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12th April 1998

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DM pushes ahead for computer land

An ultra-modern computer system is to be introduced to streamline land transactions with funding from Australia and World Bank, Lands Minisiter D. M. Jayaratne said.

A controversial law for this purpose, the Title Act, was passed by parliament recently during the UNP boycott, despite strong protests from the Bar Association and other groups of lawyers.

The Lands Minister lashed out at the opponents saying the new law would prevent some lawyers from fleecing clients through years long land cases and that was main reason why it was being opposed.

Mr. Jayaratne who is visiting Australia to collect millions of rupees for the project said the computerised scheme would also streamline bank procedures for land deals.

He said all land titles and transactions would be fed into computers and information could be obtained in a matter of seconds. Australia had also expressed willingness to train people for this specialised work.

From Joseph to George

Joseph Pararajasingham, the TULF's parliamentary group leader has sent a felicitation message to India's new Defence Minister George Fernandes.

Mr. Pararajasingham who met Mr. Fernandes, the Samatha Party leader, at the New Delhi Tamil solidarity meeting in December last year also says in the message that Mr. Fernandes with his rich experience and profound understanding of International politics including the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka, will guide the destiny of India.

Wishing him for a successful and outstanding tenure, Mr Pararajasingham says, "The hospitality extended by you and your friends gives us complete confidence that you are equal to the task and will meet the challenges of your task."

PA won't make new promises

Lalith Front will be invited for polls talks - DM

By Arshad Hadjirin & Dilrukshi Handunnetti

The PA will make no new promises at the coming provincial elections but will only pledge to fulfill the promises made at the general elections in 1994, General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne said.

He said the ruling alliance would throw everything it had into the elections as it felt that control of the provinces was important for efficient national development and administration.

At present the UNP controls several provincial councils.

Mr. Jayaratne said the PA executive committee would be meeting soon to decide on specific election strategy and allocation of seats to various parties in the alliance.

He accused the UNP of trying to undermine the government through the backdoor by provoking trade unions into wild cat strikes, an apparent reference to the postal and other disputes.

Amidst speculation that a key PA constituent party, the United Lalith Front led by Srimani Athulathmudali was reviewing its options, Mr. Jayaratne said the ULF would be officially invited to take part in the meeting regarding the elections.

His comments came as ULF National List MP Ravi Karunanayake charged that PA leaders had not treated ULF members properly or invited them for joint strategy sessions.

He said the ULF was weighing its options on whether to contest with the PA or with the UNP.

Responding to questions as to whether there would be a moral dilemma in linking up with the UNP, Mr. Karunanayake said the two persons allegedly linked to the Lalith Athulathmudali assassination were no longer in the UNP and thus there was no problem.

He said several rounds of talks had been held with the UNP but no final decision had been taken on any electoral alliance.

Shrama Shakthi rallies behind Susanthika

An NGO which helped in settling the earlier crisis surrounding sprint queen Susanthika Jayasinghe yesterday again intervened n her behalf after the local athletics controlling body announced she was being suspended pending a hearing on two findings that she has taken banned performance-enhancing drugs.

The Shrama Shakthi Welfare Association headed by the wife of a prominent UNP MP in a statement said it would fight for Susanthika and ensure that a justifiable solution would be found.

The Amateur Athletics Association of Sri Lanka on Friday announced the provisional suspension of Susanthika after the world-controlling body, the IAAF, informed it that tests on two urine samples of Susanthika had shown that she had taken the banned drug nandrolone.

Under regulations of the International Amateur Athletics Federation Susanthika could be suspended for upto two years if the local association rejects her appeal.

At a news conference last Friday, the star athlete who won a silver medal at the world games in Athens last year charged that Sports Ministry authorities here had tempered with her urine samples to defame her and ruin her career. She said she was prepared to go before an international panel of doctors and judges for another test provided that the local Sports Ministry was not involved in it.

Susanthika has repeatedly charged that a VIP at the Sports Ministry had sexually harassed her and was now trying to ruin her.

The NGO headed by Shanthini Kongahage, said that Susanthika's appeal for a third test by an independent panel was justified. It welcomed Sports Minister S. B. Dissanayake's assurance that the ministry would help the champion athlete to get a third test.

Two years ago Susanthika found herself in a similar crisis after the international body said tests had shown she had taken a banned steroid. But Susanthika appealed and finally proved her innocence. She is confident she could prove her innocence and get the decision reversed again.

BOI blunder leaves businessmen in huff

Top businessman were left in an angry huff when they turned up for a government seminar at a five-star hotel only to be told that it had been put off at the last moment.

Several businessman who were not informed of the cancellation arrived at the Hilton well before the scheduled time of 9.30 for the BOI seminar which was to be addressed by Minister G. L. Peiris, top economists and government officials.

Annoyed businessmen told The Sunday Times they had to cancel important engagements to attend the seminar, only to be left stranded at the hotel. They said the whole affair reflected a lack of professionalism and did not speak well for the BOI's public relations skills. Invitations to the seminar were sent on March 31 with a request of confirmation by the first week of April.

