By Saman Indrajith
Some buildings belonging to the Janata Estate Development Board in Colombo had been rented at Rs.13.7 a square foot during the yahapalana government, Parliament was told yesterday.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage acknowledged this revelation made by Kandy District SJB MP Velu Kumar, who said that the JEDB had 28,800 square feet space in its buildings in Colombo City and three of them had been rented to public sector institutions while eight had been rented out to the private sector. “The rate that they had been rented out to the private sector institutions is Rs 13.67 a square foot. The JEDB is incurring losses as a result. I like to know what the minister is going to do about it.”
Minister Aluthgamage: I thank the MP for raising this issue. It was during the time of the yahapalana government those buildings had been rented out. One building is at Darley Road opposite the HNB. A square foot of that building has been rented at Rs 13.67. That was how JEDB became a loss making venture. It used to be a profit making institution but some actions of your government’s ministers made it incur losses.. One Minister rented out 100 acres in the same manner to his wife, Minister Aluthgamage said.
Ratnapura District SJB MP Hesha Withanage: Can we know where that land is?
Minister Aluthgamage: At Hantana in Kandy. During the time of the yahapalana government JEDB could not even pay the salaries of its workers. Their salaries were paid by the Treasury. We no longer get funds from the Treasury. By 31 of December this year, we will make JEDB into a profit making institution. We can do so because President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed capable persons who know the subject to head the institutions.
Aluthgamage added that he had found that 150 properties of the Plantations Ministry had been given to private sector institutions without assessing their value or calling for tenders during the previous administration. The Minister said that all those properties had been undervalued. Aluthgamage promised that as the Minister he would not hand over any property under his ministry to private entities.
Instead of leasing out or selling government properties, the current administration would make state owned enterprises profit earning ventures, he said.
“I found that a 500-acre estate in Nawalapitiya was to be rented out to a private company to set up a two MW hydropower project, for Rs 8,000 a month. I cancelled that agreement. We have sent letters to private companies who had rented JEDB properties at the rate of Rs. 13.67 a square foot. I also found that some individuals had exchanged low value land they had for high value government lands.”
Lands valued at Rs. 50 a perch had been exchanged for lands in Hantana where a perch was worth Rs one million, Minister Aluthgamage said, adding that during the first week of assuming duties, he had thwarted a move to give away 25 acres in Hantana to a private individual.
MP Withanage: We are thankful to the Minister for the exposure he made and request him to inform the House of the former ministers responsible for those crimes so that we would be able to identify who actually caused the loss of our government. Will the Minister submit the names of those responsible to this House?
Minister Aluthgamage promised that he would table in Parliament this morning (1) the list of names and details of 150 projects that had been initiated during the yahapalana time and later cancelled by him during recent months.
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.