by Nirmala Kannangara
Leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF) MP Wimal Weerawansa, who himself portrays an image of a politician and saviour of the masses, was recently exposed himself as an offender. Two weeks earlier, he was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and was later granted bail by the Negombo Magistrate of having two passports. Weerawansa’s wife has, on the other hand, been accused of providing false information to get a passport.
The Weerawansas however have been in the midst of much controversy.
On October 20 and 21, Minister of Housing and Construction Sajith Premadasa further exposed Weerawansa in parliament that he had allegedly misused funds of the Housing and Construction Ministry which was to be used to construct houses for low income families to print diaries and calendars.
According to Minister Premadasa, Rs.14.8 million had been spent on printing 2,100 executive diaries, 5,200 normal diaries, and 11, 258 calendars for the year 2015, but the promised number of calendars and diaries had not been supplied. However, the full payment had been paid for them. Hence, it is a question why action had been not taken against the printer. No one knows either to whose pocket these money had gone.
Premadasa said that Rs.14.8 million had been obtained from all departments under Weerawansa: The Department of Building – Rs.24, 570, the National Physical Planning Department – Rs.80, 850, the Government Works Department – Rs. 42,580, the Urban Settlement Development Authority – Rs.108,350, the Condominium Management Authority – Rs.107, 050, the Institute of Construction Training and Development –Rs.177,000, the State Development and Construction Corporation – Rs. 937,600, Ocean View Development Company (Pvt.) Ltd. – Rs. 944,900, the State Engineering Corporation – Rs. 59.68 million, the National Housing Development Authority – Rs. 5.459 million, the Ministry of Housing and Construction (through advertising) – Rs. 950,000. The total amount: Rs.14.8 million.
Premadasa further said tenders had not been called to offer the printing order but had selected RG Graphics, J and D Publishing House, RS Enterprises, Imashi Publishers, and Liphwin Printers from yellow pages and had given the contract to Imashi Publishers.
“They have not followed the government procurement guidelines. It was Wimal Weerawansa’s private secretary – his brother, and the Coordinating Secretary that had got the names of the printers from the yellow pages and selected the printer. Even though 2,100 executive diaries had been ordered, only 1,200 had been delivered. Of the 5, 200 normal diaries, only 2,800 had been supplied. With the order for 11,258 calendars, only 5,500 had been delivered. What had happened to the rest of the 900 executive diaries, 2,400 normal diaries, and 5,758 calendars? Did they recovered the money back or what had happened to the money?” queried Premadasa.
According to Premadasa, it is surprising that Wimal Weerawansa as the then Minister of Housing and Construction had allegedly misused money for a worthless cause. Premadasa added that he will not allocate a single cent either from his ministry, departments, or institutions under his purview to print diaries or calendars but will spend the money on giving housing loans for low income families.
“Giving a home for a homeless is my vision but not to spend millions of rupees on worthless causes like Weerawansa spent on extravagantly. I am not taking my ministerial salary nor any allowances, ministerial vehicles, official residence, etc. I have given instructions to the ministry to remit all these money to the funds that give housing aids to the low income families. These extravagant spending of Weerawansa clearly shows what type of ‘patriot’ Weerawansa is,” the Minister stated.
Weerawansa is further accused of misusing a sum exceeding Rs. 60 million to give away houses for his family members from Mattegoda and the Kahatuduwa Housing Schemes constructed by Ocean View Development (Pvt.) Ltd., which came under Weerawansa’s purview when he was the Minister of Housing in the former Rajapaksa regime. Ocean View Development Company (Pvt) Ltd of No: 25, Ocean Tower Building, Station Road, Colombo 4 is a government owned Construction Company. Fifty seven per cent of its shares belong to the National Housing Development Authority. and 43 per cent shares are owned by the Urban Development Authority.
According to Premadasa, the sale price of the lot 16-D house of the Mattegoda Housing Scheme was Rs. 9.954 million, and the lot 10-B house was Rs.10.178 million. The sale prices of the Kahatuduwa Housing Scheme houses were – the lot 10-B4 was Rs. 8.5 million, the lot 5-B4 was Rs. 8.5 million, the lot 35-B3 was Rs. 9.8 million, and the lot 36-B2 – Rs.10.2 million. “No easy payment scheme had been given to pay for these houses and 10 per cent of the value of the houses had to be paid to reserve the house and after paying 75 per cent of the total value, the house can be occupied, and the rest had to be paid on monthly instalments within two years without any interests,” Premadasa said.
