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Issues

A confused Pakistan TRC mute on frequency allocations


Dry port kicks up a storm


Registered office of Rank Container Terminal
Limited, which is also the location of the
Star Dust Casino in Colpetty
(inset) Copy of the lease agreement

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

The government's decision to recommence the dry port project in Colombo has run in to much controversy with irregularities being pointed out on the lease agreement signed between the Trade, Marketing Development, Cooperatives and Consumer Service Ministry and the private sector company chosen to complete the project.

The lease agreement signed between the Ministry officials and the private company last month has come under fire due to several irregularities.

The said agreement has been signed on January 16, 2009 by the lessor (the Acting Ministry Secretary), the lessee (the private company, Rank Container Terminals Limited), two witnesses and has not been legally executed.

The lease agreement for a period of 10 years had also been signed before the Chief Government Valuer provided a certified valuation for the premises.

While the lease agreement states, "Lessor shall be entitled to review yearly the compliance by the Lessee of the Cabinet approval dated 23.04.2008 granted for the purpose of establishment of Container Clearing Terminal by the Lessee on the Demised Premises. In the event it is revealed that the Lessee has failed to carry out its business in the manner stipulated by the said Cabinet Approval.," the stipulations outlined in the said cabinet approval have not been annexed to the agreement.

The recommencement of the dry port project by a new private company, Rank Container Terminals Limited first ran in to controversy when the Kolonnawa Urban Council (UC) complained to the Grandpass Police on the illegal construction taking place within a land belonging to the Food Department at Orugodawatte and filed a case at the Colombo High Court seeking an injunction to stop the construction work.

On January 23, 2009 a technical officer attached to the Kolonnawa UC, Tharaka Gunaratne lodged a complaint with the Grandpass Police about the illegal construction work taking place within the Orugodawatte Food Department premises.

The officer had informed the police that following instructions from the Kolonnawa UC Chairman, Chandrasiri Dias to inspect the illegal construction work taking place, he had visited the Food Department land in Orugodawatte.

Upon inspection, he had found that the persons involved in the construction work had not received the necessary approval from the UC to recommence construction.

The officer had then been told by the persons at the construction site that the building being constructed belonged to one Ravi Wijeratne.

Also, on January 23, the Kolonnawa UC had in writing informed Ravi Wijeratne to immediately stop the illegal constructions at the Food Department land at Orugodawatte and to remove the illegal structures that have already been put up in the said land.

Wijeratne, proprietor of Star Dust Casino in Colpetty is also a director of Rank Container Terminals Limited. In fact, the lease agreement signed between the Ministry and Rank Container Terminals Limited has stated the company's registered office to be located at No. 9, 15th Lane, Galle Road, Colombo 3 - the same premises where the Star Dust Casino is located.

The Kolonnawa UC claimed the construction work in the Food Department land in Orugodawatte was illegal, as the persons involved in the construction work did not possess the relevant documents approving the work.

Kolonnawa UC Chairman, Chandrasiri Dias said that according to data available at the UC, the respective land in Orugodawatte belonged to the Food Department and the council has not been informed officially of the handing over of the land to another party for any project.

The plan for the construction work has to be passed by the UC and the change of names of the owners of the land has to be officially informed to the council to get approval for the land and the persons involved in the construction work has not followed the normal procedure, Dias said.

When asked last week if either the Food Department or Rank Container Terminals Limited had sought UC approval to continue the construction work in the dry port project, Dias said that there has still not been any change in the status quo.

Construction work in the Orugodawatte land commenced during the dry port project in 2004 under K Port (Pvt) Limited.

K Port (Pvt) Limited however did not complete the project as it came to an abrupt halt soon after the company's chairman, Kamil Kuthubdeen's name was implicated in the Rs. 3.57 billion VAT scam that rocked the country in 2006.

The Trade, Marketing Development, Co-operatives and Consumer Services Ministry last week told The Sunday Leader that the government has recommenced the stalled dry port project and has handed over the Orugodawatte Food Department land to Rank Container Terminals Limited to complete the dry port project that was abandoned by K Port (Pvt) Limited.

The decision to hand over the land to another private company was arrived at by the cabinet of ministers in April 2008.

However, a court case at the time prevented the land from being handed over.

