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21st  May, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 45

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

Queen Victoria hurled out     Portuguese boulder dumped     More monuments may follow

Queen Victoria's jubilee statue now lies in disarray unattended at Vihara Maha Devi Park, Dumped on the shore near Chaitya Road and The Portuguese Coat of Arms engraved on the boulder

History in dustbin 
as Mahinda looks for hooniyam

By Sonali Samarasinghe

President Mahinda Rajapakse was a man much agitated last week after The Sunday Leader exclusively exposed the President's decision to tear down historical monuments at President's House to satisfy the gods. 

Even as 120 Ports Authority labourers were working round the clock removing old floor tiles and bathroom fittings and making extensive structural changes, Rajapakse was already on his way to rewriting the nation's history in his own inimitable style. 

Sources at the Ports Authority confirmed to this newspaper that President Rajapakse gave orders to tear down Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee monument in order that a religious statue be erected on that spot instead. It is the Ports Authority that traditionally undertakes construction work at the President's House.

Rajapakse, obsessed understandably with security issues has been consulting the oracles often. The rumour among the workers is that everything is uprooted to uncover buried hooniyams.

Orders had also allegedly come from above to remove all traces of foreign occupation in the premises which ironically was once the private house of Johan Gerard van Angelbeek, the last Dutch Governor of Ceylon. From the time the Portuguese landed close to the site of this magnificent building in 1505, it is said to have formed the nucleus of the Fort of Colombo and was later to become a place of imperial splendour.

Inside sources indicate these historical monuments will now be replaced by newly sculptured religious statues.

Ironically the Minister of Ports Mangala  Samaraweera is also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. However even the country's foremost diplomatic political appointee seemed oblivious to the decorum to be followed in such cases or the procedure to be followed.

To please the  stars

Inside sources told this newspaper an astrologer had advised Rajapakse it was necessary for him to each morning stand on a particular spot and pay homage to the gods while facing the sea, if he were to protect himself from evil. 

The only hitch was that a 19th century Queen Victoria statue made in white quartz occupied this very spot. The President, not a man well versed in the niceties of international diplomacy or the importance of history had, according to informed sources, in cavalier tones ordered the statue to be removed and thrown out.

However no sooner the article Rewriting history Chinthana style hit the stands the much perturbed President realised that his directives to tear down age old monuments were hasty and could have national and international repercussions.

Of course the President is famously known for his unreserved spontaneity and rashness of spirit.

Positive impact

He has been known to react without thinking and act without deliberating. This perhaps is a hallmark of his career. And employing damage control methods have now become necessary as Rajapakse leaves in his wake historical destruction as we see now and religious desecration as we saw earlier this year in Kerala.      

Nonetheless The Sunday Leader article was to have a positive impact on his future actions at least vis a vis the dislodging of monuments at the presidential premises. The Sunday Leader article got not only the President but also other departments activated.

The authorities realised soon enough the diplomatic boo boo of kicking out Queen Victoria on her ear. However up to the time of writing neither Queen Victoria as she now sits moodily next to a large open stage on Vihara Maha Devi Park, nor the ancient Portuguese  boulder now dumped on the sea shore on Chaitya Road  amidst other construction rubble, know what fate lies in store for them.

Left to the elements

Though the Archaeological Department understands the magnitude of the problem nobody seems to understand the urgency. These monuments now lay unattended while pieces of the pedestal including the engraved plaque of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 lie scattered all over the grass at the park open to vandals and unscrupulous thieves who steal artefacts and sell them later at a great price.  

The President may be a man who lives his life by sibylline leaves but the  Chief Executive cannot tear down monuments of immense historical value that belong not to him nor to his government but to the state and the public at large. 

Neither can he move these items sans the proper procedures and written authority by experts on such matters as officials of the Archaeological Department and perhaps the National Museum.

One is also entitled to speculate whether the tearing down of monuments depicting white colonisation while hurriedly putting up religious statues in every street corner is the beginning of the cultural awakening as envisaged by that curious document the Mahinda Chinthana?

Statue of Queen Victoria 

On the northern side of the President's House are situated the Gordon Gardens, laid out in 1889 by Governor Sir Arthur Gordon in honour of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Her large and imposing statue made of white quartz was up until last week - a  part of the rich history of Fort.

This statue and its pedestal unceremoniously dismantled has now been dumped at Vihara Maha Devi Park - next to a public stage.

In those days and before Gordon Gardens was closed to the public and became a part of President's House and under security, large numbers of school children would be taken to view this statue.

