L H Plantations replies to state-media "news"
Mr. Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, Coordinator PA Polls Watch says in recent
Rupavahini and ITN TV broadcasts that L H Plantations (Pvt) Ltd., tried
to "absolve Ranil Wickremesinghe" as well as "not disclosed the correct
facts thus misleading the people of this country". Mr. Sooriyarachchi's
statement has been publicised in the Dinamina and the Daily News as well.
He believes that Ranil Wickremesinghe usurped his position in a former
UNP Government to award state coconut lands to a private plantation management
company, L H Plantations in which some of Mr. Wickremesinghe's relatives
were (and are) shareholders.
Mr. Sooriyarachchi, a lawyer, seems to be or wants to be wholly unaware
of basic facts. He is singing the same sad song that members of the PA
have sung for the last few years.
L H Plantations (Pvt.) Ltd., states again:
1. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not award or influence a Government/World
Bank initiative in 1992 to hand over State lands to our private management
company (L H Plantations in which some members of his family held shares.
The World Bank itself tightly screened all such awards. If Mr. Sooriyarachchi
has any concrete proof of how Mr. Wickremesinghe and "other relatives have
unjustly enriched themselves........", let him show it.
2. Regarding Mr. Sooriyarachchi's diatribe on corruption, may we remind
him that the PA Government itself requested Mr. A S Jayawardene, Governor
of the Central Bank and former Secretary to the Treasury to investigate
into any irregularities in the awarding of these management tenders (the
very practices of which Mr. Sooriyarachchi accuses Mr. Wickremesinghe and
L H Plantations . No adverse comments or actions ever emanated from this
comprehensive investigation. Is it that Mr. Sooriyarachchi disbelieves
the word of his own Government or has he misread his facts again ?
3. Neither Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe nor any member of his family ever
owned any State lands managed by L H Plantations. Mr. Wickremesinghe has
never owned shares in either the government controlled Kurunegala Plantations
Ltd., (of which L H Plantations is the Managing Agent) or in L H Plantations
itself. The Managing Agent also has no share holding in Kurunegala Plantations
Ltd. Mr. Sooriyarachchi and other supposedly responsible PA officials before
him would do well to first check facts before frivolously making such misleading
statements to the public.
4. Form 3: Bid Offer, Tender for Management Contract for Estate Company
No. 21 (p.2, Clause 4) - the relevant privatization document of 1992 -
requires all lead companies bidding for the management of State agricultural
lands to form new dedicated companies to manage such lands after their
bids are confirmed. L H Plantations a private management company dedicated
to the task, was born on June 4th 1992, after lead company Lake House Printers
and Publishers Ltd., was awarded the contract in May 1992. Mr. Sooriyarachchi
finds it " most interesting" that we actually followed the clearly laid
down rules and regulations !
5. Publicly listed companies such as Lake House Printers and Publishers
Ltd., and Lake House Investments Ltd., as well as other entities and individuals
took an equity state in L H Plantations. This was entirely within the regulations
of the above Bid Offer document. Mr. Sooriyarachchi, Ranil Wickremesinghe
or any other citizen, could have freely held a share in this venture. This
is hardly a "covert or highly questionable" action as Mr. Sooriyarachchi
6. Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe neither held any shares nor was ever a Director
in Sarathi Ltd. What company register is Mr. Sooriyarachchi looking at
? He is again very incorrect on both counts.
7. L H Plantations does not own an inch of State land nor do its shareholders
have any ownership rights over any such land, despite the long list of
estate names given Mr. Sooriyarachchi as a distraction. L H Plantations
is merely entrusted with management of these lands, a fact that neither
the President nor Mr. Sooriyarachchi seem to grasp since 1992.
8. With regard to the issues brought up by Mr. Sooriyarachchi, President
Chandrika Kumaratunga and her supporters, we state that the actions of
the current government, intent on discriminating at every instance against
L H Plantations and Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe in this matter, caused considerable
loss and confusion to this country's agricultural sector. We state this
for these reasons:
i) An integral part of the 1992 Management Agreement was that Managing
Agents could, as stakeholders, bid for 51% stake in their regional government
owned plantations company (i.e. Kurunegala Plantations Ltd.) Accordingly,
at considerable effort, Lake House Printers and Publishers Ltd. fielded
a financial package to bid for a 51% share of Kurunegala Plantations Ltd.,
in 1995. Cordial discussions were conducted with Chairman PERC, M Tittawala,
on the Government's behalf. Suddenly and mysteriously, the Government singularly
deviated from the formal privatization rules (which had hitherto applied
to all privatized tea and rubber companies) and excluded the two coconut
management companies from being eligible to bid for their 51% stake. After
over four years of management, this was an unprecedented and drastic turn
ii) On January 1st, 1998, the Government arbitrarily cancelled the 1998-2002
Extension to the Management Agreement between Kurunegala Plantations Ltd.,
and L H Plantations although the latter met all required criteria for renewal.
