Published

on

Patali Champika Ranawaka

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Leader of the United Republican Front (Eksath Janaraja Peramuna) Patali Champika Ranawaka has alleged that the controversial outsourcing of the on-arrival visa processing to a foreign company violated the government procurement process, as well as the understanding with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in respect of anti-corruption measures.

The former Minister said that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government has proved yet again that underhand mega deals continued to be hatched, regardless of consequences, especially to the already bankrupt country.

MP Ranawaka said that he raised this serious matter in Parliament on May 22, the day the government presented two controversial and far reaching Finance Bills, namely ‘The Economic Transformation Bill’ and ‘The Public Financial Management Bill’

Colombo District MP Ranawaka said that the Parliament, in late July 2023, approved an Anti-Corruption Bill meant to improve governance and accountability in the face of developing political and economic crisis and meeting requirements linked to a $2.9bn bailout from IMF.

That legislation was passed without a vote in the 225-member house. The outsourcing of on-arrival visa processing, amidst growing demands for tangible measures to enhance government revenue, triggered a powerful public outcry but the government continued to behave like a deaf and blind elephant, MP Ranawaka said.

The former Minister has declared in Parliament that the on-arrival visa scam should be addressed the way the government dealt with procurement of fake immunoglobulin IV vials that was exposed last year. Keheliya Rambukwella, who had served as the Health Minister at the time of the incident, resigned immediately after he was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). At the time the CID took him to custody, Rambukwella held the Environment Portfolio.

MP Ranawaka emphasized that there couldn’t be any justifiable reason whatsoever to outsource on-arrival visa processing as SLT Mobitel handled it without any issue at a very economical price. According to Ranawaka, SLT Mobitel got involved during the second term of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The ex-Minister said: “Three years after the war that ended in 2009, an expert committee recommended that on-line visa processing be outsourced. SLT Mobitel was picked. The lion’s share of that company belonged to the government.”

MP Ranawaka said that SLT Mobitel was of the view that the agreement that had been signed in this regard should be updated within five or six years. Against that background, the government had received proposals in this regard and following Covid-19 pandemic SLT Mobitel was given the task to upgrade the on-arrival processing system.

Lawmaker Ranawaka alleged that in spite of SLT Mobitel’s proposal being compatible with the government stand on this matter, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government gave it to foreign entities.

Sri Lanka, in late 2023, signed a tripartite contract with GBS Technology Services & IVS Global FZCO being the prime contractor and VFS Global being the technology partner for what was called the government’s new E-Visa solution.

The EJP declared in Parliament that the new proposal to outsource on-arrival visa processing to a foreign firm was submitted by Public Security Minister Tiran Alles in September 2023. Minister Alles, both in and outside Parliament, has repeatedly claimed that he followed the procedures in place and the proposal even had the approval of Parliament. VFS Global that is in the centre of controversy, too, issued a statement to clarify its stand on the matter.

MP Ranawaka said that a government that examined all proposals received in this connection accepted the SLT Moibitel project proposal.

Declaring that the new proposal didn’t benefit bankrupt Sri Lanka at all, MP Ranawaka said despite the country being in such a desperate situation the current dispensation continued corrupt practices. Having named the foreign parties that had been involved in the on-arrival visa processing here, MP Ranawaka said each visitor had to pay USD 18.50 and US 7.27 to the overseas company. How could this be justified, MP Ranawaka asked, the government in the name of upgrading the on-arrival processing system allowed an external party to benefit.

Overnight, the visa fee that had been USD 50 was increased to USD 100.77 of which USD 25.77 went to the foreign company.

The government owed an explanation in this regard, MP Ranawaka said, adding that those who had been summoned by Parliament for examination of the issue at hand didn’t turn up.

“We would like to know the basis for this payment,” MP Ranawaka said, pointing out the officials couldn’t explain what they had done when they were summoned by the relevant parliamentary watchdog committee on the first day. They skipped the second meeting, the MP alleged.

Overcharging foreigners wouldn’t be beneficial to the tourism industry that had suffered heavy losses due to Covid-19 pandemic and then the massive economic downturn.

Pointing out that there were national security implications, MP Ranawaka said that those who had been concerned and aggressively became vociferous about Indian interventions here, too, were silent for obvious reasons.

The former Minister emphasized the urgent need to introduce a system capable of tackling waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement.

Stressing the next national election was just months away, MP Ranawaka warned government servants, particularly the police and the CID, not to earn the wrath of the public by violating laws.The ex-Minister said that those who bend laws would be held accountable for their actions.


  •  

    Hi! Can you rate my photos?
Author