A few of the businessmen had been given prior notice of the cancellation but most of the invitees were not informed. The seminar was on new incentives and concessions offered to key industrial sectors.

Emirates deal web of corruption - UNP will disentangle it

The main opposition UNP yesterday slammed the AirLanka-Emirates deal as one of the most scandalous national fraud and pledged it would disentangle the web of corruption and expose and bring to justice all parties who benefited from this corrupt transaction.

In a hard-hitting statement, General Secretary Gamini Atukorale charged that the deal would turn the national carrier AirLanka into a virtual feeder service of Emirates airlines while it also provide for the unconscionable irony of giving a ten-year oil subsidy to a rich oil-producing state at a time when subsidies to the poor people of Sri Lanka are being reduced.

The statement says:

"On 5th April 1998 the Sri Lanka Government through a sudden press release announced that AirLanka would be embarking upon a US $550 million Airbus re-fleeting programme. As part of this exercise it was also stated that a one-sided agreement on consessional terms had been signed making Emirates the manager and strategic partner of Sri Lanka's Flag Carrier, AirLanka.

"Through this device the PA Government successfully by-passed all established Government Procurement and Tender Procedures and moved swiftly to purchase Airbus airplanes and related equipment which is ultimately expected to cost around US $700 Million.

The UNP is now convinced that the so-called AirLanka restructuring had only one objective; namely obtaining illegal commissions from what is the largest single procurement made by the Sri Lanka Government in the last decade. What is even more scandalous about this transaction is that the avarice for these commissions was so great that the deal was structured so that the PA administration literally gave away our national asset and flag carrier, AirLanka, alongwith valuable international route rights to Emirates in order to achieve this unholy objective.

"As a result of information now available in the public domain, it is obvious that the massive investment involved and the commissions that go with it will not only enrich the PA and its cronies but will also enable Emirates to recover up front their so called investment in AirLanka.

"As an added bonus it appears that deal has enabled Emirates to avoid paying millions of dollars in cancellation penalties to Airbus by transferring their own surplus orders to AirLanka. In addition, Emirates, which is a competitor to AirLanka, will be in a position to cannibalize our national carrier and rationalize its route structure to its own advantage. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Airbus A-330 Aircraft, which has now been ordered, will impede AirLanka's ability to serve the Indian market adequately and in the long term move AirLanka away from being an International Carrier and convert it into a feeder service for Emirates out of Dubai.

Shifting the Goal Posts

It is very clear the so-called restructuring of AirLanka was from the beginning engineered for the purpose of obtaining commissions from the purchase of Airbuses. This is best demonstrated by the glaring deviations that exist between the initial terms outlined in the original Request for Proposal (RFP) document and the extremely liberal terms on which the Airline now appears to have been handed over to Emirates. As an example, in the RFP document AirLanka's flag carrier status, management contract, extremely lucrative ground handling monopoly and exclusive catering rights would only be available to a strategic partner for a maximum period of five years and the subsidy on aviation fuel only for a period of one year.

"According to published information and statements attributed to senior Government officials all these concessions have been given to Emirates for a period of ten years. AirLanka also has been given BOI flagship status and other tax concesions for a further fifteen years, thus potentially depriving the Government of billions or rupees in revenue. Contrary to established procedure, these deviations from the RFP terms were not offered to the other credible bidders who were interested in AirLanka. In some cases PERC did not even reply their letters seeking clarification on some of these issues. Through this sleight of hand and stonewalling process the PA Government sought to realize its hidden agenda of pre-selecting Emirates as the strategic partner and thereby benefit from the Airbus commissions.

Misleading the people

To add insult to injury the PA administration deliberately misled the people of Sri Lanka on the AirLanka restructuring at every turn. When questions were raised by COPE, senior officials lied and did not disclose the details of the transaction. A senior Cabinet Minister G.L. Peiris undertook to table all the relevant documents prior to finalizing the restructuring but has failed to do so up to this point. Another Senior Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake has sought to interfere with the COPE inquiries.

"In this context the United National Party pledged to pursue every avenue available to disentangle this web of corruption and to expose and bring to justice all parties who benefited from and aided and abetted this corrupt transaction. Then United National Party has assigned a separate group of experts to study the intricacies of this deal and will communicate their findings to the public as and when they are available.

The kleptomania exhibited by this Government has become so blatant that the PA has even failed to notice the unconscionable irony of giving a ten-year aviation fuel subsidy to Emirates owned by Dubai, one of the world's largest oil producers. Clearly there is something seriously amiss when a government that is eliminating subsidies to the poor farmers of Sri Lanka can with a good conscience provide fuel subsidies to rich oil-producing states.

Unlike the past corruption scandals of this Government the so-called AirLanka restructuring marks the graduation of Sri Lanka into a fully fledged kleptocracy."

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