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Premier explains issues over Southern Expressway construction

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe explained in Parliament yesterday the issues regarding the construction of the Southern Expressway from Matara to Beliatta and the measures taken to resolve them.

The Premier was participating in the adjournment debate on Expressways and Highway projects taken up in Parliament yesterday.

“Payments cannot be done haphazardly and some have to be submitted to a committee and approved. The Southern Expressway from Matara to Mattala were designed to be completed in four stages," he said.

"The problematic segment of the expressway is the 30km from Matara to Beliatta. The initial estimate to construct it was Rs. 103.28 million and a 5.82 metre was planned to be a flyover," the Prime Minister said.

"A section was to be constructed through the Dandeniya forest reserve. The Central Environmental Authority had approved it based on the approval of the Forest Conservation Department. But the approval has complications. The Highways Ministry reported the matter to the Cabinet Economic Sub-Committee. Accordingly, officials were called and the matter was discussed. Prior to this, they had not approved nor objected," he said.

"It was after the change of government that they objected. The Environmental Authority and the Forest Conservation Department reported that by constructing the expressway, the Dandeniya forest reserve would be split in half which would hamper the movement of wild animals in the forest reserve.

"The Cabinet Committee intervened to resolve the issue. We discussed at length.

We were only able to take two initiatives. One was to avoid the forest reserve and construct the expressway. The other to construct the expressway through a tunnel. But it was reported that it would cost a huge expense for the alternatives, the Premier said.

"The Highways Ministry was instructed to formulate a plan to construct a flyover with minimal harm to the forest reserve. This was a policy decision.

The Economic Management Cabinet Committee also took a policy decision to construct a flyover. This decision was endorsed by the Cabinet," he said.

"The flyover length increased by 500 meters, estimated to cost an additional Rs. 2.7 billion.

Then another problem was encountered when constructing section from Matara to Beliatta.

The construction company had notified the Highways Ministry that the soil layer was thicker than expected.

"Measures were taken to obtain feasibility reports in this regard. Taking into consideration expert advice, it was decided to increase the distance of the flyovers in the Matara-Beliatta by 2.28 km to 9.1 km and to manage the loan facilities.

This was approved by the Cabinet.

These were the measures that were taken. Reports from experts in the field were obtained. Now this cannot be changed as work has already commenced.

We are looking into the issue to determine if there were any shortfalls and to see if expenditure could be reduced,” the Prime Minister said.

Police intervened in Hambantota protest, only when it turned violent

Police did not intervene as far as the protest in Hambantota was “peaceful”, but they had to when the protest turned out to be violent, Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka said.

The Minister, responding to a question posed by MP Dinesh Gunawardena under standing orders 23(2), told Parliament yesterday that the protesters arrested during the demonstration in Hambantota on October 6 were charged of committing several offences such as violating a court order, contempt of court, damaging public property, assembling illegally and disturbing the duties of police officers and assaulting them.

He said 28 persons including MPs Namal Rajapaksa and D. V. Chanaka were arrested. He said the two MPs were later granted bail as they informed court that they need to attend a Youth Summit in Russia. “MP Namal Rajapaksa, being a lawyer, must have taken part in the protest knowing the consequences. Now he had somehow escaped and the others who followed him are in,” he said.

Commenting on the assault on a journalist by a Police officer, the minister said two separate investigations were being conducted by the Police and the National Police Commission into the incident. He assured that further action would be taken once the investigations were over. He said he would look into the transfer of the Police officer to Matara.

The Minister said he would look into the issues over the arrest of MP Prasanna Ranaweera during the protest.

“Those who behaved violently were arrested, including a person who claimed to be a journalist. He had not been engaging in anything related to his job at that moment, but had actively taken part in the protest,” he said. The Speaker said he would look into the reasons for the arrest of MP Prasanna Ranaweera.

Kiriella rebuts expressway corruption allegations

Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella yesterday denying corruption charges against him went on to comment that he has Rs. 400 million in his bank account and therefore he does not want to cheat money from expressway projects.

Responding to a question raised by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who stated that mega frauds had taken place in the construction of the Central Expressway, the Minister said: “We do not need others money. We have been rich since the days of ancient kings. My wife’s grandfather had over 30,000 acres of land in Balangoda.

My grandparents too had properties equal to that. We both worked in courts and usually gave Rs 2.5 million per year as tax on our income. I have 400 million rupees in my account. We do not need to steal from others.”

The Minister told the JVP leader to lodge complaints at relevant authorities if he has any complaint against the Minister or his officials.

JVP wants forensic audit on Central Expressway project

The JVP yesterday in Parliament demanded to temporarily halt the Construction of Central Expressway and conduct a forensic audit on it by appointing a Parliament Select Committee.

JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake moving an adjournment motion on the “Expressways already constructed and to be constructed in future", highlighted several grey areas of the project.

MP Dissanayake urged the Government to reveal the local agent behind the Japanese Company which undertakes the Central Expressway construction. The MP revealed that the same local agent is behind all other phases of the project.

