlines.

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.

COPE summons

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 white.

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 pre-qualification stage.

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 CATB.

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.

Deviation

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 SLPA funds.

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.


Water cannons boom in the tsunami aftermath

National 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 commodity.

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.

Turn-coats

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 significance.

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.

Interim authority

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.

New deadline

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 deadline.

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.

 According 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

 With 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 "anti-national" moves.

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 springs.

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 water resources.

"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.

Permanent authority

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," says Thiranagama.

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 administrations.

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?

Policy disparities

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 Sinhala version.

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 resource.

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  "heritage".

Most significantly, the Sinhala draft does not include the provision relating to "water permits"-  one of the most hotly debated issues and a passionate subject for most.


Chronology of events

February 2000- PA government signs Memorandum of  Understanding (MoA) with the World Bank
2000-   Cabinet approval signified
September 2003-  Water Services Reforms Bill prepared by the UNF
November 25, 2003- ADB's first deadline to introduce water bill
November 30, 2003- UNF requests time till December to introduce legislation
May 19, 2004- ADB commenced talks with President Kumararunga
June 2004- 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
July 2004-  ADB suspended the US$ 21 million facility
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
November 22,2004- Drafting of a national water resources policy begins 
November 24, 2004- fresh ADB deadline to introduce the bill
December 21, 2004- cabinet sanctions draft National Water Resources Policy
May 15,2005- Final deadline to implement deadline

Water: 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 management mechanisms.

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 pharmaceutical industry.



©Leader Publication (Pvt) Ltd.
1st Floor, Colombo Commercial Building., 121, Sir James Peiris Mawatha., Colombo 2
Tel : +94-75-365891,2 Fax : +94-75-365891
email :
editor@thesundayleader.lk

 

 

lsdlfkdlfkjjkakskfkd