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APC purchase under bribery probe


The Indonesian made APC (inset) Nimal Lewke

An investigation by the Permanent Commission Investigating Allegations of Bribery and Corruption has begun in earnest into the controversial purchase of five Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) by the Special Task Force (STF) in 2007 for an estimated cost of Rs. 225 million.

Unimpeachable sources within the Commission confirmed that the investigation has indeed commenced and currently in progress with several STF officers having recorded statements with the Commission in relation to the questionable purchase.

Likewise, present STF Commandant, DIG K.M.L. Sarachchandra too confirmed that while he has not been called to record a statement so far by the Commission, several other Special Task Force (STF) personnel have been summoned by the Commission to record their statements with regard to the said procurement.

Purchase request

The controversial transaction was initiated after former STF Commandant, DIG Nimal Lewke requested the Ministry of Defence through a letter dated March 6, 2006 the need 'to purchase five Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) for the STF.'

When the papers were submitted following the request for the purchase of five APCs, a Cabinet Appointed Tender Board (CATB) called for tenders and subsequently approved the proposal submitted by an Indonesian company named Mega Logistics and Services Limited on December 23, 2006.

As investigations progress, some vital questions are being now raised as to the actual value as opposed to the originally quoted value of the five APCs, the specifications of the purchase and how an inferior quality product was approved and purchased.

The fiasco began to unfold when one of the APCs had its wheel coming off in Batticaloa town last year causing the authorities to question the quality of the purchases made. 

Top Defence Ministry sources confirm that it was DIG Nimal Lewke and SP B.D. Chandrasiri who 'developed' the specifications for the purchase of these APCs. Interestingly, the chairman of the technical committee that designed the specifications was also DIG Lewke. Eventually, when the decision was made to purchase the approved APCs, Lewke and Chandrasiri were Jakarta bound to ascertain the suitability of the purchase they approved as being technically sound.

Payment

According to the approved tender, the STF then undertook to pay a staggering Rs. 225 million for the five Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) with each costing Rs. 45 million.

Leaving the question of Lewke's technical experience aside, the question that is now raised is as to exactly what the duo based their technical judgement on, given that the quality of the products are now in question and formed the matter for a corruption probe.

The technical defects that came to light last year were discovered accidentally and not detected by the Lewke-Chandrasiri duo who did the inspection tour.

Defence Ministry sources now conducting their own enquiries confirm that after the manufacture of two of the five ordered trucks, the suppliers of the vehicles had requested STF officers to visit their factory in Indonesia and inspect the vehicles to determine whether they met the required specifications and stipulated standards.

Top defence sources told The Sunday Leader that DIG Nimal Lewke and SP B.D. Chandrasiri were not accompanied by an expert when the inspection tour was undertaken.

The first two APCs eventually reached Sri Lanka on December 8, 2007 and remained unused for a while.

Importantly, on December 24, 2007 the technical committee chairman and the other four members approved the two vehicles following a further inspection in Sri Lanka.

Defects

The defects of the purchased APCs surfaced later. One APC was dispatched to a STF camp in Amparai and the other to Batticaloa, confirm STF sources.

The APC dispatched to the STF Batticaloa detachment was giving trouble and constantly broke down. Upon inspection, a vital technical defect was identified relating to the belt operating the air conditioning system and it was declared that the system was inferior. While being taken to a garage in Batticaloa town, amidst many onlookers, the APC's left front wheel had come off.

According to investigations that followed, the wheel had detached from the hub due to serious technical deficiencies.

Inquiry

Following this, inquiries began with regard to the purchase as the former STF Chief Nimal Lewke had been in charge of the designing of specifications, headed the technical committee, looked into the production needs and went on the inspection tour to Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the supplier had sent the other three APCs which reached the Colombo port in July 2008. By then, there was a directive that due to the previously purchased two APCs being of inferior quality, there was no reason to go ahead and acquire three more of the same.

Defence Ministry sources confirmed that at that point instructions were issued to stop payment for the remaining three APCs.

It was the Defence Ministry that notified the supplier that it would not be making any further payments to procure the other three APCs given the technical deficiencies detected in those already purchased.

Besides, the Defence Ministry also appointed a three-member committee representing the three armed forces to inspect the two APCs.

The committee established that the vehicles were not reliable due to their various technical defects and then informed the local agent of the company that the vehicles brought to the country should be repaired while the other three that reached the Colombo harbour should be returned to the supplier.

The matter was then referred to the Attorney General's Department for further instructions.

In the meantime, based on a petition received by the Commission Investigating Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, a probe commenced.

Unable to give info - Bribery Commission 

When contacted by The Sunday Leader, the officer heading investigations at the Commission said that there was a decision not to disclose any details of matters before the Commission until the conclusion of the specific probes.

However, a top source within the Commission confirmed that the Commission was indeed probing a citizen's petition into the purchase of five Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) by the Special Task Force (STF) and confirmed that the Commission was aware that payment was stopped for three such units that later reached Colombo.


STF Commandant DIG K.M.L. Sarachchandra

STF Commandant DIG K.M.L. Sarachchandra said that there was a probe into the said allegation with the Bribery Commission and some of his officers have been summoned to record their statements in respect to that.

"So far, I have not been called. If I am requested to record a statement, I am prepared to do so," he said.   


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