“The entire project is under the grip of one individual and Parliament would like to know who that person is,” he asked.

“Even though the Government boasts about bringing down the construction cost from Rs. 159 billion to Rs. 134.9 billion, it is still higher than the engineering estimate which stood at Rs. 123 billion. We urge the Government to halt the project and investigate the entire process,” he said.

The MP charged that a “corrupt circle” that includes several politicians, police and army personnel, administrative officials, media owners, dealers and several in judiciary is in operation plaguing the entire country.

“The former regime was toppled for rampant fraud and corruption.

Now it is evident that only the heads rolled in January, 2015 and that the same system continues,” he said.

JVP MP and COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti said the true picture of these projects would come out when the probe starts. “Some who tried to defend the Bond scam when it first came out are now silent with the latest revelations.

We want the Expressway projects be probed,” he said.

Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella said he has no objection to carrying out a forensic audit. He said the Auditor General in his reports in 2015, 2016 and 2017 confirmed that his Ministry had no large scale corruptions.

Proper tender procedures followed

The Kandy–Colombo Expressway project has no any corruption and all road development projects initiated after assuming power by the good governance Government were based on proper tender procedures, Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to the Adjournment motion moved by MP Anura Kumara Dissnayake in the debate on the construction of expressways. “Since the Good governance regime assumed power, road constructions were carried out only on tenders, unlike the previous regime, who simply gave contracts to whomever they chose. We were advised to grant contracts to construct roads and highways following proper tender procedures. Rajapaksa laid five foundation stones for the Kandy-Colombo Expressway. One of our election pledges was the construction of the Kandy-Colombo expressway. We don’t have the money for it and will need to borrow funds. The Chinese government agreed to fund the project. We have still not commenced work on the expressway. The Japanese government made a request to engage the Fujita Corporation. We made a request from the Taisei Corporation to engage the Fujita Corporation. Now it is their responsibility," the Minister said. "The Kandy-Colombo Expressway project has not caused even five cents of corruption. In fact, we have reduced the cost by Rs. 25 million.

All decisions taken by the good governance regime approved by Cabinet. Opposition attempts to stall the construction of the expressway.

If there are complaints against any of the officials, then lodge them. The Government has acted with great dedication to construct roads. We have committed greatly to construct rural roads.

‘Ratnapura district flood affected being provided relief’

Paying compensation to the flood affected in the Ratnapura district and selecting suitable lands to rebuild their homes have already commenced, the Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa said in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister said was responding to an oral question raised by MP Premalal Jayasekara.

"Rs. 400,000 will be granted to purchase a land and Rs. 1.2 million to construct a house. The land acquisition from estate companies is in progress," the Minister said.

He said the Government has already paid compensation for 3,545 applicants. The disaster destructed 728 houses in the Ratnapura district completely while damaging 10,886 houses partially, the Minister said.

‘Government’s stand on SAITM issue on Monday’

President Maithripala Sirisena will announce on Monday the Government’s position in resolving the long-drawn issue of the SAITM in Malabe, Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella said.

The Minister was responding to a question raised by MEP Leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena under the Standing Order 23 (2) in Parliament yesterday.

The minister observing that the Government has always been flexible in its discussions to resolve the SAITM problem requested the anti-SAITM groups to come to the middle path to reach a consensus.

“We are ready for any solution, except for closing down the SAITM. It cannot be abolished. If we do that the SAITM students will go to courts against us. A court order in this regard is pending in November. Let us await the Supreme Court determination. We are ready to end the problem in a manner that the SAITM students are not met with any injustice,” the Minister said.

The Minister said the President’s solution to be announced on Monday was based on the report of the Committee headed by Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva. MP Dinesh Gunawardena inquired what steps the Government hopes to take to end the SAITM controversy. Quoting a letter signed by four Chief Prelates, the MP asked whether the Government is ready to follow the advices of Mahanayakas with regard to SAITM.

Minister Kiriella, recalling that it was MP Gunawardena, who presented the Gazette awarding the degree awarding status to the SAITM in Parliament, when he was the Chief Government Whip, said MP Gunawardena should apologise to the Chief Prelates. “You have misled the Mahanayakas,” he told MP Gunawardena.

"We held several rounds of talks with parents of medical students and doctors to resolve this issue. There were allegations that the standards of the medical college was not up to the mark, clinical facilities were said to be inadequate, and they said the Neville Fernando Hospital had no patients.

Speaker calls for special team to probe COPE findings

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said he told the Finance Ministry to appoint a special team to study the reports of Committee of Public Enterprises (COPE) and take appropriate action on their revelations.

He made this comment in Parliament yesterday when COPE Chairman and JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti insisted on follow up action on the findings of COPE reports presented to the House.

Tabling the fourth report of COPE that included findings on 15 public institutions summoned before the committee from September 1, 2016 to February 28, 2017, Handunnetti stressed the need to uphold the accountability to boost public confidence in COPE reports and Parliament.