In October 2007, Trade, Marketing Development, Co-operatives and Consumer Service Minister Bandula Gunawardena received cabinet approval to cancel the lease and land given to K Port (Pvt) Limited. Legal action was also imitated at the same time to recover the rent arrears and compensation for the demolition of buildings in the land premises allocated for the dry port.

The court then granted an order in favour of the Food Department and handed over the land back to it. The government then handed over the land to Rank Container Terminals Limited to recommence the stalled dry port project.

However, The Sunday Leader was last week told by Trade, Marketing Development, Co-operatives and Consumer Service Ministry Secretary Lalith R. de Silva that the government was in the process of finalising the agreement with Rank Container Terminals and is also in the process of conducting a valuation.

When pointed out that the land has been registered at the Kolonnawa UC under the Food Department and that permission has not been sought from council to permit another party to construct structures, de Silva said that there could not be any legal issue over constructions being done with the consent of the landowner.

When questioned this week by The Sunday Leader if the valuation for the land in Orugodawatte had been completed, de Silva said that it was still being done.

When pointed out that the Ministry had entered into a lease agreement with Rank Container Terminals Limited without a proper valuation, legal execution and most of all after he had claimed last week that an agreement was yet to be finalised, de Silva said that the agreement was issued temporarily for the company to commence construction work in the Orugodawatte land. (See box)

However, The Sunday Leader learns that due to the controversies surrounding the reallocation of the land to another private company to complete the stalled dry port project has once again come to a standstill.

The Kolonnawa UC says that although the Colombo High Court last week removed the temporary stay order preventing the construction in the Orugodawatte land, work of any kind has not commenced in the said land..

Plight of dry port in colombo 

The fact that the space crisis in the Colombo Port has created a severe demand for shipping space resulting in an increase of freight rates has been highlighted many times.

It has been reported on many occasions that congestion and delays at the Colombo Port have arisen due to inadequate infrastructure facilities and that new development projects should be launched alongside the work on the Colombo South Harbour Expansion Project.

It has also been noted that neighbouring states have developed their ports and many shipping lines in Europe trade prefer to call on those ports, which are equipped with better facilities than the Port of Colombo, especially the Jawaharlal Nehru, and Cochin Ports in India that have developed tremendously now pose a threat to the Colombo Port.

The need for innovative means such as a dry port concept with a road connecting to the Port to handle congestion and reduce the time spent on container cargo clearance has been identified for years as part of the port development project.

The history of the dry port construction began when the government in 2004 decided to set up dry ports at Ragama and Ratmalana to regulate container operations. This step was expected to avoid congestion and many other obstacles on public roads. The authorities planned to move the containers by train to the two dry ports.

The country's first rail based dry port was to be set up at Orugodawatte.

Commencing the Orugodawatte dry port project in 2004, it was said that rail lines were already laid at the dry port, which is situated in a centrally located ten acre land, which is expected to facilitate the transporting of containers by rail directly from Orugodawatte to the harbour without any hassle.


Lease agreement 'not finalised' 

Trade, Marketing Development, Co-operatives and Consumer Service Ministry Secretary Lalith R. de Silva reiterated that the Ministry has not yet finalised the lease agreement with Rank Container Terminals (Pvt) Ltd.

He said that the Ministry was yet to receive the final valuation from the Chief Valuer.

"The final agreement will be signed after we receive the final valuation," he said.

When questioned about the lease agreement signed on January 16, 2009 between the acting Ministry Secretary and Rank Container Terminals (Pvt) Ltd, de Silva said that it was issued temporarily to permit the company to commence the initial work regarding the dry port project.

"Since there was a court case and the Food Department received the land afterwards, a letter needed to be given to the new company giving it the right to commence the project," he said.

De Silva also denied the allegation leveled in parliament last week by the opposition that a square foot of land has been given at 18 cents. He said that according to calculations, a square foot was given at a price of around Rs. 10.

When asked if tenders were called when recommencing the dry port project, de Silva said there was no necessity for open tenders as it was a BoI project.

"The process of BoI projects is different. You go by the strength of the proposal and there are no open tenders," he explained.

De Silva said that the final agreement would be signed once the Chief Valuer hands over the valuation.