Between 1972 and 1977 changes made in the security arrangements of the Senate building and the Prime Minister's Office in the Fort of Colombo resulted in the Gardens being closed to the public. Though set up in honour of Queen Victoria's jubilee the gardens also contain two monuments of immense historic significance. Rajapakse may not be aware given his recent brash actions that the tomb of Don Juan Dharmapala, King of Kotte who on his death left his lands and kingdom to the king of Portugal following his conversion to Catholicism and the famous Portuguese boulder (on left) were part of these grounds.

Minister agrees with The Leader

Cultural and National Heritage  Minister, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena who seemed to have a better understanding of the enormity of the issue agreed that the monuments were a part of a shared history and must be preserved in a fitting manner.

"Definitely we have to preserve. We would be taking steps to do so and discussing this matter with the Archaeological Department officials," he said. Alas however, it was obvious that there had not been any meeting of minds before the move was effected and it was a case of closing the stable door as is the practice in this country.

The Minister also said that some of the monuments at the President's House were replicas, however when asked which monuments were replicas, Abeywardena could not immediately recall.

British not amused but not embarrassed either

Diplomatic sources at the British High Commission in Colombo told The Sunday Leader that while on a personal note they were interested in the fate of the statue of Queen Victoria, it was their official position that all assets including such statues were handed over to the Government of Ceylon in 1948 at independence and became exclusively the property of Ceylon. The British have no claim to it anymore. Therefore "we do not feel any tension or any embarrassment at all and this action has had no bearing on our good relations."

Asked if diplomatic sensitivity has been ruffled by the dumping of the grand old dame as she was part of a shared history whether some liked it or not, the source replied diplomatically enough, that the statue was the exclusive property of the Sri Lankan state.

Museum clueless

Director General, National Museum, Dr. Nanda Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Leader that the Museum had nothing to do with the shift as it was a matter for the Archaeological Department. When asked about the 20 tonne Portuguese boulder she said she was unaware of any requests to move it to the Museum but stated she was aware of the existence of a plaque on a stone but that was all.

Dr. Wickremesinghe also said that a meeting was convened at the Presidential Secretariat to perhaps discuss these matters on April 25 at 7 p.m. but was later cancelled due to the bomb at the Army Headquarters earlier that afternoon.

 

Archaeological Department in shock

Sources at the Archeological Department and National Museum who wished to remain anonymous expressed shock that the President had issued such directives. "What can we do, the executive can do what he wants," one said.

While the Director General of the Archaeological Department, Senarath Dissanayake could not be reached for comment, Director M. B. Herath declined to comment calling it too much of a complicated issue. However another official at the department who wished to remain anonymous fearing he may lose his job for speaking out on the matter, confirmed to The Sunday Leader that two archaeological officers had been asked by the President's House to be present when the monuments were being torn down.

When asked who took the decision to dump the grand old dame of British royalty, Queen Victoria, at the Vihara Maha Devi Park with no security, the source said it was certainly not the department. He also pointed out that the department does not even have the resources to move such huge monuments and that is why cranes of the Ports Authority were used for the purpose.

Asked about a sealed champagne bottle with a message inside that had been found between Queen Victoria's statue and the pedestal on which it stood (also exclusively reported in The Sunday Leader last week) the source said it had been recovered and was now in their custody. Last week this newspaper reported there had been an attempt to extricate the letter which then crumbled into dust. The Archaeological Department did not confirm that the bottle was unsealed and its contents destroyed and indicated the bottle was in tact. However when asked if the newspaper could see it, the source said the bottle was in the custody of the Director General.

The source also told this newspaper that the procedure when moving such artefacts was usually to obtain the written input of the Archaeological Department but there was no record of any written permission given by the department for the movement of these historical monuments.

 

A 20-tonne boulder dumped on the sea shore

The fate of the famous Portuguese padrao, on which is engraved the Coat of Arms of Portugal consisting of  five point shields, a cross and what appears to be the date 1501, is far worse. It has been unceremoniously transported to Chaitya Road and dumped on the sea shore where the legs of the large construction that holds the chaitya straddles the road on all four sides.

Ever since 1977, Ports Authority sources say,  this has been a sort of traditional dumping ground for the port workers who would dump any building debris or construction debris on the sea shore. Now this historic boulder too has been dumped here in danger of being forgotten or covered by more debris.

The Portuguese and their boulder

In November 1505, the island was first visited by Don Lourenzo D' Almeida, who set up the usual padrao at Colombo: this, a rock carved with the arms of Portugal, was in the customs premises until removed to the Gordon Gardens at the side of Queen's House.

