Calling out the new government’s alleged hypocrisy, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) accused the Rajapaksa administration today of continuing what the party called the previous government’s practice of selling off valuable national assets.
At the Marxist-Lenninist party’s first press conference for the new year, JVP MP Vijitha Herath told reporters this afternoon that the much publicised USD 250 million mixed development project associated with the Singapore-based Perennial Real Estate Holdings Limited was highly irregular.
The Ministry of Finance, which is under the purview of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, announced earlier this week that Cabinet approval had been obtained for the construction of a 30-storey commercial tower with 700 residences in addition to food and retail outlets. The tower is to be built on Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo, on land that will be leased to Perennial Holdings at USD 43 million (Rs 7.8 billion). The three-acre plot allocated for the project is located in the vicinity of the Shangri-La hotel, whose construction was also mired in controversy.
Billed as the new government’s first foreign direct investment (FDI), the commercial tower project was originally proposed by the previous United National Front (UNF) government in August 2018, drawing harsh criticism from members of the then opposition who are now in government. The UNF had sought to award the project to the same Singaporean company which the new Cabinet has now approved, seemingly ignoring its own misgivings from before.
Then opposition MP Kanchana Wijesekara had been particularly critical of the UNF government’s plans for the project. Wijesekara had complained that the lease was to be awarded to Perennial Holdings at the whim of the UNF without calling for tenders. A proper tender procedure, he’d said, would’ve ensured a better price for the land.
MP Herath accused the new government of being hypocritical and going back on its word to reverse such projects.
“This isn’t the new government’s first investment. It’s its first sale,” he said.
“We demand an explanation from this administration on how they handed this land over to a specific Singaporean company without calling for tenders – the very same company [they had objected to before]. Were there no other companies? Why this alone?” he added.
Herath was also critical of the government’s decision to go ahead with the project without initiating any kind of public discourse on its merits or lack thereof.
“This isn’t what 6.9 million people voted for. This is a betrayal of their mandate,” he said, adding that the lease was not in line with the Rajapaksa camp’s anti-MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) rhetoric and its election promises to reacquire assets sold off by the previous government.
Referring to a comment reportedly made by Premier Rajapaksa, purportedly to reassure detractors, that the 700 apartments in the proposed tower will be occupied by Sri Lankans, Herath said it will be impossible for Sri Lankans to purchase and have free-hold ownership of the proposed apartments.
“This is absurd. The tower will be built on leased land. No one in Sri Lanka can buy those apartments free-hold. A home built on leased land by a foreign company cannot belong to a Sri Lankan,” he said.
Even if the company offers apartments to Sri Lankans on a long-term lease agreements, said the MP, it will be for an interim rent – money that will eventually find its way to Singapore.
“This project essentially hands over a national asset to a foreign company. This is no different to what the previous government did. Those who bragged about not selling national assets have now gone mum about this handover,” he said.
However, said Herath, though Cabinet approval has been granted, other legal requirements for the project to proceed have yet to be fulfilled.
“So we ask the people to intervene and help reverse this. We as the JVP are ready to take charge of that process,” he said.