He further said that Weerawansa had given six houses for his and his wife’s siblings.
Premadasa also pointed out that from the Mattegoda Housing Scheme, the lot 16-D had been given to Vadachcharige Hemasiri – Weerawansa’s sister’s husband. The lot 10-B had been given to Palleperuwa Gamage Ananda Priyadharshana- husband of another sister of Weerawansa’s. From Kahatuduwa Housing Scheme, the lot 5-B5 had been given to Hewa Geeganage Wathsala Kumarasinghe – Weerawansa’s eldest sister’s son’s wife, the lot 10-B4 had been given to Isuru Tharangamala Muthu Ranaweera- Weerawansa’s brother’s wife. The lot 35-B3 given to Palathegedara Vasantha Rupasinghe – Shahsi Weerawansa’s brother’s wife, and the lot 36-B2 Priyantha Milinda Ratnayake – the Media Manager of the former President’s Media Unit and presently the Media Manager to the Urban Development Authority. This house had been given on the instructions of Shiranthi Rajapaksa.
However, the new government after assuming office in January, had lodged a complaint with the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID). Other than Milinda Ratnayake, all of Weerawansa’s family members had returned the houses, but the company could not recover even the rental for the period the Weerawansas had been occupying the houses. Meanwhile, reliable sources from Ocean View Development (Pvt) Limited on conditions of anonymity said that the Weerawansa family had eyed these houses from the time the construction work had started. He added that instead of signing a contract before the houses were handed over, the company only obtained a down payment of 10 per cent of the total value and was given away the houses to Weerawansa relatives without any other conditions.
“Although the houses built by our company are sold at the market value, the two houses that were built at Mattegoda, and the four houses at Polgasowita were not sold at the market value but were given away for a down payment of 10 per cent waiving off the balance secretly,” the sources said.
Had the former regime given yet another mandate on January 8, these houses which cost about Rs.10 million each would have given free of charge to the former Minister’s relatives, the sources further said.
“If the developer sold these houses following the government procedure, the company could have entered into agreements with the parties and should have asked them to pay the monthly instalments, which the Weerawansa relatives never complied with,” the sources alleged. It was only after the change of government, and a new Board of Directors were appointed, the former minister’s involvement in the housing racket was able to unearth.
“It is public money that has been spent on constructing these houses. It is neither the former Board of Directors’ nor the former minister’s private money. Violating the rules and regulation of the construction company, the previous management has given away these houses without entering into sales agreements with the buyers, leaving many loopholes for the buyers to slip away from paying the money back to the developer.
It was only after an inquiring committee headed by a retired District Judge G. Punchihewa was appointed to look into the alleged misuse of public funds at the construction company, that the former minister’s relatives handed over the keys of the said houses back to the developer claiming that they do not have funds to pay the instalments for the houses. When they obtained these houses, didn’t they know that they will not be able to pay the money back as they do not have any proper income? Did they realise it only after the fall of the former regime? Even after the fall of the former regime, why did they still continue to stay in these houses until the inquiring committee was appointed? This shows that they did not expect Rajapaksa’s defeat and may have thought that the scam would not come to light. Only after realising that they are under scrutiny, they handed over the six houses in April,” sources said.
When contacted the former Chairman Jagath Perera, who was also the former Chairman of State Engineering Corporation under whom the tenders were offered to the highest bidders, said that the houses had been given following the normal sales procedure.
Further, sources at the State Engineering Corporation too said how tenders were offered to the highest bidders disregarding government tender procedure. Weerawansa is also accused of openly flouting government tender procedure and giving instructions to his officials to abide by the rules he has initiated.
“None of the tenders were offered to the rightful tenderer, but to the highest bidder – the Ceylon Steel Corporation, which is alleged to have been owned by a Rajapaksa’,” sources said.