About Rank Container Terminals 

A web search on Rank Container Terminals (Pvt) Ltd. by The Sunday Leader revealed that Rank Group "is a diversified business group with presence in a range of areas such as ICT, insurance, power and energy, gaming and entertainment and investment consultation" to name a few. 

"With over 15 years of experience in providing innovation and excellence to the corporate front, we combine our experience, resources and intimate knowledge of Sri Lanka and its business environment with strategic partnerships to bring optimal value to our clients and projects."

According to the website, Rank Container Terminals (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of Rank Group is aimed at being the flagship product in logistics, general cargo and container terminal operating systems.

Rank Container Terminals is a logistics project that would adapt systems to meet the challenges the shipping industry faces in an extremely cost-effective manner.

The systems plan to run multi-terminal, multi-discipline ports and depot operations: containers, logs, motor vehicles, general cargo and bulk cargo  with a very comprehensive, truly integrated solution to the issues that face a real world operation, cost, efficiency, turnaround time and prompt invoicing for services rendered, all in one easy-to-use package.

Rank Container Terminals is a dream to be installed; it would deploy to both your internal users and external clients entirely using automatically updated thin clients over internet connections and requires no additional licenses to run the software out of the box.

The Terminal would compose of four core capabilities: Container Core, Warehousing Core, Vessel Scheduling Core (VTMIS) and Log Marshalling Core.


A confused Pakistan


Iftikhar Chaudhry and Asif Zardari

By Sushant Sareen

A meeting last week of South Asian journalists in the Bangladeshi beach resort of Cox's Bazaar offered a great opportunity to touch base with senior scribes from Pakistan, many of whom, one is proud and privileged to count as good friends. Unfortunately, the very engaging conversations with Pakistani colleagues left an unmistakable impression that Pakistanis are in a self-destruct mode.

Despite a realisation of the gravity of the problems facing their country, Pakistanis don't seem to attach the sort of urgency that is required to address the multiple crises confronting them. Apart from a few notable exceptions, most of the Pakistanis are in semi-denial over the existential threat that faces their country. Others are complacent, confident that the Pakistani army and state will be able to set things right if it got down to it.

Ask why the army and the state haven't got down to setting things back in order, and all that is on offer is very cogently constructed conspiracy theories. Very few people are willing to admit the possibility that the Pakistan army is either not willing or not able to put the jihad genie back in the bottle.

'Not able' is simply a function of the army being demoralised, too compromised by jihadists within its ranks, not enjoying public support, being over-stretched, and not trained to fight such low intensity conflicts.

Unwillingness to fight

'Not willing' is partly because the army doesn't want to fight its own people. More seriously, the unwillingness to fight the Taliban menace is suspected to be the result of a delusional grand design to attain great glory for Islam and Pakistan by destroying America's super-power status in Afghanistan.

A popular TV show anchor believes that whenever a country is seen as a threat to the security of rest of the world - for instance, Germany and Japan in the 1940s - only two outcomes are possible. The first is that there emerges a political leadership that can pull the country out of the morass and is able to reassure the world.

 But if this does not happen, as seems to be the case increasingly, then it is inevitable that the rest of the world will gang up against Pakistan to clean up the mess and completely overhaul the political, economic, military  and social structure in the country.

Even though other Pakistanis don't share such a dismal outlook, they agree that things are deteriorating at an alarming pace. At the same time they are convinced that the Taliban will not be able to spread their influence into Punjab simply because the social realities of Punjab will not tolerate the 'talibanisation.'

  Street protests

They say that if a fatwa was issued in Punjab against education of girls or if a girls' school was bombed in Punjab, the people would come out on the streets in protest, putting so much pressure on the state machinery that it would be forced to crack down on the Islamist networks with the full force at its command.

The sceptics disagree. They argue that the functionaries of the state are complicit in the spread of talibanisation and will probably turn a blind eye to Taliban activities. More importantly, they say that pressure that the civil society can bring to bear on the state and the political establishment must not be overestimated.

According to them, chances are that the Punjabi elite will quietly pull the girls out of school and either educate them at home or send them abroad. In the worst case scenario, they will even pull out their sons from public schools and put them in madrasas rather than resist the Taliban.

