JSS: No flour in power
Powerful union withdraws case under apparent pressure
While in the Opposition the UNP controllled Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya had led a stormy campaign that Colombo port land was being fraudulently leased out for a flour milling project with a Dubai based company. But now with its party in government the powerful Union has apparently yielded under pressure from the party hierarchy and withdrawn a court case against the project.

Not so long ago the JSS identified the allocation of land for the Serendib Flour Mill project as a corrupt deal. But early this month it decided to withdraw a case filed against the particular company and the Ports Authority.

But, veteran trade unionist, Vasudeva Nanayakkara has revived the battle to question the deal by filing a fresh petition in the Court of Appeal. The JSS, led by Minister Gamini Lokuge early this year vowed to continue a campaign against what he called a 'corrupt' deal but now the JSS has settled for what appears to be minor adjustments in the original deal - among them being the company agreeing to shift the location of its flour milling plant to an extent not exceeding 12 metres towards the east.

The JSS also had agreed that no claims would be made against each other while all allegations have been withdrawn. JSS Treasurer, Nimal Samarakkody who swore one of the affidavits to the Court of Appeal said, "the main aim of the court case was to highlight the corrupt practices of the previous PA regime and to stop a transaction that was against the national interest of the country".

The JSS had challenged the validity of the allocation of land in the Prince Vijaya Quay (PVQ) in the Port of Colombo for the construction of a flour mill by the Serendib Flour Mills, Dubai.

The JSS had said that nearly two acres of land from the Port had been leased out to the particular company wrongfully, unlawfully, and fraudulently during the period of the PA government despite objections by SLPA officials.

The SLPA had called for tenders for the purchase of land in the vicinity of the port due to the non-availability of land within the Colombo Port area. The Director (Technical) of the port and the Finance Committee were among those who objected to the leasing of the land at the PVQ.

SLPA Director (Technical) G.P. Weerasinghe had pointed out that only limited land was available within the port and it was not feasible to provide the land. "Providing large areas of land for individual business activities is best served in specialised industrial ports. Thus granting of space for individual activities in the small port of Colombo is at the expense of multi-user economic activity and could be damaging in the long run to the economy of the country," Mr. Weerasinghe said.

The Director Finance of SLPA had noted that leasing of this quay would mean a loss of around Rs. 800 million annually to the port, whereas the income in terms of the rental from the lease of the land would only be Rs. nine million.

One of the allegations levelled by the JSS was that the transaction lacked transparency and instructions given by the cabinet had not been followed. The Sunday Times learns that the JSS had been under heavy pressure from within the party to withdraw the case on the grounds that it would prevent investments coming in from Dubai.

JSS General Secretary Sirinal de Mel told The Sunday Times he did not wish to comment on reasons for withdrawing the case, as it was Minister Lokuge who was handling the matter. Mr. Lokuge was out of the country and was not available for comment.

Cheap travel, but don't bring SARS
By Chris Kamalendran
Sri Lankans are rushing to make use of an extraordinary offer made by airlines and tour operators to fly to Singapore, Bangkok and other SARS-hit destination at give-away rates.

Airlines and tour operators have cut down their air ticket rates by more than 20 per cent of the normal fares and offered free hotel accommodation, special family packages and visits to tourist destinations.

The offer is said to be made as a promotional campaign to overcome the drop in air traffic and the tourist arrivals due to SARS and the Iraqi war. Among other countries the offers are being made to visit Singapore and Thailand which had been affected by SARS. An Epidemiologist said the SARS threat was not still over, though the World Health Organisations (WHO) latest report says that for the past few weeks the disease had not been transmitted internally.

"It is an individual choice to visit these countries and a risk the visitors take," he said.
Among the offers was one from Singapore Airlines which made available a return ticket for Rs. 9,750 and free hotel accommodation with meals for two nights and a day in Singapore.

It had made similar offers to 10 other destinations. A singapore airline spokesman in Colombo told The Sunday Times that the offers were being made to improve the air traffic and boost tourism affected by the the spread of SARS and the Iraqi war.
He said that they were offering 15,000 tickets under this promotional campaign, and already the package was fully booked.

The Thai airways made a different offer aimed at boosting Thailand's tourism industry. The Thai Airways is offering upto 20,000 free air tickets in a competition for those who take its flights.

Meanwhile at the Colombo international airport health authorities continued to keep vigil for SARS cases. Airport Medical Officer Dr. Gamini Jayasekara said they were still maintaining the surveillance at the airport for SARS cases.

Fraud within a fraud, says Vasu
By Laila Nasry
The application filed by veteran trade unionist Vasudeva Nanayakkara, against the construction of a private flour mill in the Colombo Port premises will be taken up in the Court of Appeal tomorrow.

When the case came up last Friday, lawyers for the respondents said they were not yet ready as they had received notice only the previous day. Nanayakkara came to court having learnt that the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) which initially went to court opposing the setting up of a flour mill within the port, stating it was part of the corrupt practices of the PA regime and went against the national interest of the country, had settled the case by signing a motion prepared by the 2nd respondents, Serendib flour mills.

Further the petition states that such a settlement was subsequent to the political pressure brought to bear on the JSS in spite of Minister Gamini Lokuge who plays a pivotal role in the JSS was quoted as saying that they would pursue with the case.

Stating that the motion, which contains the acquiescence of the 2nd respondent to shift the location of the mill by 12 metres eastward, is dubious and an attempt to cover up a fraud, Mr. Nanayakkara says the settlement in effect prevented the court from going into the merits of the case and has thereby endorsed a fraud within a fraud perpetrated on the unsuspecting public.

Further subsequent to the settlement the flour mill project had got underway and the 2nd respondent had already begun demolishing an existing warehouse where a considerable amount of tea was being stored.

The petition states the leasing out of prime land within the Colombo Port for 30 years without calling for competitive prices could result in a monumental loss of revenue and the loss of land which otherwise could be utilized for the core operations of the port.
Further in the event the port needing the land back after an initial period of ten years, would result in them having to pay compensation, a further loss in revenue, which would affect the financial status of the Ports Authority and its vast number of personnel.

Therefore the petitioner is praying court to issue an interim order staying the operation of the lease, restrain the Ports Authority and Serendib flour mills to act in pursuance of the lease and to issue a writ of certiorari and a writ of prohibition respectively in this regard.

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