ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 9, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 41

Entry of fifth cell phone operator - Right of reply

With reference to our article published on March 2 under the heading ‘Big boss wants things expedited’, Central Environmental Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila has this to say. I wish to bring several inaccuracies in the said article to your notice regarding the proposed investment by Bharati Airtel, the fifth cell phone operator in Sri Lanka.

Although the newspaper article implies that the Central Environmental Authority is delaying the project, we wish to bring the following facts to your notice. The Central Environmental Authority, as the premier environmental agency in the country is fully aware of the importance of attracting foreign investment into Sri Lanka. As such we have always given high priority to the processing of BOI projects. However, while promoting foreign investment into the country it is equally important to ensure that such investments are environmentally benign and do not cause adverse impacts in the environment.

Bharati Airtel is not the only foreign investor who has submitted their proposal for the CEA clearance. As such, we cannot utilize the limited human and other resources exclusively on one company, as there are many other equally important BOI projects, which require CEA attention.

The CEA has gone out of its way to expedite the processing of the nearly 270 applications submitted by Bharati Airtel. In a relatively short span of six weeks, the CEA has cleared nearly 170 of these applications while the remaining are being processed. The CEA is putting maximum effort into clearing these applications and therefore it is completely wrong to accuse the CEA of bureaucracy. It should also be noted that many of the applications submitted by Bharati Airtel were incomplete thereby delaying the processing of these applications expeditiously.

The article is also factually incorrect and is based on total misinformation in reporting that the hon. Minister of Environment and Natural Resources and myself were summoned by His Excellency the President to Temple Trees in order to expedite the approvals of Bharati Airtel. At no time has His Excellency the President interfered in the work of the CEA or given instructions to expedite the processing of applications for Bharati Airtel.

Our reporter’s note: Our report was about the President wanting the US $200 million new investment by an Indian investor on a fifth cell phone project expedited as far as CEA giving approval to their applications to put up towers. In this regard the President had a meeting with Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka and CEA Chairman Udaya Gammanpila to expedite matters as Bharati Airtel Lanka Pvt. Ltd had announced last year that it wants to launch the local operation at the beginning of this year. Now Mr Gammanpila does not deny that such a meeting took place, but goes onto harangue us about them not being summoned for such a meeting. So if it makes him happy we’ll say they were invited for the meeting.

Earlier on February 17 we wrote another story in this regard headlined “CEA pundits overburdened” in which we spotlighted the fact that CEA was overburdened by thousands of applications and the resultant delay was taken up at a meeting summoned at the BOI. And prior to writing that report we contacted Mr. Gammanpila and then too he insisted that his officials couldn’t be summoned and they were only invited for a meeting. We only wish if Mr. Gammanpila stopped wasting time splitting hairs over whether the President invited them or summoned them and instead got down to his work proper then at least we can cut down on these delays. Even in this instance I personally phoned him to get some details about this second meeting. At the time he said he was busy and promised to call me back. But no such call came. Maybe he's waiting for Airtel to make the call.

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