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October 14, 2007  Volume 14, Issue 17


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High stake games of the lottery king


Lotteries Board vans transporting water for a JHU rally at Viharamahadevi Park
and (inset)Chairman Upali Liyanage

Audit and CID probes
on high spending

Chairman uses four official
vehicles that guzzle fuel

NLB assets used for political work

Liyanage claims he is entitled to privileges

By Nirmala Kannangara

Following audit queries into allegations of corruption and abuse of public property by Chairman, National Lotteries Board (NLB), Upali Liyanage, fresh investigations have been launched by both the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the Auditor General into NLB.

Adding credence to the queries, the General Manager, NLB has been requested to appear before the Permanent Commission to Investigate into Allegations of Bribery and Corruption on Wednesday, October 24.

The National Lotteries Board (NLB) - considered a huge money-spinner for the government has now become a den of corruption according to sources, under the present stewardship of Upali Liyanage. He was first appointed as a working director in 1994 by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Liyanage later became chairman for a brief period of 15 days during the probationary government in 2001 and was re-installed as the chairman in 2006 by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Tainted

While Liyanage may count many years with the NLB, his administration today is tainted by charges of corruption and abuse of public property leading to audit queries that have now reached the CID. It was recently reported that it was none other than the Treasury Secretary, Dr. P B Jayasundera who called for a CID probe.

Among the allegations levelled against Liyanage are the recruitment of employees against Treasury Secretary, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera's circulars dated 2006/5/26 and 2006/11/10, providing employment to personal friends and employing a private security firm with 24 hour coverage - AB Securities (Pvt) Ltd. Colombo 5, at his private residence with NLB funds.

Among the stronger charges are the provision of vehicles and unlimited fuel for the two non-executive directors - Janaka Sri Warnasingha and P.D. Pushpakumara, utilisation of vehicles by the chairman and the working director in contravention of rules and regulations, releasing money from Asarana Sarana Funds for political campaigns and releasing NLB vehicles for presidential publicity programmes.

Blatant abuse

Further to the allegations an audit query conducted by the Group Officer for the Deputy Auditor General, A.K.G.C. Karunathilake,  addressed to the NLB Chairman titled 'Utilisation of vehicles by the Chairman, Working Director and non Executive Directors' dated August 31, 2007 has requested an explanation as to why vehicles and unlimited fuel were provided for the two non executive directors contrary to the Public Enterprise Circular No. PED/35 of January 17, 2006.

Adding to the controversy, questions have been raised as to why Chairman Liyanage is using four vehicles in stark violation of Section 8.3.5 (a) of the Public Enterprise Circular No.12 of January 2, 2003.

In terms of this circular, a public officer who is provided with a vehicle should use only the assigned vehicle unless that vehicle is under repair. "It is observed that the Chairman and the Working Director of the Board have used four vehicles each other than the assigned vehicles within the first quarter of the year 2007," the Group Officer states in his audit query report.

The report also reveals that the Chairman and the Executive Director have exceeded their fuel allocations as per Section 8.3.5. (b) of the said circular.

The report further observes that these deviations continue without response although the Group Officer for the Deputy Auditor General has pointed out these deviations during the previous year as well. "Action should be taken to act according to the rules and regulations of the Public Enterprise Circulars or special approval should be obtained by giving reasonable reasons if any," states a letter of inquiry sent to Chairman Liyanage.

Explanation called for

Raising serious questions about the NLB administration and its financial management, the audit query demands further explanations.

Under the sub heading 'Sales Promotion Expenditure Inquiry - 2007 the Group Officer for Deputy Auditor General, A.K.G.C. Karunathilake queries as to how the profit up to August 31, 2007 has plummeted by Rs.155 million compared to the corresponding period in August 2006 although the promotional cost as at August 31, 2007 has increased by Rs. 16.8 million when compared with the same period of the previous year.

Karunathilake also adds that there have been several irregularities with regard to lottery promotional advertisements. It states that the NLB has advertised with TV Lanka to the tune of Rs. 28 million for the past seven months although the TV channel does not have a large audience.

According to NLB sources, as the United National Party (UNP) launched its Sathi Pola campaign, Chairman Liyanage has released five NLB vehicles for a Presidential propaganda campaign to make the masses aware of the development programmes undertaken by the government to directly undermine the UNP campaign, inside sources said.

