Dry port kicks up a storm
Registered office of Rank Container
Limited, which is also the location of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
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.'
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
They also claimed that they were eagerly
awaiting the recommendations put forward by
COPE to follow it up with litigation in the
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
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.
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.