In an article titled 'The rock that foxed our historians,'  published in the Ceylon Times Annual 1973, a section of which is reproduced in the notes section of the 1981 book From Governor's Residence To President's House by Brendon Gooneratne, Stanley Suraweera sets out an account of the boulder which until last week stood in Gordon Gardens. The engraving mentioned by Portuguese historians in their chronicles, is supposed to have been made by order of Don Lourenzo D'Almeida (according to the Portguese custom of the time and with the permission of King Dharma Parakramabahu IX of Kotte) on a rock in front of the bay of Colombo.

This rock boulder, said to weigh 20 tonnes, then disappeared temporarily until September 5, 1898 when it was unearthed during the demolition of the old harbour police headquarters at the foot of the break-water. The engraving was found to be in excellent condition, and the rock allowed to remain near the wharf railway station, between the customs main gate and the back of the customs yard.

In 1912 Sir Hugh Clifford, then colonial secretary, ordered its removal to Gordon Gardens. Historians who examined the rock at that time found the inscription on it to consist of the Portuguese coat of arms surmounted by a crown, above it a crudely carved cross, and to its left what appeared to be the numerals '1501'. The latter discovery presented a problem, since all written records point unequivocally to 1505 as having been the date of the arrival of the Portuguese fleet in Colombo. Some suggested the incorrect date was added later.

However Suraweera records that F. H.de Vos, an amateur historian, produced the theory that the figures on the rock represented not numerals, but the four letters I.S.O.I. The first and second letters of this symbol were surmounted, each by a tiny crown. As old Portuguese coins carry the indentation 'ISOI - IESUS SALVATOR OTIENTALIUM INDICARUM' (Jesus Saviour of the East Indies)

It is thus assumed that the engraving on the rock bears the same message. However whether the coat of arms, the cross and the lettering is the work of one engraver cannot be conclusively established.

It is this rich monument of immense value to students of history that Rajapakse has decided to dump in the sea shore with no security. 


NLB's gamble  with public money

NLB internal audit report

AG's query on appointment of advertising agents

AG's report on deviation from tender procedures

By Kumudu Amarasingham

Corruption is rife at the National Lotteries Board (NLB) as expenses soar and one of the country's most lucrative government owned institutions plunges into more losses daily.

Outdoing all lapses highlighted so far, NLB had managed to overspend on its advertising budget for 2006 by over Rs.10 million just three months into the year. The advertising budget for 2006 was Rs.31, 487,117 million. By end February NLB had already spent Rs.23,376, 364.91 million, and by March the amount spent on 'image building' stood at Rs. 41,693,514.91 million - over Rs.10 million beyond the stipulated advertising budget for the whole year. 

Three actresses posing for a calendar promoting the candidature of Nandana Daluwatte, a UPFA candidate sponsored by the NLB

Losses incurred

Director and Treasury Representative, National Lotteries Board, K. N. J. Cooray, in a letter to the NLB Chairman Priyantha Kariyapperuma  states that the losses incurred by NLB in March this year amounted to Rs.2,217,000. The National Lotteries Board is Rs.381 million behind target for the first quarter of the year.

The main reason for this has been the colossal expenses incurred by NLB employees, particularly the Chairman. Cooray also states that a surplus of 18 staff members had been hired since Kariyapperuma's appointment, whereas NLB was already overstaffed. Of these, two bodyguards and a driver were hired for Kariyapperuma's personal use. In addition to his stipulated allowance and vehicle, Kariyapperuma has also taken five NLB vehicles for his private use.

Last month The Sunday Leader highlighted some of National Lotteries Board Chairman, Priyantha Kariyapperuma's misdoings, including not following proper government tender procedure in giving out advertising contracts, selection of advertising agencies without appropriate board approval and based on personal contacts, misuse of NLB resources including vehicles, employment of persons without proper qualifications and without obtaining prior board approval, in addition to a range of other discrepancies.

Tender procedures

A letter to Kariyapperuma from the Auditor General's Department dated February 2006 has clearly stated these inconsistencies.  According to the letter, selection of agencies was carried out by a committee appointed by the Chairman without the assistance of a tender board.

 Guidelines on government tender procedure plainly state that for the value of a tender between Rs.25 million and 100 million or exceeding Rs.100 million, Ministry Tender Board or Cabinet Appointed Tender Board approval is required. Further commitment between the NLB and the advertising agencies was limited only to a letter, although it is important to legally enter into an agreement between two parties in such transactions stating the responsibilities of both parties, expected targets, details of assignments to be carried out, financial commitments and so on.

In addition The Sunday Leader recently came into possession of a letter from the advertising agency, Advisor In-Out-Win, to the NLB Chairman stating that Advisor In-Out-Win had legally registered as a company - over a month after they had been selected to market the highest earning NLB products. The agency had not even been registered when the National Lotteries Board first recruited it to build their image. Advisor has close links to Kariyapperuma's brother, Roshantha Kariyapperuma.

