17th February 2002

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Presidential physio in land cramp

Accused of influence-peddling; Rs. 6 million unpaid
The Australian says payment will be made after access is granted
By Nilika de Silva
President Chandrika Kumaratunga's, personal physiologist Australian Mike Chomley has received state land from Government illegally, the Land Reclamation Board claims. 

Land Reclamation Board's new Chairman V. Sathiyanandan charged that Mr. Chomley had used influence to obtain 188 perches of state land on lease for a BOI project linked to lifestyle health services. But Mr. Chomley in turn has accused state officials of blocking his project because he did not give any bribes. 

Mr. Sathiyanandan said the Australian had acquired the land without going through the proper procedure, and monies due for the filling of the land were yet to be recovered.

"No records have been maintained by the Board pertaining to this land situated around a residential area and close to the Golf Course at Narahenpita. Most things were done illegally over the phone," the chairman said.

The land located on Model Farm Road behind the Royal Colombo Golf Course was selected by Mr. Chomley in 2000 as a location for the setting up of Lifestyle Health Services (Pvt) Ltd. 

Accordingly a request was made to the Land Commission and BOI approval was granted to lease the land to Mr. Chomley in April 2000, with cabinet approval. 

The Government Valuer had valued the land at Rs. 50 million, when the lease was being worked out. The lease value was about Rs. 266,000 a perch. 

Todate nearly two years after the project was given approval, the Government has not received a cent for this valuable state land. The first payment of Rs. 6 million on Lease No. 4/10/16698 remains unpaid. 

BOI Land Division Executive DirectorL.D. Dickman said the lease agreement should be signed by the Land Commissioner only on the receipt of the first installment. 

In the event no payment was made the agreement should have been cancelled by June 2000, he said. 

However, the agreement remains uptodate.

Land Commissioner S. J. Pathirana confirmed that the lease money had not yet been paid but said he would wait until the end of the year before taking legal action as the government did not wish to discourage any investor.

Responding to these charges, Mr. Chomley said he was not paying the money until he got proper access to the land, water supply and electricity.

He said he had written to the Land Commissioner in June last year, asking for time to make the payment because he had not yet got full legal access to the land.

He pledged he would make the payment as soon as such access was given.

Mr. Chomley also charged that officials in various department were blocking his project because no bribes had been given.

Meanwhile, a bridge costing about Rs. 12 mn has been constructed, giving access to the property of Mr. Chomley across a canal.

Construction of the bridge began in December 2000 and was completed in April 2001, according to Land Reclamation General Manager D.T. Thalagala. 

It is not clear who gave orders for the bridge to be built. Mr. Chomley claims he at no time requested the construction of this bridge, as a culvert bridge existed previously. 

However, access to this land has not been from across the canal, as the address allocated to the land reads 223, Model Farm Road, Narahenpita. 

Indian HC defends quality of wheat

India has expressed concern over media reports that the wheat imported from that country may not be suitable to make bread.

The Indian High Commission in a statement said the adverse publicity had arisen after the Prima management had told a news conference that the Indian wheat was of a lesser quality than the wheat from the US, Canada or Australia. The media reports had suggested that the Indian wheat was good for Roti, Chapathi and other home-made items but not to bake breads.

The wheat was being imported under an agreement reached between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Indian Government. Though the import is made under a government contract, the deal has been handed over to Prima which buys wheat, mills, packets and markets the product. 

The Indian High Commission said it had contacted Prima officials who themselves had expressed concern over the adverse reports on Indian wheat.

Prima sources said the wheat flour was different in quality to the American or Australian brand and was ideal to make 'chapathi' and 'roti'.

Wheat flour used for the production of bread was imported from America, Canada and Australia, they said.

Last week 25,000 tonnes of Indian wheat arrived at the Trinco mill and the stock is being milled. The Indian wheat is expected to be in the market this week at a lower price than Prima's Rs. 22 for a kilo.

C'wealth wakes up to terror

From Neville de Silva in London
Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon has produced an addendum to his biennial report which for the first time raises the issue of terrorism that had been omitted from his original report which was to go to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Brisbane last October but was postponed at the last minute.

The four-paged addendum starts with a reference to terrorism which had been a serious omission in the original which The Sunday Times drew to the Secretary-General's attention when he publicly launched the report on September 19, last year.

The addendum starts with this statement: "Even if terrorism is not a new menace, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States changed the way people looked at the world and certainly have had a far-reaching impact on the Commonwealth".

At the launch of his report last September, Mr. McKinnon referred to the terrible terrorist atrocity and said that the Commonwealth had a major role to play in fighting global terrorism.

The Sunday Times then asked the Secretary-General why the report he had just released and was due to before Commonwealth had no reference at all to this important role and, indeed, did not even mention the world terrorism anywhere in his report?

