A world renowned Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie whose firm’s name has been linked to a secret plan that was part of the Israeli government’s campaign for settler homes in private Palestinian lands, will be the chief guest at the annual sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) in Colombo next week. Mr Safdie [...]


Controversial Israeli architect here next week


A world renowned Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie whose firm’s name has been linked to a secret plan that was part of the Israeli government’s campaign for settler homes in private Palestinian lands, will be the chief guest at the annual sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) in Colombo next week.

Mr Safdie is well known worldwide for his architectural expertise. He is referred to as the ‘Father of modern architecture”. However, the move has raised issues within sections of the Muslim community that largely backed President Maithripala Sirisena at the presidential election, and raised questions among intellectuals in Sri Lankan society. They ask if the new Government in Sri Lanka is veering away from its traditional Palestine policy.

Israeli architect Moshe Safdie

Adding weightage to the question are earlier events. One such instance came when the UNESCO adopted a resolution last year to deny Jewish ties to Israel’s most holy religious sites: the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Sri Lanka abstained from voting though the resolution was carried. The Foreign Ministry defended its action and declared in a statement that even India had refrained from voting, reminding one of an old joke in the Foreign Ministry when diplomats soon after Independence were asked to follow the Indian ambassador at voting time, and one of them followed the Indian envoy all the way to the toilet – to abstain from voting.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper had this to say: “What can one say about the Israeli architects who follow the state’s policies and aims yet deny that their role is political? Despite all the evidence of illegality under international law and breaches of human rights in the land grabs, house demolitions and evictions, Israeli architects and planners continue their activities. They cannot claim that they do not know: there have been plenty of calls for them to stop.

“More of the illegal projects that have been built over the last four decades are ready to go now that the recent settlement freeze has ended – with no sign of resistance or protest from the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA). This applies not only to ultra-Zionist architecture firms but mainstream architects of international repute such as Moshe Safdie and Shlomo Aronson. Safdie has been responsible for the now notorious Plan 1155 for the extreme nationalist settler movement Elad that has, in effect, been given control of Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.”

It was only last week that Israel’s Parliament (Knesset) voted to retroactively legalise thousands of illegitimate settler homes built on private Palestinian land, in a highly controversial move described by critics as nothing but a “land grab.” The move has met with international condemnation though Sri Lanka is still to react. It comes in sharp defiance of a call by the former US secretary of State, John Kerry, who urged Israel to rein in the construction of settlements on West Bank land.

Questions were raised this week among certain circles asking if Sri Lankan professionals and intellectuals must not take up a stand on what is right and what is wrong happening around the world, even if their home Governments must be politically correct.
Harsha Fernando, President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects which has invited Safdie as the chief guest, defended the position of his association. He told the Sunday Times this week: “We were not interested in his (Safdie’s) personal thinking. Our stand was that he is the first person after Le Corbusier to have a huge impact on high rise buildings. Moshe Safdie was talking 10-15 years ago about mega cities. He made everyone rethink about how we live in cities. That was the very reason to bring him down.

“Personally and architecturally, he is a controversial character. But his thinking can be questioned (at the event). We are not into that kind of political situation but only worried about our professional education,” Mr. Fernando said.
Safdie’s firm is the architect of a high rise building now under construction in Colombo.

Bond probe gets off  to confusing start
Officials at the Commission of Inquiry to probe the Central Bank bond scam have made a blunder in the very first official announcement calling for public representations.

The headline of the notification says “Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire……” In the text of the notification too there are references to both “Presidential Commission” and “Commission of Inquiry.”

Obviously, the officials do not seem to be aware that the Presidential Commission and the Commission of Inquiry are two different entities.
The Commission of Inquiry Act was enacted in 1952 whilst the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Act was formulated in 1983.
Needless to say, the notification has caused considerable confusion in the minds of the public and even in sections of the media. If the notification is anything to go by, there are two different commissions.

However, President Maithripala Sirisena signed a warrant only for a Commission of Inquiry.

CBSL nearly picked garbage clearance firm for media work
A leaked report of the Central Bank’s internal audit department on foreign travel and other expenses by Arjuna Mahendran, the former controversial Governor, reveals details of how a janitorial and garbage clearance firm was nearly picked to outsource media activities.
This startling revelation is contained in the review report which says in its own English: “Proposals to handle the PR (Public Relations) and communication for CBSL (Central Bank of Sri Lanka) obtained from two experienced media personnel were submitted to the Monetary Board by the former Governor without any amendments.

“The objectives highlighted in the proposal submitted by Mahesh Senanayake have been incorporated to the ‘invitation for expression of interest to handle public relations and social media communication services of the CBSL.“Further, one replied to the said invitation from Facility and Engineering Management Services (Pvt.) Ltd (FEMS) providing a brief note on how the company intend to address each of the tasks mentioned in the invitation, included parts of the text, which included in the proposal submitted to the Monetary Board.

“FEMS has submitted the qualifications and experience of the proposed persons by them for the said project and one such proposed persons was named as the head of the team, i.e. Mr R.S.M. Senanayake.“The Director, Human Resources addressed to the Chairman of the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) forwarding the EOIs (Expression of Interest) mentioned the name Abans Environmental Services (Pvt) Ltd.
Tender Board has approved to award the tender to FEMS, which is a related company of Abans and it has been mentioned the same in the profile submitted by FEMS on 23rd March, 2016.

“According to the profile specified in the website of Abans shows that they are specialised only to facilities management services such as cleaning and janitorial services, landscaping and gardening services, hygiene management services, rental of mobile toilets, etc. Since these activities are not related to the said purpose of obtaining services of journalists to handle public relations and social media communication activities of CBSL, it will expose the Bank to the reputation risk.”

The report also says there was conflict of interest over the two persons who have been named as journalists. One was R.S.M. Senanayake and the other is Ms A.D. Soysa. One was Head of Marketing of The Finance PLC while the latter is Assistant Manager in Fund Mobilisation, Softlogic Finance PLC. Both these companies are under the supervision of the Central Bank and allowing them to work would have been a conflict of interest, the report notes.

The Tender Board, according to the report, has asked Director, Human Resources to explore “the Governor’s preference.” He had asked that a quotation be called from FEMS. Though a quotation was received and an agreement was formulated, it was not signed. It came as the Legal Department said the arrangement may reveal confidential information. They pointed out that Monetary Law Act required the maintenance of secrecy.

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