Government propaganda

"On Wednesday, October 10, a NLB vehicle bearing number 19-1362 driven by Nihal Sujeewa had left with the Chairman, Sri Lanka Social Welfare and Security Board, Sarath Keerthiratne to an undisclosed destination to hold propaganda meetings on how the government is fulfilling the promises detailed in the Mahinda Chinthana, and a Rosa passenger bus bearing number NA 358 in support of the propaganda campaign, and three more vehicles are to be sent on November 1 for a period of 45 days, islandwide. All the drivers would be paid overtime apart from the batta from the NLB funds.

"Although our Chairman assigned the vehicles for the propaganda work he clearly instructed his officers to remove the NLB stickers on each vehicle to prevent identification. Our vehicles are sent all over whenever the need arises. A few months ago when JHU monks held a sathyagraha at the Viharamahadevi Park against Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe it was the NLB vehicles that carried water for the monks. This too was done on the direction of Chairman Liyanage," the NLB sources told The Sunday Leader.

Private lawyers

Meanwhile according to the NLB sources, the employees who have been instructed to go on early retirement have filed action against Chairman Liyanage. However, instead of seeking legal assistance from the Attorney General's Department, Liyanage has obtained the services of three private lawyers - Anoma Gunathilake, Dhanasooriya and Neil Rajakaruna.

"These three lawyers are paid handsomely from NLB funds. Since NLB does not have a Legal Department, whenever we want legal assistance we request the Attorney General's Department for legal aid. Bypassing all rules and regulations Liyanage has obtained the services of three lawyers on legal matters due to political connections," claimed the sources.

Although Chairman Liyanage denied recruiting his personal friends to NLB The Sunday Leader is in possession of documentation recruiting an Additional General Manager (Sales Promotion) from Medamulane.

Dubious appointments

Although he is being paid by  NLB, the employees claimed that he has never worked at NLB from the day of his appointment. Apart from this, bypassing job evaluation, salary structure, recruitment and promotion procedure of the NLB, Liyanage has appointed an unqualified transport manager in August 2007. Although the transport officer needs to possess a four year motor mechanism course certificate from the CGTTI or an equivalent along with four years of experience in managing a fleet of vehicles, the new appointee has only  a diploma in textile technology.

According to the NLB sources all lottery winners of Rs. 1 million and above have been requested to contribute to the Asarana Sarana fund if they wish to, and almost all have contributed but the money is being utilised for party promotional campaigns and various other political programmes, inside sources said. 

The Sunday Leader is in possession of a request made by the National Organiser, Mahinda Chinthana Sahurda Sansadaya, Lakshman Hulugalle on October 12, 2007 to which the National Lotteries Board has released Rs.250,000  despite the Asarana Sarana money specifically being raised to uplift the living standards of the poorest of the poor in the country.

I am clean - Liyanage

Refuting the allegations levelled against him, Chairman, NLB, Upali Liyanage told The Sunday Leader that the employees were busy fabricating stories to discredit him as he has initiated a retirement drive for those who have completed 55 years upon a Finance Ministry's directive.

"I did not want to send the employees on retirement at 55 years but under the instructions of the Finance Ministry, I had to adhere to the stipulations. Those who are to be sent on retirement have now gone before courts. No sooner I get the order from courts they would be sent and that is why they have now started slinging mud at me," said Liyanage.

He further said that The Sunday Leader too wants to bring him to disrepute as he stopped advertising with the newspaper a few years ago. "Once I gave advertisements to the Leader Publications but since I was instructed not to do so by my superiors I am coming under attack," he alleged.

Meanwhile when questioned whether he was responsible for the charges raised against his administration, Liyanage said that his hands were clean and that he had acted according to the company rules and regulations and does not need NLB money as he is well off from birth.

When asked whether he utilised NLB funds as alleged for the purchase of a tea estate and whether a newly purchased NLB double cab was released for his estate work till the fall of the previous PA regime in 2001, Liyanage said, "I was appointed to the NLB Board in 1994 but this tea estate in question was bought somewhere in 1982. In regard to the double cab, being a board member I was entitled to it and there is nothing wrong in using it," claimed Liyanage.

With regard to the allegation levelled against him for employing private security officers with NLB funds, Liyanage said that he has got the service of three private security officers solely because of the Jayawiru Lottery.

"Since there is lots of money in the Jayawiru Fund and it is funding our security forces, there is a possible threat to my life from the LTTE. That is why I have assigned two private security guards in my office and another at my residence at Thalawathugoda. All these three security guards are paid by the NLB. There is nothing wrong in it. That is my privilege," maintained Liyanage.

When further questioned whether he had recruited employees against a court ruling, he refuted the charge and said, "How can I bypass a court ruling? You know what happened to the Chairman, Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA)? I would never go against the law. My hands are clean and let anybody investigate into the NLB to find out any abuse or corruption."