The Secretary-General said the report had been published before the terrorist attacks on the US. But he was asked whether (a) it took an attack on a non-Commonwealth nation for the Commonwealth to take such prompt notice,(b) whether it is not correct that at previous summits Commonwealth leaders, including the Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga had raised the issue of terrorism and called for action (c) and if there had been follow up action why there is not a word of it in the report.

Diplomatic sources said before the terrorist attack on the US, when the Secretary-General was in Colombo soliciting the views of member countries on various issues prior to setting the CHOGM agenda, Sri Lanka had insisted on terrorism being placed on its.

However, as it happened the original agenda for the Brisbane meeting did not have terrorism as a separate subject for discussion. but had been relegated to an item among several others in a general review of the world situation.

Sweet dreams in the "dry zone"

Taking a giant leap from the boardroom to the backwoods, ad tycoon Irvin Weerackody will launch a communications campaign of a different sort when he takes up his new appointment as Chairman of the Pelwatte Sugar Company.

Having himself chosen to take on the difficult task of salvaging the trouble-stricken Pelwatte Sugar Co., the country's largest public sector agro-industrial project, Mr. Weerackody has many plans in mind. For a start, he will donate his entire salary to the Settler Welfare Society that he hopes to set up immediately.

Pelwatte has 1,500 settler families and Mr. Weera-ckody hopes to launch many welfare schemes for them drawing on his own resources. These will include programmes to teach children English and provide training in computers. "The teachers who will be recruited for this purpose will be on my payroll and not the Pelwatte Sugar Company's," he says.

Notwithstanding his busy professional life, Mr. Weerackody has always been interested in agriculture. His pet project will therefore be a 'development communications campaign', where he will identify 25 farmer families, working on crops other than sugar cane in the Pelwatte, Buttala, Wellawaya areas. "With the help of experts, we will provide guidance and assistance to transform their subsistence level agriculture into commercially viable projects."

Having studied the area in depth, Mr. Weerackody believes that the Moneragala District has enormous agricultural and even tourism potential. "It is a misnomer to call it the Dry Zone," he says, pointing out that way back in 1815, Governor Brownrigg reported that the yield from the Uva-Wellassa region (the land of 100,000 paddy fields) could feed the entire population of the country and the total Sepoy and mercenary forces in India. Unfortunately, after the 1818 rebellion, the area became parched and arid but with the right policies, it could be transformed, he says.

A multi-faceted personality, with interests as diverse as archaeology, music, the environment and art, Mr. Weerackody launched his firm Phoenix Advertising in the bleak days of the 1970s when he was in his early twenties and chartered its fortunes to make it one of the industry's biggest success stories. 

Always passionate about politics, he has served on the Working Committee of the UNP and masterminded its media campaign for many years.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, in January 1998, Mr. Weerackody was asked where he would like to be in twenty years' time. He replied, "I want to be in the Dry Zone, leading a peaceful life doing some public service." 

It would seem his dream is about to come true, much sooner.

Notorious police interviews: AG's advice was ignored

Three go to the JSC

The IGP and three former ministry secretaries who were members of the Police interview board have sought an appointment with the Judicial Services Commission to discuss some matters relating to the tough Supreme Court order given last Monday.

The three secretaries are R.A.A. Ranaweera, M.J. Senaratne and Romesh Jayasinghe.

By Laila Nasry
On the orders of the Supreme Court, Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabayson is probing whether there had been corruption in the promotion of 36 Police Superintendents as new evidence The Sunday Times has gathered pointed to the AG's advice on the matter being ignored at the time by powers that be. 

Prior to the case, the Attorney General had sent a communication to the then Defence Secretary Chandrananda de Silva to the effect that the case could not be defended due to several shortcomings on the holding of promotion interviews. 

The Defence Ministry was not inclined to accept this advice.

On Monday, a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Mark Fernando ordered that Mr. de Silva and IGP Lucky Kodituwakku should personally pay Rs. 50,000 each to 46 petitioner ASPs who had been denied the promotion. 

Three other members of the interview board were ordered to pay Rs. 20,000 each personally with the state paying Rs. 300,000.

The Supreme Court in its landmark judgment directed the Attorney General to consider whether the conduct of the respondents constituted "corruption" and if so to take appropriate action and to submit a report to court not later than April 30. 

The AG is expected to communicate his order to the Supreme Court sometime next week, The Sunday times learns. 

In a strongly worded judgment the Supreme Court quashed the 36 promotions given by the interview board, describing the interview process as the worst sham the judges had seen. 

The Court demoted the recently promoted SPs and ordered that fresh interviews should be held by a board excluding the IGP, the former Defence Secretary and the three other respondents.

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