The shocking disclosure by a deputy minister last week perhaps provides an insight into corruption, which is assuming monstrous proportions in Sri Lanka.
Economic Development Deputy Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told Parliament that a staggering Rs 411.87 million had been spent to construct four kilometres of highway along the Maha Oya-Chenkalady road. That works out to a staggering more than Rs 100,000 for just a metre of the road.
Mr. Abeywardena was responding to a query from Dayasiri Jayasekera, a Kurunegala District UNP MP. On hearing the response, Jayasekera asked whether the road had been paved with gold.
Not so said the Deputy Minister explaining that while it might cost less to construct four kilometres of road in the south, it would cost more to construct roads in the former war zone as roads had been so badly neglected and damaged there.
While the colossal amounts on constructing the road are bewildering, equally puzzling is the fact that four different contractors have been awarded the tenders to construct the four kilometres.
Among those awarded the tenders for the first stage of construction which is from 276.9 kilometres to 281.5 kilometres are V.V. Karunaratne and Co (Rs. 96.29 million), Ruhunu Development Construction and Engineers (Pvt) Ltd (Rs. 107.73 million), Sierra Constructions (Rs. 115.52 million) and Maga Engineering (Pvt) Ltd Rs. 172.9 million.
The road is being built with funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is part of the "Neganahira Udanaya' programme of the Government, the Deputy Minister revealed in reply to an oral question raised by Jayasekera.
Repaired UAV crashes
Israeli experts were in for a shock last Thursday. They had come to repair the Searcher Mark II unmanned UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) .
They repaired a non-operational UAV at the Sri Lanka Air Force base in Vavuniya. It got airborne and soon hit a tree. The UAV was damaged beyond repair.
With the defeat of Tiger guerrillas in May 2009, the Air Force has assisted the Police. The SLAF used it over jungles in the south where local drug cartels were cultivating ganja (or cannabis).
UNP trio to pick northern candidates
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has set up a separate three-member committee to pick party candidates in the north.
It comprises Jayalath Jayawardena, D.M. Swaminathan and Vijayakala Maheswaran. The latter is the wife of late UNP parliamentarian Thiagarajah Maheswaran who was reportedly shot dead by the LTTE.
Sajin keeps Libya trip a top secret
Parliamentarian Sajin Vass Gunawardena who oversees the External Affairs Ministry as a "monitor" kept it a top secret. So much so, none in the EAM was aware that he was travelling to Libya with the President's son, Namal Rajapaksa MP.
The latter paid a courtesy call on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
This may not be good news to a less than handful of sanctimonious retired service types who are jockeying for positions and singing hosannas for recognition.
One of the UNP's Kurunegala District parliamentarians spoke recently about officers and soldiers of the Army becoming vegetable vendors.
If this was to bring down prices, he suggested that the Navy be deployed in the seas around Sri Lanka to catch fish. That way, he said, they could bring down the soaring fish prices.
Serious charges against top cop
A senior Police officer attached to the office of the Inspector General of Police was suddenly transferred to Field Force Headquarters on Friday.
He now faces either compulsory leave or interdiction. The officer has been accused of issuing more than 100 Clearance Certificates to help people travel abroad. Almost all applicants had been residents of Jaffna peninsula and the Wanni district.
Police are probing complaints that he charged anything between Rs 75,000 and Rs 100,000 to sign the Clearance Certificates. Whether remnants of the LTTE paid their way out of Sri Lanka through this is now being probed.
Rajapaksa's jog in Jaffna
Thal Sevana, the Army's retreat in Jaffna, was where President Mahinda Rajapaksa and some of his close aides stayed during their visit to the northern capital.
After nightfall, there was a singsong. Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga sang a few numbers made popular by the late C.T. Fernando.
Not to be outdone, the newly appointed Navy Commander Somaratne Dissanayake joined in.
The next morning, Mr. Rajapaksa was up early and did a three kilometre jog. That was different from the tread mill at Temple Trees he uses regularly. He even rode a sea scooter, seized from the LTTE by the Army. But unlike his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the local media were not given handout pictures of his macho activities.
President fishes out Rajitha
President Rajapaksa chaired a meeting of ministers to discuss matters related to the rising cost of living.
