Ceylon Estate Staffs’ Union chairman Dhammika Jayawardena said large scale bribery, corruption and malpractices were taking place within the estate sector.
He revealed how key officials of the Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation (SLSPC), the Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and private estate owning companies have been directly involved in depriving the Government of its due income, while paving the way for the complete breakdown of the estate sector.
He said, that even President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared in the Budget speech that there were more than 37,000 hectares of barren land available in the estates, which would be distributed among the landless.
The extent of barren lands proved how negligent the related authorities were in the maintenance of the estates.
Several written requests by the Estate Staffs’ Union for land from the barren lands, to build houses for staff members, which land they were even prepared to buy, were of no avail.
Tea factories belonging to SLSPC estates in the Kandy district had been closed down, he said.
Many staff quarters constructed under the Mid Term Investment Project (MTIP), worth lakhs of rupees, were in a dilapidated condition, with many of them on the verge of collapse, because the 22 estate owning companies neglected their maintenance, Mr. Jayawardena said.
Mr. Jayawardena further said that movable and immovable property belonging to the SLSPC had been sold to certain individuals sans tender procedures. He said that he possessed documentary evidence of massive corruption and illegal transactions.
He showed a copy of the letter which a key SLSPC official had sent to the Superintendent of Kotagala Estate belonging to the SLSPC, requesting the release of the most valuable extent of land on the estate, to a resident of Moratuwa, to start a dairy farm. The extent of land to be released was 48 acres and 6.28 perches.
Further instructions were also given to release another extent of land and an unoccupied staff quarters to store building construction material and later to be used as workers’ quarters of the proposed dairy farm.
Several squatters encroached on a 50-acre extent of Walahanduwa Estate belonging to the SLSPC in the Galle district.
Needwood Estate, with 150 acres in Haputale, belonging to the SLSPC was leased to a Denzil Souza. At the expiry of the lease, this estate was handed back to the SLSPC in 2009.
Now, after obtaining bribes, plans are afoot to lease out Needwood Estate, sans tender procedures, Mr. Jayawardena said.
In violation of tender procedures, Fairpark Estate, Hunasgiriya, belonging to the SLSPC, with 900 acres of tea, three bungalows and a factory has been earmarked to be given on lease to a private owner for a meagre amount.
Numerous corrupt activities were reported from St. Alias Estate in Hatton, belonging to the SLSPC during a business transaction between a Sukumar and officials of the SLSPC.
The factory had been sold to be dismantled for a paltry sum, after a bribe of Rs. 5 lakhs was allegedly paid by the buyer.
A luxury apartment belonging to Kotaganga Estate in Rangala, known as Fern Dale Bungalow, had been sold on the alleged payment of a large bribe to key officials of the SLSPC, Mr. Jayawardena said.
He further revealed how valuable trees in many of the estates in the central hills were sold for timber to private businessmen, without calling for tenders.