The last minute dash by Urban Development Minister Dinesh Gunawardene
to grant outgoing President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga state
land has stirred a hornets' nest. Not forgotten too is the way her
mother Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike signed deeds on the
eve of the introduction of Land Reform in 1972 to avoid ancestral
property being vested with the state.
Her supporters hailed Ms Bandaranaike as the only world leader to
donate her own lands, but her last-minute deed signing became the
thrust of a vote of no confidence by the joint opposition at the
time. She survived, but it cast doubts on her integrity as a political
has been no precedent of Heads of State or Heads of Government in
Sri Lanka being given state land. For hundreds of years, colonial
Governors would go back to England on retirement and, since Independence,
to their private residences. Governors General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke
and William Gopallawa did just that as did Presidents J.R. Jayewardene
and D.B. Wijetunga and Prime Ministers Sir John Kotelawela, Dudley
Senanayake, W. Dahanayake and Ranil Wickremesinghe.
the incumbent President or Prime Minister died in office, their
widows returned to their homes. It was Hema Premadasa who broke
this tradition by not going back to her private residence 'Sucharita'
in Hulftsdorp. She took a state bungalow instead. They were all
given some security, staff and a stipend.
the decision to grant President Kumaratunga 1 1/2 acres to build
her own house stands out as an exception to the rule - an unprecedented
step - that would break yet another tradition in this country. Minister
Gunawardene has taken almost three weeks - to further clarify the
says this is not the same land on which her government spent some
Rs. 700 million on the proposed Presidential Palace. Then he says,
"It is located at a far corner of the same stretch of land!"
minister then refers to a UNP Government plan to develop the Colombo
Fort, the new administrative capital of Sri Jayawardanapura-Kotte
and President Kumaratunga's support for this plan. But what happened?
She went on to reside at President's House and this made Fort out-of-bounds
for others. The minister refers finally to security considerations
for the outgoing President. There is one matter that he has omitted.
When making such clarifications, especially to the public, there
must be Oberima fide (maximum good faith ).
leaves out the fact that this state land is a free-hold gift to
the President. Or is it not? He talks of plans to redevelop the
Kotte area but in effect, this gift would mean that President Kumaratunga
or her heirs can sell this land to anyone.
minister must tell the country if this is the position or not.
The President's Office has announced that she will build and maintain
the house. Nice as it sounds, there seems to be a catch here. Once
the state land is granted, it becomes the private property of Chandrika
things have happened in the recent past - under the stewardship
of President Kumaratunga herself. We still have not had a proper
explanation of what happened to parts of the state land - UDA land
- acquired by late President J.R. Jayewardene in 1978 around the
new Parliament area in Kotte for the development plan the minister
is referring to.
President Kumaratunga put up a cabinet paper and gave some of this
land near Pita-Kotte, on the approach to the new Parliament free
to so-called Japanese and local investors for a BOI project to start
a golf course.
Then, those so-called investors sold the permit for Rs. 150 million
(officially) to a businessman, who recently hosted UNP lawyers at
the state-of-the art golf club he has built there.
whom did he pay the Rs. 150 million plus? To the so-called investors
introduced to the cabinet by the President? And who were those who
got that sum of big bucks just for knowing the President?
this is the fear.
If the President needs a state bungalow, so be it. There is no dispute
about her security needs. But the clumsy way the issue has been
handled leaves much to be desired, especially by those who preach
about political morals and the sacrifices they make for the people
is a classic case of serving one's self - and the Sinhala saying
" hende athey thiyanakota, kagen ahhannado" ( when the
spoon is in your hand, who is there to ask) comes to mind.
is required is a re-assessment of the situation, on a needs-based
basis. And to ensure that the President is given a state bungalow,
if she needs one, that will revert to the state (the people) some
day - and not, for instance, be turned into - another exclusive
privately-owned golf club for the rich and famous.