Movements monitored

Two highly placed NLB officials who spoke on the basis of anonymity confirmed that the charges levelled against Liyanage were true.

They added that the Chairman's insecurity is such that he has fixed cameras inside the entire building including toilets. The officials said that the Chairman installed the security system claiming that he wanted to prevent corruption.

"True to his words he caught several people who attempted to steal NLB money. But apart from this, right throughout the day he is monitoring the movements of the employees and their activities and as a result the employees are now scared to talk freely," they said.


Chairman guzzles fuel

Although the Chairman and the Working Director are entitled to use 180 litres and 150 litres of petrol respectively, or 235 litres and 190 litres of diesel respectively for a month, the following statistics show the amount of litres of fuel both the Chairman and Working Director H.G. Sirisena had used in excess of their allocation.

Vehicle numbers and the consumption of fuel of the two non Executive Directors - P.D. Pushpakumara and Janaka Sri Warnasinghe are as follows.

January 2007

Chairman:  KD 0204 (Petrol) 224 litres - cost Rs. 22,400

Chairman: JX 306 (Petrol) 141 litres - cost Rs.13,677

Chairman: HW 9090 (Petrol) 353.9 litres - cost Rs. 34,328

Working Director: HS 9438 (Petrol) 387 litres - cost Rs. 37,539

Working Director: 19 -1362 (Petrol) 350.5 litres - cost Rs. 33,998.50

Warnasinghe: HS 9497 (Petrol) 354.5 litres - cost Rs. 34,386

Warnasinghe: NA 2769 (Diesel) 437.5 litres - cost Rs. 26,250

Pushpakumara:  JG 2660 (Petrol) 216 litres - cost Rs. 20,952

February 2007

Chairman: KD 0204 (Petrol) 272 litres cost Rs. 27,200

Chairman: HW 9090 (Petrol) 261 litres cost Rs. 25,317

Chairman: NA 3909 (Diesel) 65.6 litres cost Rs. 3,930

Working Director: HS 9438 (Petrol) 290 litres cost Rs.28,130

Warnasinghe: JG 5969 (Petrol) 357 litres cost Rs.34,629

Warnasinghe: NA 2769 (Diesel) 431.5 litres cost Rs. 25,890

Pushpakumara: JG 2660 (Petrol) 289 litres cost Rs. 20,758

March 2007

Chairman: KD 0204 (Petrol) 274.5 litres cost Rs. 27,450

Chairman: HW 9090 (Petrol) 391 litres cost Rs. 37,927

Chairman: JX 306 (Petrol) 166 litres cost Rs.16,102

Chairman: NA 3909 (Diesel) 491 litres cost Rs.31,120

Working Director: D 301- 8894 (Petrol) 368 litres cost Rs. 35,696

Working Director: 19-1362 (Petrol) 219 litres cost Rs. 21,243

Warnasinghe: JG 5969 (Petrol) 325 litres cost Rs. 31,525

WAmasinghe: NA 2769 (Diesel) 498.5 litres cost Rs. 29,910

Pushpakumara: JG 2660 (Petrol) 292 litres cost Rs. 28,324

April 2007

Chairman KD 0204 (Petrol) 207 litres cost Rs. 22,356

Chairman: HW 9090 (Petrol) 201 litres cost Rs. 20,904

Chairman: JX 306 (Petrol) 196 litres cost Rs. 20,384

Chairman: NA 3909 (Diesel) 83 litres cost Rs. 4,980

Working Director: HS 9438 (Petrol) 382 litres cost Rs. 39,728

Working Director: 301-8894 (Petrol) 242 litres cost Rs. 25,168

WAmasinghe: JG 5969 (Petrol) 362 litres cost Rs. 37,648

Pushpakumara: JG 2660 (Petrol) 210 litres cost Rs. 21,840

May 2007

Chairman KD 0204 (Petrol) 282 litres cost Rs. 30,738

Chairman: HS 9497 (Petrol) 359 litres cost Rs. 38,054

Chairman: HW-9090 (Petrol) 333 litres cost Rs. 35,298

Chairman: JX 306 (Petrol) 150 litres cost Rs. 15,900

Chairman: NA 3909 (Diesel) 87 litres cost Rs. 5,829

Working Director: KC 7507 (Petrol) 558.5 litres cost Rs. 59,201

Working Director: HS 9438 (Petrol) 86 litres cost Rs. 9,116

Working Director: 19-1362 (Petrol) 381 litres cost Rs. 40,386

Warnasinghe: JG 5969 (Petrol) 396.5 litres cost Rs. 42,029

Pushpakumara: JG 2660 (Petrol) 231 litres cost Rs. 24,486


Asokamala a tool in a 'Grand' scheme

By Vimukthi Yapa

The recent controversial move to separate captive bred elephant - Asokamala from her herd in the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and land her in Armenia's Yerevan Zoo, just in time for the country's freezing winter, has drawn attention to the despicable plight of Sri Lanka's elephants.

