Minister claims he offered MOD Rs. 5 mn to release land

Many an eyebrow has been raised by a senior UNP minister’s claim that he had offered money to the tune of Rs. 5 mn to secure the release of private land held by the military in the Mullaitivu district.

Minister of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Affairs D M Swaminathan yesterday said that he had received an assurance from the MoD that 189 acres of land would be released within one month after receiving Rs. 5 mn payment.

A senior spokesperson for the ministry said that following discussions between Minister Swaminathan and Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi last week, the former had received an assurance that in addition to 189 acres of land, the military would release 279 acres in the Keppapilavu area on or before 15th of May 2017. The area identified for release consisted of 248 acres of state land in the Keppapilavu village and 31 acres of private land in Seeniyamutai village area. Altogether, a total of 468 Acres land were to be released, the official said.

The ministry said that the ongoing release of military-held land was taking place under the directions of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Recently, the SLAF released a section of land within the SLAF Mullaitivu station following protests launched by a section of the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The TNA wants the SLAF to vacate LTTE built runaway in Mullaitivu. (SF)


NE housing row: Compromise solution for 6,000 prefab units

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) has granted approval for the construction of 6,000 prefabricated steel houses in the North and East by ArcelorMittal despite opposition by civil society groups and the Tamil National Alliance.

The proposal will now go back to the Cabinet for ratification, authoritative sources told the Sunday Times. The project has been in the pipeline since 2015 amid widespread protests. The TNA said it was “totally opposed to prefabricated steel houses” and called for civilians in the North and East to be provided with brick houses in keeping with their culture and way of life.

But the project is backed by Rehabilitation and Resettlement Minister D.M. Swaminathan. The TNA revealed that he had made personal telephone calls to several of its MPs, inviting them to make requests for prefabricated houses in their respective electorates.
In the face of resistance, President Maithripala Sirisena passed off the project to Special Projects Minister Sarath Amunugama for a recommendation. This week, he came to the CCEM with the proposal to grant a contract for 6,000 houses to ArcelorMittal. It was approved.

The initial proposal — which would have forced the Government to borrow US$1 billion to implement it — was to build 65,000 prefab steel houses for war-affected families in the North and East. But the prefab steel dwellings have been objected to on multiple grounds including climatic unsuitability, flimsy construction, lack of durability and unjustifiably high cost.

A Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee (CANC) rejected the project and recommended that fresh tenders be called. A group of civil society agencies and persons even put forward an alternative proposal for 102,000 masonry houses at a cost of less than Rs 1 million a house, using local labour and funded by a consortium of local banks.

The Sectoral Oversight Committee on Rehabilitation decided in November last year to reject the prefab steel houses and to endorse the civil society proposal. But Minister Swaminathan has stridently backed the ArcelorMittal tender. The logistics partner for the project is Kumarca Engineering and Management (Pvt) Ltd. It is owned by Ravi Wettasinha, a businessman whose close friend and former brother-in-law Shane Dullewa is Minister Swaminathan’s private secretary.

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