NLB calendar

In addition to this the procedure for handing out the contract to print NLB's 2006 calendar to Advisor was  shady to say the least. Tenders were called from three different organisations: MDA Graphics who quoted Rs.16.60 per calendar, SRGS Graphics who quoted Rs.16.25 per calendar and Advisor In-Out-Win who quoted Rs.15.50 per calendar.

The first organisation was a very small printing press, the owner of the second did not even own a press and got his work done via the press owned by the first, and the third organisation, to which the tender was awarded, had been working for the highest income generating 'Mahajana Sampatha' and 'Supiri Wasana Sampatha' lotteries of the board. To top things off, neither the supplier, Advisor, nor NLB, had paid VAT on the order.

On January 17, 2006, approval had been granted to offer the tender to Advisor, the lowest bidder for the printing of 100,000 wall calendars and 5,000 desk calendars. However, according to the Deputy Auditor General H.A.S. Samaraweera, the organisation had been selected for the supply before approval was granted and the firm had completed the first order on January 7, 2006.

Although the tender board had approved the purchase of only 100, 000 wall calendars, 370,000 wall calendars had been printed and handed over to the board as of March 10 this year (the date of the audit examination) amounting to a total expenditure (including desk calendars) of Rs.7,075,000. The supply of 270,000 calendars valued at Rs. 4,850,000 had been obtained without requisite approval.

Audit reveals

Audit tests on March 10 further revealed that 180,250 calendars or 48% of the printed calendars were in the main stores in Maradana, yet to be distributed: a position that had arisen due to the printing of excessive numbers without appropriate approval.

These details were revealed in an earlier report in The Sunday Leader. Since  then, more glaring irregularities have come to light regarding Kariyapperuma's performance as NLB Chairman, and no action has been taken against him by government authorities.

Among the details highlighted in the last article were those of payments made to four actresses for posing, including Kariyapperuma's sister-in-law, Sangeetha Weeraratne, of Rs.1 million each. Amid these a calendar was printed with the NLB product logos, where three of the actresses posed, promoting the candidature of Nandana Daluwatte, a PA candidate at the last election.

Why would the state owned National Lotteries Board promote a UPFA candidate using fast diminishing funds?

Above and beyond the decrease in profit and overspending stated earlier, in reply to a request by Kariyapperuma for approval to increase incentive payment, the Director General of the Department of Public Enterprises, V. Kanagasabapathy, in a letter dated 6.4.2006 pointed out that the financial performance of the NLB had reached an all-time low.

Revenue decline

From 2003 to 2005 there was a decline in total revenue, gross profit and net profit, while staff costs have risen dramatically. The contribution made to the consolidated fund in 2003 was Rs.1, 237.13 million while in 2005 it had dropped to Rs. 957.4 million.

NLB had also not paid the special levy imposed by the Treasury for the year 2005 amounting to Rs.200 million. The letter states that if the existing incentive had been based on performance this situation could not have arisen.

An earlier letter dated March 9, 2006 from Kanagasabapathy to Kariyapperuma had refused to grant approval to increase the number of employees stating "Already the cost of employment has been on the increase with an increased number of employees, particularly when performance has been on the decrease.

 "It would appear that there is no proper HR management in place and there are no strategy or action plans available to support the proposed recruitments."

All these are of course cause to question Kariyapperuma's qualifications to hold the post of Chairman of a large government-owned body such as the National Lotteries Board. Reports indicate he started his career as a sales representative at a private company in Colombo. These details would have been irrelevant had his performance not been so outrageous and poor in terms of benefiting the institution at which he currently holds the highest office.

Misappropriation of funds

Also among Kariyapperuma's transgressions is the payment of large amounts via the Lotteries Board to individuals, once again against the rules. Among the documentary evidence  in its possession, The Sunday Leader holds an invoice for Rs.500,000 written to Ven. Borelle Athula Thero for an image promoting advertisement at the Dasa Paramitha Maha Perahera.

While it is a fact that the dhamma  condemns lotteries as falling into the range of gambling, which is against Buddhist ethics, it seems some priests are fattening their wallets with its gains. The fact remains; a personal cheque was written to an individual beyond stipulated amounts.

The Treasury representative, in a letter to NLB Chairman, has stated the current financial status of the National Lotteries Board is 'dangerous,' and if not rectified soon would lead to disaster. The Director General of Public Enterprises echoed his sentiments in several other letters.

Given these warnings, coupled with repeated letters to the authorities from individuals expressing deep concern over the current state of affairs at NLB, the government's failure to take any action against Kariyapperuma can perhaps be traced to his close links with President Mahinda Rajapakse. He was part of Rajapakse's personal staff until he assumed the Presidency. 


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