UNP blocks Gazettes on hotel projects

Wednesday, 19 February 2014 01:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Says casinos can still be included under “associated facilities,” wants fresh debate this week
By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent The casino issue took centre stage in Parliament yesterday when the UNP vehemently objected to passing new Gazette notifications that failed to clearly state the objectives of three proposed mixed development projects. Opposition lawmakers criticised the Government’s attempts to sneak in new Gazette notifications announcing three controversial strategic development projects. The three projects planned for D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha, Justice Akbar Mawatha and Glennie Street. The Gazette Extra Ordinary 1847/35, 1847/36, and 1847/37 have simply replaced the word casino “with associated facilities,” charged Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament. “Associated facilities are not within the provisions of the special projects. Associated facilities are not specific and could be anything. In the last occasions it was casinos. These three Gazettes cannot be passed,” said Wickremesinghe, seeking time for a debate within this week. In response, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management and the Leader of the House of Parliament Nimal Siripala de Silva stated that moving of the Gazette was the motive and a debate could be considered. “But you just can’t say this is unacceptable. The Government holds the right to move any document or law in this house. But this House holds the right to approve or reject. During the debate you can clarify further,” said Minister de Silva. However, Leader of the Opposition who disagreed with Minister de Silva sated Government move to present any “piece of paper” to Parliament is a violation of Standing Orders. “We just want to know what are these associated facilities are,” he stressed. Joining the objections Leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake said “The Strategic Development Act has specified revealing details of the respective project. Unless otherwise it cannot be an opened Gazette. This is a more like a blank cheque without a signature. There is no validity. The Gazettes should be moved here in the Parliament in line with the respective Act. Ministers cannot move Gazettes as per their wish. What you have tried is to bring in the casino into this Gazette but keeping out the words.” Under pressure from coalition parties led by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) the Government insisted it had rolled back plans to establish three casinos in Colombo. However, the three Gazette notifications do not specifically rule out casinos in the three projects that include Aussie gaming mogul James Packer’s US$350 million project. The other two projects are a mixed development project proposed by John Keells Holdings and Queensbury by local tycoon Dhammika Perera.  

 Govt. slammed on ad hoc land allocation to projects

  • Says proposed Colombo Port City places risk on Govt. not Chinese investor, alleges corruption as reason for deals
UNP MP Eran Wickramaratne yesterday criticised the Government on haphazard land acquisition and pointed out the present system leaves massive loopholes for mismanagement and corruption as it does not require parliamentary approval. The outspoken MP told Parliament during a debate on the acquisition of land for 17 projects, which are mainly related to the construction of roads and highways, that the lack of Parliamentary approval for land allocation for massive projects leaves the country’s economy open to exploitation from  opaque deals. He specifically highlighted the proposed Port City, which is expected to kick off later this year. “The Government has embarked on implementing unsolicited proposals by Chinese Communications Construction Company Ltd. Unsolicited proposals will cost the taxpayer much higher than projects which are awarded on a competitive basis.” “Now it is widely believed that the cost of projects may be 50-100% more than it. Even though the initial expenditure of US $ 1.4 billion is projected as direct foreign investment, it is not. Most of it is a loan from the Chinese Exim Bank which will be based on a guarantee given by the Government of Sri Lanka. The ultimate risk lies not with the investor but with the Government of Sri Lanka. The downside is ours while the unlimited upside will be to CCCC and the other partners. “ Wickramaratne alleged that unsolicited proposals are entertained “because the payouts in bribes are included in the price. Road projects, bridges, power stations, ports, airports, and now port cities are being awarded to foreigners and local cronies of politicians without proper process or competitive pricing.” Even though Article 148, 149 and 150 of the Constitution requires Parliaments approval for the collection of taxes and expenditure Wickramaratne criticised the “all-powerful and unique Presidential System” that he insisted allows the “President to de alienate land and sell it to anyone whether local or foreigners”. Quoting from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea the MP pointed out countries are given sovereignty over their territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles. These sovereign rights also extend to 200 nautical miles as an Exclusive Economic Zone and therefore, in his view, allocation of such space should come under Parliament.