Govt. adamant on takeover bill

President meets Ranil and business leaders, says owners can make proposals
By Anthony David

The government stood firm last night in its efforts to go ahead with the takeover of 37 business ventures considered “underperforming enterprises” or having “underutilized assets” despite protests from the private sector and the main opposition United National Party.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa made this clear to organisations representing the private sector. He, however, assured that owners of the enterprises would be allowed to offer proposals to revive their ventures. It is not clear how this would be carried out. The Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilized Assets Bill provides for the appointment of a Competent Authority for each of the 37 business ventures to be taken over.

President Rajapaksa’s assertions came during a meeting he held with six of the country’s leading organisations representing the private sector last night. Associated with him was Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who strongly defended the proposed new law.

Earlier in the day, President Rajapaksa held an hour-long one-on-one meeting with Opposition United National Party Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe at the Janadipathi Mandiraya. Mr. Wickremesinghe told the President there was no need to rush through the draft bill. If the new legislation was intended to deal with loss-making enterprises, the Opposition Leader had appealed that at least three companies be excluded from the Schedule listing the 37 companies for takeover. This was because they were profit-making ventures.

The companies named by Mr Wickremesinghe were Sevanagala Sugar Industries Limited under Daya Gamage, who is the UNP’s Ampara organizer, Pelwatte Sugar Industries Limited under Harry Jayawardena and Lanka Tractors Limited under Daya Wettasinghe.

President Rajapaksa told the private sector representatives that the draft Bill would be “one off” and would not be applied to other business ventures. He claimed that the aim of the new legislation was to revive the 37 enterprises that were to be taken over.

Representatives from the Federations of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), National Chambers of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), National Chamber of Exporters (NCE), Chamber of Young Lankan Entrepreneurs (COYLE), Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAFF), Free Trade Zone Manufactures Association (FTZMA) and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) met President Rajapaksa yesterday.

Govt. move complicates labour issues: Union

Among the 37 ventures the government proposes to take over are 12 export-oriented apparel firms and 17 manufacturing companies. Most of these factories remain closed with the buildings abandoned and the land not used.

Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union joint Secretary Anton Marcus said most of these factories faced labour issues over payment of wages and compensation. “Some of them are pending in courts and the issue will become complicated due to government intervention,” he said.

A case in point, he said, was Sinotex (Lanka) Ltd., a 27-year-old apparel factory where 2,000 workers, mostly rural youth, lost their jobs in 2008. Although the management paid compensation, workers went to courts saying it was not enough, he said.

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