“Relevant Ministries and Ministry Secretaries should take appropriate actions on the findings in COPE reports. Ministerial level or political actions are needed against those who are responsible for the questionable dealings mentioned in them. Then only our efforts will be meaningful,” he told the House.

Speaker Jayasuriya said he had already paid attention to this matter and discussed with the Finance Ministry on assigning a special team to study the COPE reports and take action.

Development priorities should be identified: Champika

Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, observing that a staggering sum of Rs 1,331 billion is to be spent on constructing 356 km of expressways from 2016-2025, emphasised the need to re-think on the country’s development priorities.

The minister, joining in the adjournment motion moved by JVP Leader Anura Dissanayake in Parliament yesterday, questioned whether the debt-ridden economy of the country could afford to spend such a large sum to construct expressways.

He said the Government could build two fully fledged medical colleges from the money it spends to construct 2km of expressway.

He said the money spent on 3km of expressway would be sufficient to resolve the garbage problem in the entire Western Province.

“The sum Sri Lanka has to pay for loan installments and interests is record high in 2018-2019. We need to find Rs. 1,800 billion in 2018, and Rs. 1,900 billion in 2019 to service the debts. Loans obtained during the Rajapaksa regime accounts for 84 percent of that sum.

“Given the economic plight the country is in, we need to be extra-cautious on future state investments.

“When we are investing billions of rupees in highway construction, naturally we will have to cut down the funds on education and health among others. We have to identify our national priorities and act accordingly,” the Minister said.

Rs. 7.3 BoC loan granted to Hambantota hotel settled with SLTDA funds: COPE

The COPE report tabled in Parliament yesterday revealed that the interest of a loan obtained by the Peacock Beach Hotel from the Bank of Ceylon had been settled with the funds of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

The payments of Rs 7.3 million had been made from the Tourism Development Fund at eight occasions from 2011 to 2013.

Four hotels close to the Hambantota International Cricket Stadium were selected to be developed in view of the 2011 World Cup matches. The Peacock Beach Hotel was selected and a Rs 100 million loan was facilitated by the BoC at four percent interest rate. Part of the interest had been paid out of the Tourism Development Fund from January 2011 to June 2013, the report stated.

“According to the documentations furnished to the committee, the approval of the minister in charge of the subject had not been obtained to make the payments,” the report stated.

The COPE has found that Rs. 11 million of Rs. 29 million allocated to renovate 30 rooms of a holiday bungalow of the Authority had been drawn without any work done. Rs. 10 milllion had been paid to a supplier of stones without approval. Rs. 3.2 million had been paid to suppliers by the authority without adhering to the regulations. Even though the Kalpitiya integrated tourism project commenced in 2008 on an estimated cost of Rs. 5,521 million to construct holiday resorts with 4,000 rooms and infrastructure facilities and the work was to be completed in five years, not a single room had been constructed despite an expenditure of Rs 88 milion as at Dec. 31, 2014, the report said.

The Mattala International Airport had been running at a net loss of Rs. 2,105 million in 2013, Rs 2,729 million in 2014, Rs 3,099 million in 2015 and Rs 1,546 mllion in 2016. Compared to 2015, the Government had reduced the loss of the Airport by Rs 1,553 million in 2016. The airport was constructed by obtaining a loan USD 190 million from ‘China Exim’ bank. Seven institutions, Omega Global with Claymore Hill Advisory and Aviation Resource Group International, Sakurai Aviation Limited, Care Aviation (Pvt.) Ltd, VINCI Airport, Disel and Motor Engineering PLC, Sierra Networks (Pvt.) Ltd, and Madelon, had expressed their interests to invest in the Mattala airport.

The COPE has inquired from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation authorities of the status of the investigations conducted into the Hedging deal and found that the loss caused by the deal which was at Rs. 10.2 billion as at January 2016 had increased to Rs. 14.06 billion as at December 31, 2016.

The report stated that Rs 1.7 million had been spent by the National Transport Commission to print stickers of destination boards and details of emergency telephone numbers in three occasions in 2015 and the monies had been spent without following proper procurement procedures.

“The NTC has spent Rs. 37 million to renovate a part of a building to regulated provincial buses using GPS technology but it has not been utilised. Of 1,307 GPS equipment fixed in buses spending Rs. 79 million are not functioning. The NTC has spent Rs. 8 million for a festival it had organised and Rs. 1.8 million for a TV documentary without approval. In 2013, the NTC had fixed seven electronic boards at a cost of Rs. 62 million in Bastian Mawatha-Colombo, Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Nuwara Eliya, Kataragama, Ranna, and Puttalam to display the inter provincial and provincial running time tables but those boards do not function.

A vehicle had been purchased for a former chairman of the NTC at a cost of Rs. 9.2 million exceeding the approved amount of Rs. 8 million. The NTC has spent Rs. 2.6 million and Rs. 1.3 million to distribute school bags on two occasions in 2014 without proper approval,” the report revealed.

The CWE had incurred a Rs. 39 million loss in 2014 by purchasing 14,000 carrom boards and 11,000 draughts boards.

(Daily News)

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