Ministry of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure responds to Daily Mirror expose

23 April 2024 12:00 am – 1      – 51

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Media Secretary of the Ministry of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure, G. Krishanthan has sent the following response to the Daily Mirror expose titled “Plantation community alleges presence of ‘scam’ behind Indian Housing Project” which was published on April 17, 2024 on pages 4 and 5.  

I want to respond to the report published in the Daily Mirror raising concerns about the fairness and transparency of the Indian Housing Project for the plantation community.
This report makes a serious allegation that the Indian Government’s decision to select the National Housing Development Authority and the State Engineering Corporation as the implementing partner as a scam.  This allegation questions the integrity of the processes adopted and decisions taken by the Indian Government and risks the strong bilateral relationship between our two countries.
The Indian High Commission has clarified in the article itself that the India funded housing project is being executed in phases with a transparent tender process led by India for selecting implementation agencies.
For the latest phase, both the NHDA and SEC were selected by the Indian Government based on criteria established by India itself. In this case, the Government of India has taken the decision that local housing building agencies are better suited to implement projects of this nature than private foreign NGOs. This should be a welcome decision and must be respected.  The Government of India is free to select the implementation agency for a project funded through the generosity of the people of India. The Government of India would have no intention of scamming the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the marginalised plantation community from this selection.
The contractors for the various housing schemes are selected by the NHDA with the participation of the Government of India.

In the article, the NHDA’s Senior Manager Development, Mr. Hemantha Tennakoon, has himself refuted allegations of any favouritism.  As outlined by him, the selection process for contractors is yet to commence and are required to follow guidelines and criteria agreed to by the Government of India.
The same requirement applies to the selection of beneficiaries for the houses. A criteria for selection of beneficiaries has been established together with the Government of India. As iterated by the NHDA in the article itself, it is the responsibility of the management of every estate together with the NHDA to ensure that all housing beneficiaries meet the established criteria. This list will be further cross checked by the Government of India.
Publishing allegations that my political party, the CWC, is selecting undeserving beneficiaries without appropriate fact and sense checking is hugely damaging to the reputation of the Indian Government.
The procedural details outlined above affirm that the governance and oversight mechanisms have been set up to ensure the successful completion of this project in a transparent manner. The portrayal of these administrative processes as compromised in the media is not only a misrepresentation of the efforts being undertaken by all parties involved, but is accusatory towards the Government of India, risking our bilateral relationship and India’s generosity to the marginalised plantation communities.
The article also highlighted the misappropriation of funds by an estate management official in the Elkaduwa estate. This misappropriation had occurred during Phase III of the Indian Housing Project. These pre-existing issues, including those connected to the previous NGOs implementing Phase III, were highlighted by the Indian High Commission to me shortly after I assumed office in January 2023. The letters mentioned by the article itself on the investigation of the misappropriation date back to April and August of last year and not this year (when the new Phase IV began).
Questions regarding past misappropriations under Phase III of the housing scheme should have rightly been directed by the journalist at the Ministers, MPs and officials in charge at that time. Unfortunately the journalist concerned has failed to direct those questions to the relevant MPs, despite having interviewed some of them for this article. Instead, the author attempts to wrongfully mislead readers by suggesting that this misappropriation is linked to the present phase of the housing scheme – which it wasn’t.
It is important to note that the current phase, Phase IV, of building 10,000 new homes commenced only in February this year under my direction.  As no funds have been misappropriated under the current phase, allegations suggesting otherwise are misleading and not rooted in the present administration’s actions.
I sincerely hope that the reputational damage caused to the Government of India by such an irresponsible and poorly written article does not discourage the generosity extended by the Government of India to the plantation community.

Despite the demoralising nature of these allegations, I remain committed in our mission to ensure that every aspect of this project is conducted with the utmost integrity, serving all members of the plantation community equitably and fairly.

Reporter’s Note
Following the Daily Mirror expose titled ‘Plantation Community Alleges Presence of Scam Behind Indian Housing Project’, the Ministry of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development, in their clarification state that the article has caused damage to the reputation of the Government of India (GoI). The Ministry has further stated that the Indian Government has no intention of scamming the people of Sri Lanka marginalizing the plantation community.
Although the Ministry claims that this article has caused damage to the GoI, it has failed to directly address the allegations on why the Estate Superintendents have failed to follow the instructions given by the GoI when selecting the beneficiaries. It is alleged that the representatives of the CWC trade union have demanded the Estate officials to put their members’ names to the list of beneficiaries. Hence the Ministry should know that it is these allegations which were raised with the newspaper by multiple sources that has caused damages to the Indian Government but not this newspaper.
It is also surprising why Minister Jeevan Thondaman failed to reply to any calls or messages directed to him, seeking a comment and his side of the story before the article went to print.
I stand by my reporting.