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Saturday May 25th, 2024

Fort Magistrate questions why officer probing MIG case has been transferred

ECONOMYNEXT – The Fort Magistrate has issued a notice asking why officers who were investigating the MIG case had been transferred out of the CID when the former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia Udayanga Weeratunge was produced in court on Monday.

Magistrate Ranga Dissanayake said the conduct of a complex investigation such as this should be continued by the officers who were in charge of it for the last five years.

 The Magistrate also faulted the CID officers for not following procedure when filing this case under the Public Property Act.

When dealing with public funds if the amount was more than Rs 25,000 there has to be an ASP’s report attached, Dissanayake said. “Did you not know that US dollars 7mn which is the amount mentioned in the file is more than Rs.25,000?” he asked.

The case pertains to the purchase of MIG fighters for the Sri Lanka Air Force.

ASP CID Vijitha Perera, IP Sanjeeva, and Chief Inspector Chandima Arumaperuma appeared for the prosecution along with Additional Solicitor General Thusitha Mudalige. Weeratunge was represented by Anil Silva PC with Rasanga Harischandra and Dayle Guneratne.

When proceedings began the Magistrate asked several questions from the CID.

Court: This case was first reported on 2015/03/26. The last time was on 2020/01/20. It was reported by Chief Inspector Nihal Francis. Is that officer now not involved in the investigation?

CID: He has been transferred to the Negombo Division and is working there

Court: Who is the investigating officer?

CID: IP Sanjeeva

Court: After doing this investigation for 5 years why has he been transferred?

CID: Not only him, my Lord, 50 officers have been transferred.

Court:  Can the officer investigating the case carry on without that officer? From the beginning, no one has signed this case. It has been signed only when the suspect was produced. Is this the level the Police has fallen to? Don’t you think it is better if Francis was here?

CID: That officer has not got the assistance of any other. That has become a big problem for us. Normally at least two others would have assisted him.

Court: I have to ask the IGP and the CID why Nihal Francis was removed from the investigation. Can Nihal Francis be brought to continue the investigation? .It is stated that the suspect has to be questioned for at least ten days and that shows how complex this investigation is.

CID: We have 33 files, they have to be examined.

Additional Solicitor General Mudalige: First we need to record the statement from the suspect. Due to the complex nature of the case we will need some time.

Court: Under what charge is this suspect being produced? The Director CID has stated that he does not know under which Law this case is being filed. It shows that he has not read even one ‘B’ report.

ASG: In the ‘B’ report filed on 2016/10/11 it states this suspect is being produced under Sections 454, 457, 400 and Act 12 of 1982 Public Property.

Court: That is the issue. According to the report filed to court the loss suffered by the government is US dollars 14 million. I asking whether the CID does not know that this sum is bigger than RS 25,000. Has the ASP report been filed?

ASG: No Sir, we will not file the ASP report today.

Court: Not now, not then. When the loss of public property is US dollars 7 million can’t you think that it is more that Rs 25,000?

ASG: We will seek the advice of the AG’s Department

Court: Are you going to ask the AG whether US dollars 7 Mn is more that Rs. 25,000? A person who knows nothing is investigating this case. They don’t know what the charges are. It is a problem that this case has come so far.

ASG: This suspect was brought here under the Extradition Law from Dubai. We have recorded one statement from him. We need to study his statement as there are problems with it. We can’t fault IP Sanjeeva. Francis and Dayaratne were the officers on the case. I will make a note that this investigation should go forward by co-opting these two officers. Please give an order to the Acting IGP to do so sir.

Court: I can remove an officer from an investigation but I cannot appoint someone.

Thereafter the Magistrate issued an order asking the Acting IGP why officers SSP Pavitra Dayaratne and Francis are not involved in the investigation and that appointing a new officer as the investigator has created issues.

Defence Counsel then applied for bail which was refused and Weeratunge was remanded until the 26th of February. (Colombo, February 18, 2020)

-Arjuna Ranawana

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Sri Lanka power outages from falling trees worsened by unfilled vacancies: CEB union

HEAVY WINDS: Heavy rains and gusting winds have brought down trees on many location in Sri Lanka.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power grid has been hit by 300,000 outages as heavy winds brought down trees, restoring supply has been delayed by unfilled vacancies of breakdown staff, a union statement said.

Despite electricity being declared an essential service, vacancies have not been filled, the CEB Engineers Union said.

“In this already challenging situation, the Acting General Manager of CEB issued a circular on May 21, 2024, abolishing several essential service positions, including the Maintenance Electrical Engineer in the Area Engineer Offices, Construction Units, and Distribution Maintenance Units,” the Union said.

“This decision, made without any scientific basis, significantly reduces our capacity to provide adequate services to the public during this emergency.

“On behalf of all the staff of CEB, we express our deep regret for the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

High winds had rains have brought down trees across power lines and transformers, the statement said.

In the past few day over 300,000 power outages have been reported nationwide, with some areas experiencing over 30,000 outages within an hour.

“Our limited technical staff at the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are making extraordinary efforts to restore power as quickly as possible,” the union said.

“We deeply regret that due to the high volume of calls, there are times when we are unable to respond to all customer inquiries.

“We kindly ask consumers to support our restoration teams and to report any fallen live electrical wires or devices to the Electricity Board immediately without attempting to handle them.

The union said there were not enough workers to restore power quickly when such a large volume of breakdowns happens.

“We want to clarify that the additional groups mentioned by the minister have not yet been received by the CEB,” the union said.

“Despite the government’s designation of electricity as an essential service, neither the government, the minister in charge, nor the CEB board of directors have taken adequate steps to fill the relevant vacancies or retain current employees.

“We believe they should be held directly responsible for the delays in addressing the power outages due to the shortage of staff.”

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Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings


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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.


Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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