Resistance, if any, will be easily crushed. For one, Punjabis are not exactly known for resisting oppression. They will prefer to take the path of least resistance, more so because the people face greater threat in resisting non-state actors than they have ever faced in resisting oppression by the state being controlled by a military regime.

A totally different ball game

Protesting against an authoritarian regime was easier simply because by and large the state machinery had to operate under some laws and regulations and even if someone was arrested, he could seek relief from the courts. But protesting against the Taliban is a totally different ball game. The Islamists shoot first and ask questions later. There is no appeal, no relief, and no law that will restrain their actions.

For another, even if there is some resistance, it will vaporise the moment a demonstration against the Taliban is bombed, as has happened in NWFP where tribal Lashkars that were supported by the Pakistani state against the Taliban were targeted by suicide bombers, ending this fledgling counter-Taliban movement.

Finally, unlike military dictators who seek legitimacy for their actions, in the case of the Taliban their actions alone provide them the legitimacy they need. The Taliban are not interested in entering a popularity contest or seek approval for their actions. Therefore to imagine that they will respect the cultural mores of Punjab is nothing but wishful thinking.

Precisely, it is the inability to think things through and the tendency to wish away cruel and inconvenient realities that is preventing the Pakistani state and society in countering the spread of talibanisation in that country.

The public debate in Punjab and Sindh, the two provinces relatively untouched by the Taliban menace, centres around the political power games involving the army, judiciary and political parties rather than on the spreading Islamist insurgency.

Instead of the Taliban, it is President Asif Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party that is the pet hatred of the predominantly urban, middle-class, Punjabi elite, including the military, media, merchants and intelligentsia. Somehow the impression is gaining ground that if Asif Zardari is replaced and the ousted chief justice is restored, Pakistan would become a land of milk and honey.

Hostile criticism

In their unrestrained, somewhat unfair and utterly hostile criticism of the Zardari/Gilani regime, members of the Pakistani media are either deliberately or unwittingly helping the cause of the Taliban by destabilising the lawfully constituted government.

 While there is little doubt that the government has made plenty of embarrassing gaffes in the manner it has run the administration, much of the criticism is not just misdirected, it also ignores the compulsions confronting the government.

There is a lot of gratuitous comment on what all is wrong with the economy, the politics, the social system, the education system, the health services, the security situation and what have you. Everyone is readily offering generalised advice on what needs to be done. But no one has stepped forward to lay out the specifics on how to do it.

Even though, not many people in Pakistan want to live under a Talibanised system, the confused and convoluted intellectual debate inside Pakistan increasingly suggests that Pakistan is moving in a direction where a hard-line interpretation of Islamic law will ultimately be imposed on the country.

The only question that is yet to be answered is whether it will be administered by the current dispensation or by the Islamists, either under the garb of Taliban or under a more moderate label. In other words, what remains to be seen is whether the current political establishment imposes a stricter version of Shariah to both appease and disarm the Islamists, or whether the Islamists impose a Talibanised Shariat after taking over control of the Pakistani state.


TRC mute on frequency allocations


Themiya Hurulle and Kariyapperuma

By Arthur Wamanan

Amidst allegations levelled against the present Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) CEO Priyantha Kariyapperuma for allocating radio frequencies to a company headed by his brother Roshantha, a call by a former TRC head to audit the issuance of such frequencies has been overlooked.

The TRC is currently in troubled waters due to additional radio frequencies being allocated to the Voice of Asia (VoA) Network owned by Roshantha Kariyapperuma, the brother of the present TRC head.

The additional frequencies were assigned at a time when many other stations have to be waitlisted due to 'unavailability of frequencies.'

While trade unionists have called for the free action of the frequencies preventing monopolies and unfair assigning of frequencies, comes the call of a former TRC head to have the Auditor General conduct an audit of the assigning of frequencies.

Nearly a year ago!

Former Director General, TRC, Themiya Hurulle is yet to know the fate of his request made to the Auditor General (AG)  nearly a year ago on irregularities in issuing radio and TV licences. Hurulle had requested the AG to inquire and audit  the issuance of radio frequency spectrum but says he is unaware of the progress on the auditing process.

Our sister paper, The Morning Leader had published a news article on Hurulle's request on March 12, 2008.

Hurulle warned that millions of rupees would be at stake if the proper procedures specified by the government were not followed in issuing radio, TV,  telecom operator licences and radio frequency spectrum.