“Section 7, sub section 7.9.5, and 7.9.6 of the Procurement Guideline of 2006 have clearly stated that when offering tenders, the first preference should be given to the companies that have major shares for Sri Lankans. If the tenderer is the sole owner of the company, h/she should be a Sri Lankan; if it is a joint venture, 50 per cent shares should be owned by Sri Lankan nationals, and if it is a company, it should be registered in Sri Lanka and more than 50 per cent shares should be owned by Sri Lankans. Even though the regulations say so, on the instructions of Weerawansa, all tenders were offered to the Ceylon Steel Corporation which is owned by Onyx Heavy Industries and Constructions (Pvt) Ltd registered in British Virgin Island,” the sources claimed.
According to the sources, the Sri Lankan ownership of Ceylon Steel Corporation is 6.25 per cent, and the ownership has 93.75 per cent shares. This company has clearly mentioned that it is not a Sri Lankan company in its 2013/ 2014 annual report. But Weerawansa wanted his officials to offer all the tenders to this company without allowing the Technical Evaluation Committee to follow the Procurement guidelines.
“Whenever tenders were called to supply steel to the State Engineering Corporation (SEC), only four parties – the Ceylon Steel Corporation, Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Ltd., Indu Sri (Pvt) Ltd., and G.T.B. Private Limited sent their bids. Other than Melwire Rollong (Pvt) Ltd., which is 100 per cent a Sri Lankan company, other three bidders are foreign companies,” the sources added.
Meanwhile, SEC internal auditor on the instructions of the present Chairman in one of its report to the Chairman dated April 1, 2015 had clearly stated that the then administration bypassed the tender procedure and offered the tenders to the highest bidder incurring losses to the Corporation to the tune of millions of rupees.
“The tender procedures were not followed after Weerawansa took over the office. If the tenders were offered to the lowest bidder – Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Ltd., – the Corporation would have saved Rs. 37.275 million,” the sources said.
Internal audit report
Internal Audit report According to the Internal Audit report, with the tender (SDQ/ S-2/ 39,37/ 2011) which was offered on March 1 to purchase steel, Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Limited had submitted their rates as Rs. 92,000 per a M/Tonne (without VAT and NBT) and the Ceylon Steel Corporation Limited has submitted Rs.101,200 per M/Tonne. Despite the Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) recommendation to the lowest bidder, the then Chairman Jagath Kumara Perera has offered the tender to the Ceylon Steel Corporation claiming it is a local company.
“It was the same procedure that has been followed in 2012 as well. When the tenders (SDO/S-2/45/2012) were called to supply steel for year 2012, GTB (Pvt) Limited, the Ceylon Steel Corporation, Indu Sri (Pvt) Ltd., and Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Limited have submitted their prices, but the TEC has rejected the Melwire application for technical issues,” the sources claimed.
The sources further said that SEC had allegedly purchased steel without calling tenders in 2013 and 2014 from Ceylon Steel Corporation.
“Even though tenders were called (No: SDQ/ S-2/ 45/ 2012) to supply 150 M/Tonnes, as its value was over Rs.50 million, a ministry officials should have been a member of the Procurement Committee to give the approval, only the then Chairman, and the then Deputy General Manager had given the approval to the highest bidder. As a result of these malpractices that directly involved Weerawansa, the country has lost several millions of rupees,” sources added.
The sources further accused Weerawansa of giving directives to pay Ruwan Trade Center, and Jayalath Constructions to supply tar and granite to the Asphalt Plant in Galpatha in the Kalutara District that manufacture a special tar type to carpet roads.
“All these directions to SEC came from Weerawansa through Mohommed Muzammil, the then Working Director, to the then Chairman, Jagath Perera, and finally to the then GM, M.R. Jeyachandran,” the sources said. All attempts to contact Wimal Weerawansa and Mohommed Muzamil for a comment on the allegations made against them by Housind and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa was unsuccessful. Even though text messages were sent seeking comments, none of them resulted in a response.
Meanwhile, Weerawansa’s Coordinating Secretary Bandara, when this newspaper contacted him, said that it was the departments and the institutions under Weerawansa that spent the money to print diaries and calendars. “What is the wrong in it? Every institution prints calendars and diaries at the end of every year. Rs. 14.8 million is a small amount when comparing to other ministerial expenses to print calendars and diaries. Our leader has nothing to do with these allegations. If there had been a fraud, it is the ministry staff that has to take the responsibility,” Bandara said.