In a further bout of disorganization, this was done hours after the Extension
commenced. The Government neither adhered to the conditions laid down for
termination in its own Agreement, nor had any valid reason to contest the
successful management of State lands by L H Plantations.
iii) As a result, by February 1998, L H Plantations resorted to an independent
Panel of Arbitrators, as provided in its Agreement. By early 1998, three
reputed lawyers and Arbitrators, Mr. R K W Goonesekera, Mr. G K Dayasiri
and Mr. S C B Welgampaya were appointed with the full concurrence of the
Government and L P Plantations (Pvt) Ltd. On June 7, 2000, the Arbitration
Panel unanimously declared, firstly, that the Government's termination
of the Extension (1998-2002) to the Management Agreement was unwarranted,
secondly that the Managing Agent was fully entitled to its Extension and
thirdly awarded costs in favour of L H Plantations. The Arbitration awards
were made not merely "on technical grounds" as Mr. Sooriyarachchi belittles,
but also as a right. The PA Government, described by Mr. Sooriyarachchi
as "committed to democracy and not to a witch-hunt" and one which "did
not wish to waste public funds on pursuing this matter further", has 17
months later - yet to sign our Extension to the Management Agreement and
implement the Arbitrators' Ruling.
We leave it to the reader to judge the overall wastage in time and effort
thus caused. The impact on the coconut sector is a further sobering thought.
As to who profits from this chaotic state of events. Out of the 16,190
acres of agricultural land originally leased to Kurunegala Plantations
Ltd., over 10% has been arbitrarily acquired by the Government for various
- mostly non-agricultural motives. No compensation was offered to Kurunegala
Plantations Ltd. for the loss of productivity caused by this unrestricted
land alienation despite the contractual onus on the Agent to increase productivity.
Excellent and bearing coconut lands have been seized or even bulldozed
overnight. Many lands thus acquired have been neglected, or utilized for
very different purposes. Government sympathizers and opportunists have
squatted on others. Politicians have even vented abuse on our staff in
their quest for land.
In the light of gross misinterpretations, inaccuracies and innuendos
in Mr. Sooriyara-chchi's statement, we urge him not to mislead the public
further about L H Plantations.
Stars are not under a cloud:'Ira Handa' editor
By Chandani Kirinde
The chief editor of the astrological newspaper Ira Handa , Priyantha Ratnayake
who is embroiled in controversy following allegations that his newspaper
faked predictions in favour of the ruling party denied these allegations
and said he did not need to do anyone's dirty work.
Mr. Ratnayake who also serves as the Chairman of the Building Materials
Corporation (BMC), a Corporation under Minister of Urban Development and
Deputy Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera for more than a year, said
he took up the job as a challenge and that the Rs. 25,000 monthly salary
it fetches was no attraction for him as last year alone he paid income
tax amounting to Rs. 4.7 million. Mr. Ratnayake is also on the Board of
Directors of the National Savings Bank (NSB).
"I am a very rich businessman. My favorite hobby is buying the most
expensive vehicle that is imported to the country. No one can buy me,"
he said denying allegations that Minister Samaraweera asked him to print
predictions favouring the PA.
Mr. Ratnayake admitted being a close confidant of Minister Samaraweera
but said his close association with members of the ruling party did not
cloud his predictions.
He also dismissed the allegations made by his former employee Wijesiri
Jayasinghe saying Wijesiri had lied for money.
"I was offered 30 million rupees by an opposition politician to print
on the front page of my paper that the UNP would win the next election
but I refused. He had then offered Jayasinghe a little money and got him
to turn against me.", Mr. Ratnayake said. He declined to say who in the
opposition made the offer but confirmed it was a politician.
Wijesiri Jayasinghe told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday at
the residence of former PA Minister and United National Front (UNF) national
list nominee S.B. Dissanayake that since 1999, the Ira Handa had been concocting
stories in favour of the PA government and in its issue earlier this month
had predicted a huge victory for the ruling party.
Even though Mr. Jayasinghe was introduced as an expert astrologer to
reporters, his former employer dismissed this claim saying the man had
worked for several years in his paper as a paste up artist.
"He has no knowledge whatsoever of astrology," said Mr. Ratnayake whose
own knowledge of astrology is not quite star-studded. He claims he is a
self-taught astrologer and specialised in 'political astrology.' and says
he had gained experience and knowledge of the subject after handling the
Ira Handa newspaper for ten years.
Asked whether astrology could be learnt just by reading about it, Mr.
Ratnayake compared it to the legal profession where the most academically
qualified lawyer may not always be a success in courts. "There are many
astrologers who may have better qualifications but they may be unaware
of the practical aspect of the science," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jayasinghe is reported to have gone into hiding in his
home town of Baddegama following what he claims are threats to his life
when he went public with the allegations that the Ira Handa predictions
were concocted and politically motivated. Several attempts to contact him
on the phone were unsuccessful.
Dr. Kingsley Goonetilleke, a leading astrologer in the country when
asked for his comments on the unfolding drama said an astrologer needed
to be an independent and impartial person.
He also said that the science of astrology was one that had to be studied
thoroughly before one could make a profession of it.
Astrologers in star wars
Astrology has also become highly politicised in the run-up to the December
5 general elections with soothsayers supporting the PA and UNP going all
out to make predictions and counter predictions.
Although most independent astrologers contacted by The Sunday Times
declined to get drawn into the controversies surrounding their profession,
many others have gone on television predicting a victory for the party
of their choice.
The national TV station Rupavahini last week hosted several astrologers
who predicted a win for the ruling PA while a panel of three astrologers
on a pro-UNP television station foresaw a win for the UNP.
However, a leading astrologer said that it was difficult for astrologers
to predict a win for any particular party unless they studied the horoscopes
of all the contesting candidates.
But the two parties seem to be banking on the large number of star-struck
Sri Lankan voters who may decide to vote for the winners as foretold by