However, the AG is yet to get back to Hurulle on his inquiries, almost a year after the request.

There have been several suggestions to alter the allocation of FM frequencies that could also benefit the government.

Method of assigning FM frequencies

Trade unionists have suggested that the method of assigning FM frequencies to the radio stations should be altered to be more on the lines of frequency allocations practiced in our neighbouring country, India.

In India, radio frequencies are not considered something that could be sold or traded. Instead, they are considered as public property and thus allocated at a public auction.

Funds for the Indian government also reportedly increase due to these auctions, thus, it might be a good option for SL authorities to follow such a methodology in providing frequency allocations. This suggestion has however not yet been accepted by the Sri Lankan  authorities.

Hurulle in his letter addressed to the AG requested him to carry out separate, individual audits to ascertain whether government laid down tender and financial procedures are being followed.

Failure to adhere to the  procedures

The failure to adhere to the procedures would also result in wrong operators entering the field, which would be detrimental to the country and the consumer.

"As such, I hereby request you to carry out separate, individual audits to ascertain whether government laid down Tender and Financial Procedures have been conformed to; whether suitable operators were selected and maximum revenue was earned in the issuance of the under mentioned from January 2005 todate on Radio and Television Broadcasting Licences (Minister of  Broadcasting / Media), Licences for Telecommunications Services (Minister in charge of the TRCSL and the Commissioners administering the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka) and Allocation of Radio Frequency Spectrum (Minister of the TRCSL and the Commissioners administering the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka)," Hurulle had said in his letter.

The former TRC head had also urged the AG to inform the public, the Committee On Public Enterprise (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) once the individual audits are completed.

However, that too has not been done by the AG, according to Hurulle. The complaint by Hurulle is very much connected to the allegations faced by the current TRC head.

Issuance of radio licences

Hurulle wanted inquiries held on the issuance of radio licences while Kariyapperuma faces charges of irregularities in issuing such licences.

As mentioned earlier, the TRC is already facing charges of irregularities in providing additional radio frequencies to the Voice of Asia (VoA).

The VoA is a relatively new broadcasting organisation that commenced its operations just over a year ago. The VoA, which originally had three frequencies, has reserved 13 additional frequencies in a short span of time, while other private radio stations have had to wait for years to get their frequencies approved by the TRC. The additional frequencies were allocated by the TRC after the appointment of Priyantha Kariyapperuma as the Director General.

Several radio stations that spoke to The Sunday Leader earlier said that they have had to wait for years to have additional frequencies allocated by the TRC to expand their broadcasts.

They also claimed that they were eagerly awaiting the recommendations put forward by COPE to follow it up with litigation in the public interest.

COPE inquiries

Parliamentary sources say that consideration will be given to reassigning the additional 16 airwaves to the TRC, once COPE completes its inquiries into the matter. The sources say that they have received complaints and documents in support of the assignment of airwaves for the VoA.

Radio frequencies cannot be issued at will. Those who want to reserve audio frequencies have to follow set procedures.

According to Assistant Director - Radio Frequency Management, TRC, Nihal Ratnapala, the criteria for the allocation of radio frequencies to radio/television networks, depends on the request made by particular stations.

The licence to operate a radio station, issued by the Media Ministry is compulsory. The licence should be obtained by the relevant organisation at the time it requests for the allocation of frequencies.

"First they should have the licence obtained from the Media Ministry to operate a radio TV station. Then they can apply to the TRC for frequencies for broadcasting their programmes," Ratnapala said.

Islandwide coverage

According to Ratnapala, a channel requires more than 10 frequencies to have quality islandwide coverage. But, he added that the TRC found it difficult to allocate frequencies immediately when requested  due to the demand for frequencies.

This again brings back the issue relating to the VoA. The fact that VoA has reserved 13 additional airwaves within a short period of time has given ample reasons for the competitors to 'smell a rat.'

Millions of rupees are still at stake despite having several other methods for the government to earn profits through allocation of frequencies.

Auditor General S. Swarnajothi was not available for comment as he was away from the country. When contacted by The Sunday Leader, the AG's office said that Swarnajothi would be back on February 24 and that no one else was authorised to speak to the media except the AG himself.


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