SEC probe: issue still unclear
As an investor in the stock market, I am greatly perturbed at the various statements that have been made in the media regarding price sensitive information being known by Directors of Aitken Spence & Co. Ltd., prior to selling their shares.

As an investor, I have obtained the Annual Report of Aitken Spence, for the year ended 31.03.02, which I have studied in detail and I have been unable to find any reference to such information, especially in regard to Aitken Spence Garments, which is the company that is alleged to be in trouble.

The first and second quarter results of Aitken Spence have also no reference to any problem regarding the financial situation of the company. As an investor, I have to rely on the Directors’ and Auditors’ statements and the officially published accounts as my sources of information to ascertain the status of the company. Further, Aitken Spence has recently released a statement to the stock exchange confirming that all disclosures regarding the financial position of the group have been correctly presented.

Hence it appears that the auditors and directors have confirmed that as far as they were concerned, there was no price sensitive information that could have been used by any party during this period.

I am also most perturbed that the newspapers have carried on a campaign bordering on irresponsibility with no specific focus on the facts. The question that needs to be asked and needs to be known is: “What is this price sensitive information that these parties had knowledge of, and used to sell shares?” It is still unclear to us, the general public and the common investor, as to what information they were privy to, which was not available to the general public.

There are further allegations that special consideration is being given to these parties by the SEC by directing the investigation to continue with two eminent independent personalities. In view of this very curious situation, where the company has publicly confirmed that all information is disclosed, it is incumbent upon the SEC, which comprises a team of highly respected personalities, to obtain all the relevant information and advice prior to taking a decision.

A. Mohamed,
Colombo 3

Hassle to renew residence visas
Residence visas are granted to expatriate staff of Companies approved by the Board of Investment for one year. In other countries the visas are granted for three years to the expatriate staff of foreign companies. To renew the visa each year is a hassle. It is an unproductive waste of time. Besides the Board of Investment charges $ 10 for a visa application form. Residence and student visas have to be renewed each year on payment of Rs. 15,000.

In the case of Sri Lankan residents abroad who visit Sri Lanka they are given a tourist visa for one month. If they wish to stay in Sri Lanka for another two weeks they have to pay for a further three months. In India persons of Indian origin are given a visa for 10 years except for persons resident in countries like Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans who travel to the UK are given a visa for six months and to the USA for one year.

This law should be immediately changed if we are to encourage Sri Lankans domiciled abroad from visiting their homeland and investing in business undertakings. Sri Lankans living abroad should be given incentives to return to their motherland and participate in rebuilding the nation. It should also be noted that Sri Lankans with foreign passports have to pay more to visit places of historical interest and wildlife sanctuaries. They are treated as foreigners for this purpose.

Anton Fernando,
Colombo 7.

Power crisis - Is Upper Kotmale the answer?
The article under the above caption appearing in The Sunday Times by D.N.R. Samaranayake is most educative and debunks the argument of Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya that hydropower is the cheapest energy source.

There was in the Island of 9.5.95 a letter by the then-Hydro Consultant, Carlo Fernando of the CEB, who quoted a telex sent by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which reads as follows:

“Here is the ADB warning to the CEB (Telex 7 Jan. 1985) - Long range optimum expansion plan (1985-2004) includes Rantambe (60 MW) for commissioning in 1988 and Broadlands (20 MW) and Samanalawewa (120 MW) in 1989. We have serious reservations on the possibility of achieving these commissioning dates and more importantly the advisability of the further hydro additions given the already overwhelming proportion of hydro capacity in the system and their inability to meet base load requirements.” Telex – 11 Jan. 1985:

“The system load characteristics even in its current form can absorb a base load capacity of about 200 MW. We cannot therefore find any justification for the proposed hydro plants.... ahead of Trincomalee (Mention of Trincomalee is for the coal plant).

Perhaps the construction of Upper Kotmale hydro plant is because of the objection raised by the Catholic Bishop of Chilaw to set up a coal plant at Norochcholai. The CEB may have been forced, politically, to ignore ADB advice.

The CEB and the Minister should take serious note of the ADB advice, for they are financiers of international fame and know which project should be funded for the benefit of the country.

B.W. Fernando,

Michael Mack - the man
When a person is under attack and siege it is the moment for friends to reflect what has to be done. I am writing this more as a friend of Michael Mack and one who has known him for over thirty five years.

The Press has painted a picture of Michael’s dealings which has disturbed the public. At the senior age of 65 years I read the newspapers with great circumspect. My qualification to do this is that I have had contact with newsprint from the time I can remember, in fact from the time I was in rompers.

Like every utterance which we make, news stories tend to be ephemeral. Most often they are written without great thought. Sometimes they are placed by parties with whom the subjects have crossed swords.

Most often they are written by relatively young persons without an in-depth understanding and maturity of the machinations and ramifications of the subject, especially when it comes to high finance. For the Press to take up a controversial stand is most often good copy and leads to improving sales.

It may not necessarily be reflecting the authentic facts. Michael Mack joined Aitken Spence at the age of 22, forty eight years ago. Ultimately he ended as Chairman, Managing Director and a predominant shareholder of one of the largest blue chip companies in the country. After his retirement, he was called to serve on several boards. The Chairmanship of the DFCC was one of his tasks. This extraordinary career was not a bed of roses.

A few years after he joined the company, the agency house business in which the company was involved, was taken over by the state and the fortunes of Aitken Spence was in the doldrums.

Times changed and the British directors left to be replaced by a team of young, trained and qualified executives, Chari de Silva, Michael Mack, Norman Gunewardene and G.C.Wickremasinghe. This leadership made the difference.
The company started to gauge and assess government policy and respond by launching into new lines of business.

Michael, for many years the Senior Director under Chari de Silva and later as Chairman and Managing Director, never changed his personal style. He remained in the house of his birth at Sunethra Lane, which today has gained historical significance after Michael Ondaatje referred to it in the internationally acclaimed best seller “Running in the family”.

The spirit at Lukannon, which is the name of Michael’s home, reflects the spirit of goodness which one rarely encounters elsewhere in this country. I have met many of his friends in this house. Each person is received with the same simple warmth and kindness.

Michael’s success I would attribute to some unique qualities. He has the enormous inbuilt confidence to reactivate confidence in those who have lost it. There is something very decent about him and the way he does it.

Most of all what I admire about him is his loyalty to his friends and the love for his country. How often, he must have been tempted to leave these shores. He did not. More than that he remained and served it. The very highest in the land can vouch for that. In service, he seems to be totally at home. Such men cannot, by God, be harmed.

Arjuna Hulugalle


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