In just the last 200 years, our wild elephant population has been slashed by more than two thirds, with the over 11,000 elephants that roamed our forests and plains in the year 1800 now numbering just under 3,000. Although the people of Sri Lanka may not have been responsible for the decline of its most well known endemic sub-species (Elehephas maximus) during colonial times, the responsibility to care for and protect these great beasts is incumbent upon the people of Sri Lanka.

This is why it is heartening to see private organisations such as the Society for Protection of Animal Rights and even foreign organisations such as the UK's Born Free Foundation take up Asokamala's issue with such energy and enthusiasm, and above all determination to prevent nine year old Asokamala from coming to harm.

A 'grand' scheme

These groups, in a dedicated flurry of press releases have drawn attention to the Yerevan Zoo's alarming history with elephants. Attention has been drawn to a May 2005 decision by India's government to ban the gifting of any animals by its government. As it transpires, that decision was taken due to the public outcry in India over a visit by the Armenian President and his close associate, Director, Grand Holding Company, Dr. Hrant Vardanyan to India aimed at spiriting away an Indian elephant, Veda, to the very same Yerevan Zoo.

Dr. Vardanyan's Grand Holding Company sponsors the zoo's existing elephant named 'Grand' and the move was part of a marketing gimmick to promote his company's Grand Candy line of confectioneries whose logo too is an elephant. Grand, an Asian elephant born to captivity in Russia was moved to Armenia's Yerevan Zoo "under the patronage of the Vardanyan family" according to Grand Candy marketing material.

It is here that the elephant was given the name 'Grand.' Indian infant elephant Veda was to be renamed 'Candy' and so the Grand Candy Company would then be sponsoring two elephants at the Yerevan Zoo: 'Grand' and 'Candy!'

That two elephants have already died in the Yerevan Zoo under mysterious circumstances is no secret, pointed out respected environmentalist Dr. Jayantha Jayawardena. Other concerns addressed by Dr. Jayawardena when he spoke to us were the change in climatic conditions the elephant had to deal with, the complete turnaround in its diet, and the conditions inside the Yerevan Zoo.

Business before welfare

"Female elephants are social animals. The affinity between Sri Lanka's mahouts and even our general population with elephants cannot be replicated in Armenia where the elephant will become just a showpiece. Elephants require a lot of personal attention, need a lot of exercise and require the freedom to roam around large areas. Clearly these will not be the conditions at Yerevan. So we wonder why the government is moving this animal from her family in Pinnawela to the detriment of the elephant."

Sidelining the question of 'animal rights' Dr. Jayawardena insisted that we should instead focus on 'animal welfare.' "Rights are something we assert and demand," he said, as animals cannot voice their 'rights.' "What we can do is ensure that the animals are well treated, which is the concept of animal welfare. There is no way that separating an elephant from her family and isolating her in a continental country like Armenia with its freezing winters can be construed as a move of animal welfare."

"Above all else it is a violation of CITES," was Dr. Jayawardena's leading concern, referring to the 'Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species,' a treaty to which Sri Lanka is party and that which prohibits export of any endangered species, such as the red-listed Asian elephant, under any circumstances.

'Exchange' not export

Sports and Recreation Minister Gamini Lokuge when contacted by The Sunday Leader insisted that "this is not an export, it is an exchange, so that doesn't matter." However, the Minister was nonplussed when asked to clarify whether an exchange was not merely the export of one animal in exchange for the import of another. However Lokuge was firm on the fact that he had no personal interest in the matter, asserting that the request for Asokamala's exchange was sent from the Armenian Government via the Foreign Ministry and that he merely presented the cabinet paper through his department.

Lokuge offered this newspaper a copy of the request paper that was received while he was still an opposition MP in November 2006, in order to vindicate himself from allegations that Asokamala's export was part of a shady deal initiated by him after he assumed office. He said that he was tasked with presenting the cabinet paper as the relevant departments fall under his Ministry, and was clear that the export would not be permitted without allowing all the necessary clearances to be obtained first.

