‘How come govt. goes ahead with deal regardless of damning reports on SLIIT’




Ex-COPE Chief questions executive decision on President’s House in KKS

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (17) alleged in Parliament that leasing of the President’s House, situated at Kankesanthurai, to the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), was contrary to recommendations made by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) in 2021.

The President’s House is situated on 29-acre land in the wartime high security zone.

Declaring that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had made a decision in this regard, the former COPE Chairman said that handing over such a public property to an enterprise, regardless of COPE recommendations, amounted to an affront to Parliament. The rebel SLPP MP said the top management of SLIIT had deprived the government of SLIIT.

In late 2021, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, in a letter to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa alleged that SLIIT, established under the Mahapola Trust Fund, had been acquired by some lecturers of the University of Moratuwa in a questionable manner. MP Rajapakshe claimed that the loss to the Mahapola Trust Fund was over Rs. 40,000 million.

Rajapakshe, the current Justice Minister, named the academics involved in the alleged acquisition.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is on record as having said that the Kankesanthurai facility was an International Relations Centre belonging to the Presidential Secretariat. In addition to that a similar facility was to be built at Arugam Bay, according to the former President.

Making a special statement in parliament, Prof. Herath asked whether the executive could ignore the COPE findings in respect of SLIIT.

Herath pointed out that the parliamentary watchdog in a special report released on April 06, 2021 had stated that SLIIT built with public funds on a 23-acre land in Malabe had been gradually taken over by a group of people. Regardless of several Cabinet papers submitted during different administrations, SLIIT had managed to proceed with its grab of the state property much to the dismay of parliament, the MP said.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena was fully aware of the situation, MP Herath said, adding that the COPE report and the AG’s recommendations couldn’t have been disregarded under any circumstances.

One-time Media Ministry Secretary said that he expected Justice Minister Rajapakshe to take up this issue. In fact, the COPE should take it up as there was no purpose in watchdog committees if the executive overrode them. Planned leasing of the President’s House in KKS is a case in point, the MP said.

Responding to The Island queries, MP Herath said that he didn’t oppose SLIIT receiving the lease of KKS facility or Jaffna student population being granted special benefits. But, the concerns raised by the AG and COPE should be addressed first and all issues at hand resolved before Jaffna President’s House, too, ended up with the same lot.

The recent IMF prerequisites for the releasing of the second tranche of the now suspended USD 2.9 bn bailout package was nothing but an indictment of both the executive and legislature, the MP said. “But we seem to have ignored the warnings,” Prof. Herath said, adding that the new much-touted Anti-Corruption drive appeared to have had no impact at all.