The release of large extents of State land for big development projects in many parts of the country, particularly in the north and east, has raised concerns due to lack of transparency in the transactions, with the tender process overlooked in most instances.
The issue has been raised in Parliament in recent months as well by Opposition legislators who have queried why the Government is allocating State land at its whim and fancy, without adopting the proper procedure in the process.
UNP National list MP Dr. Harsha de Silva who raised in Parliament, the allocation of prime land at Galle Face to a Chinese company, as well as a large extent of land in Somawathie Sanctuary for an American company for a banana plantation, said there is a total lack of transparency in the allocation of State land to private companies for various projects.
“This Government came to power saying it would not give even an inch of land to foreigners, but now it is wholesale leasing land at its whim and fancy,” he said.
When a question pertaining to the extent of land acquired by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, and subsequently leased out to various projects, was raised in Parliament some months back, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena gave details of such allocations.
Around 2,000 acres have been allocated under the Kalpitya Tourism Integrated Resort Project, including the islands, while several hundred acres of land too have been allocated at Kuchchaveli for private projects.
Deputy Minister Abeywardena told the Sunday Times that the land at Kalpitiya was allocated to the highest bidder, after tenders were called. “The country is recovering after more than 30 years of war, and there is an interest to invest in tourism projects, and we need to take this opportunity,” he said.
The Deputy Minister said that the rest of the land was leased with Cabinet approval. “Cabinet can decide on the recipients of State land. We have called for expressions of interest from the public, in the available land, and it is from among those who apply that beneficiaries are selected,” he said.
He said, at Kuchchaveli, there is still a large amount of State land available for lease, and the going price was Rs. 20 million per acre. “There is a lot of land, but we don’t have enough bidders,” he said.
The Government has declared several areas in Kuchchaveli, situated within the Kaddukulam Pattu East area, as a tourism development area, namely the lands.
UNP MP De Silva charged that the land is being handed out at unbelievably low prices. The rate of a hotel room in one resort in Passekudah is Rs. 30,000 per night while the lessee pays only Rs.1,000 per acre for the lease,” he said.
The Deputy Minister said that the lease agreement has been decided upon and the rate based on the valuation done by the Government Valuer. The land at Kalpitiya has been given on a 30-year lease, while at Kuchchaveli, the land has been given on a 99-year lease agreement.
The JVP too has expressed concern about the manner in which land is allocated. MP Vijitha Herath told the Sunday Times the JVP is concerned about the lack of transparency in the process and how State lands are being handed out in an improper manner.
“There should be more transparency when allocating State land to private companies. This land belongs to the people and hence, such allocations should be of benefit to them as well,” he said.