When queried as to whether any Sri Lankan officials or vets will visit the Yerevan Zoo to verify the viability of Asokamala's proposed habitat, Lokuge was quick to snap that "this is a government-to-government transaction, so we can trust whatever the Armenian government sends us. There is no need to send government vets or anyone there. We can go on their word."

Perhaps Lokuge was unaware that several animals have died in the Yerevan Zoo by eating poisoned food. Two cats found dead in their zoo quarter in October 2002 were in fact burned over fears that they had been poisoned with anthrax. The then director of the Yerevan Zoo, Sahak Abovyan told media at the time that the deaths can be attributed to the zoo not having enough money to buy quality food for the animals.

In some cases food was purchased from shady markets for less than one fifth the price of food at commercial markets due to the dire financial situation said Abovyan. He had also stated that there was such a lack of funds that zoo employees were unable to tell whether they were feeding safe food to the animals.

When The Sunday Leader contacted officials from the Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Conservation Department, many were terrified to express their true feelings on record. Their hands are tied, they claim, at the whim of the all-powerful ministers above them, and one was to quip that should they try to interfere with the government's plans over such petty concerns as the law, "we would suffer worse treatment than the elephant being sent to that country."

Under Section 19 (2) of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of 1964: "No tusker or elephant, whether wild or tame shall be exported from Ceylon except under the authority of a special permit issued by the warden." The 'warden' by contemporary interpretation is the Director General of the Wildlife Conservation Department, Ananda Wijesuriya, who had earlier this week told several media organisations that no elephant can be exported from Sri Lanka under any circumstances without his written permission.

All eyes on Ranawaka

However, a passionate environmentalist, Cabinet Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka, told media that his ministry is awaiting a reply from Armenia to queries about the conditions and facilities at the zoo, and has pledged to take a decision based on the information received. 

The question is under the bizarre distribution of government departments under the current government, with neither the Wildlife Conservation Department nor the National Zoological Gardens Department coming under purview of the Environment Ministry, whether Ranawaka will wield the necessary authority to block the move, should he ultimately be convinced that Asokamala's move to Armenia is tantamount to shipping off a young child to a Siberian Gulag.  

Problems at Pinnawela

A position paper published last June by the UK-based Born Free Foundation raised several concerns with practices at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. The theme of all concerns was that the institution was not acting like an orphanage at all, and was instead acting in various contradictory capacities. Some of the issues raised are paraphrased below in the public interest.

Chaining of animals

The foundation noted that all adult male elephants at Pinnawela were chained by at least one leg for most hours of the day. During their annual mating (musth) phase, Born Free pointed out that males were chained permanently by three legs for the duration of musth.

Transferring elephants

The Armenia attempt is not a first. The July 2006 report highlighted the fact that "Pinnawela has a history of transferring elephants to other establishments, both nationally and internationally, for a range of purposes. According to the report, the care conditions for the elephants are "very low by international standards of captive animal welfare." As an 'orphanage' the primary consideration of Pinnawela in giving an elephant up for adoption should be the welfare of the animal.

Breeding in an 'orphanage?'

The Born Free Foundation made clear its concerns over a so-called orphanage placing priority on breeding elephants in its captivity. The practice of breeding captive animals is internationally recognised as having no advantage to the conservation of the species, as true conservation efforts focus on the animal in its wild habitat.

Contact for tips

Visitors are encouraged to engage in physical contact with the elephants in exchange for tips to the mahouts, according to Born Free. Such a practice "can become the primary motivation for the keepers, thus overriding welfare considerations." As elephants are unpredictable and potentially dangerous, this could also present a safety hazard.


The CITES angle

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora is an international treaty ratified by over 150 nations including Sri Lanka. The Wildlife Conservation Department is charged with managing Sri Lanka's obligations under the CITES treaty. Appendix I of the treaty text deals with 'species threatened with extinction' such as the red-listed Asian Elephant and the regulations regarding export of such animals are as follows:

          A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit.

          An import permit issued by the management authority of the State of import is required. This maybe issued only if the specimen is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes and if the import will be for purposes that are not detrimental to the survival of the species. In the case of a live animal or plant, the scientific authority must be satisfied that the proposed recipient is suitably equipped to house and care for it.

          An export permit or re-export certificate issued by the management authority of the State of export or re-export is also required.

          An export permit may be issued only if the specimen was legally obtained; the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species; and an import permit has already been issued.

          In the case of a live animal or plant, it must be prepared and shipped to minimise any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.


More Spotlight Article...


Asokamala a tool in
a 'Grand' scheme


 

 


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