Noting that Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne was absent, he asked the Secretary to the Ministry (who was representing his boss) where he was. Rajapaksa directed that he be told to come immediately.
Senaratne turned up to explain he had gone to the Bandaranaike International Airport to meet his wife who was returning from abroad.
"Yes, the world can have malnutrition but you have to ensure there is no malnutrition in your household," remarked Rajapaksa.
No job, no parade
A top cop not only put on hold his farewell parade for retirement but also made a call to a VVIP directly to have his services extended.
With no success, he is now out of service sans a parade or political patronage.
UNP stalwart turns 90
N.G.P. Panditharatne, a veteran UNPer and one-time party chairman turned 90 on Friday.
The chartered accountant was the first head of the Mahaweli Authority and produced a lengthy report on the workings of the UNP.
The UNP's best wishes were conveyed by its deputy leader, Karu Jayasuriya. He went with a bouquet of flowers to a private hospital where Mr. Panditharatne is admitted for treatment.
Police.lk: Look before you leap
Police Chief Dr. Mahinda Balasuriya's innovation "Tell the IGP" via the website police.lk, no doubt, helps the public. There are hundreds who had got relief and hence the arrangement is laudable.
However, in equal measure, it seems to be working against sections of the public and tends to blacken the image of the Police Department. Interested parties are using the mechanism as a vehicle to embarrass or harass others.
On Duruthu Poya day morning, when a household in Nugegoda were engaged in religious observances, two men in plain clothes knocked at the gate.
One of them, a sergeant, who used language that was less than polite, insisted that the gate be opened so he could enter and inspect the house. Since he wore no uniform, he produced his official identity to insist he walks in. Endorsing his demand was the constable who accompanied him.
The sergeant said he had received an SMS complaint evidently from those at 'Tell the IGP'. It was to say that all the toilet waste in the household in question was being emptied on the busy and much frequented public highway outside.
The duo walked in after the gates were open due to their pressure. They found out there was no truth to the claims made. No toilet effluents were reaching the road. However, just across the road, they did not observe the environmental hazards in the form of a large breeding ground for mosquitoes and a hideout for "gold chain snatchers".
It turned out that the message to 'Tell the IGP' was a hoax to embarrass and harass the householder. They complained to senior officials about the conduct of the two cops who demanded entry to the household without any preliminary study of the complaint received.
There is little doubt that Dr. Balasuriya's scheme is meant to help the public and not to harass them. However, abusing this facility for mischief not only causes embarrassment but also drives fear into households.
The Police Chief should have some mechanism where complaints could be verified before his men storm into houses, that too without a uniform, demanding that they inspect them. He also should deal with those who make false complaints. Otherwise, there will be a lot of abuse. This can only give credibility to fears of a police state by sections opposed to the government.
GLF loses two stars
Prize-winning novelists Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai have pulled out of Sri Lanka's main literary festival, the BBC reported on Friday. This is what the BBC said:
"The couple are currently at Jaipur literature festival in India and were due to go on to Galle, in southern Sri Lanka, for the event next week. The Galle Literary Festival says they are now unable to attend because of Indian re-entry visa regulations.
"Some rights groups have urged authors to boycott the event because of Sri Lanka's restrictions on free speech. Reporters Without Borders said it was 'highly disturbing that literature is being celebrated in this manner in a land where cartoonists, journalists, writers and dissident voices are so often victimized by the current government.' Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and Ken Loach are among those backing a boycott.
"But there is no indication that the campaign had anything to do with the withdrawal by Nobel laureate Mr Pamuk or his Indian partner Ms Desai, a Booker prize winner. Organisers say they were unable to resolve difficulties with India over the tourist visa restrictions, under which Mr Pamuk would be unable to re-enter the country within two months."
A statement by the festival quoted emails from the couple reflecting their regret. I am very sorry for and frustrated about this decision. I looked forward to seeing the beauties of Sri Lanka very much," the Turkish author is said to have written.
Rights groups say at least 17 journalists and media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last decade, and others have been threatened, imprisoned or fled the country. But the Galle Literary Festival founder Geoffrey Dobbs says the event is important as a platform for free speech.
The festival is one of the few forums which actively promote lively and spirited discussions," he said. "We want this to continue... and we will always welcome any writers and journalists to use the festival as a platform to air these issues."