Sajith tears into govt. over mega corrupt deal

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa yesterday (29) lashed out at the government for failing to check rampant corruption.

Premadasa, who is also the Leader of the Opposition, asked whether President Ranil Wickremesinghe, government wanted his party to accept ministerial portfolios to share the ill-gotten gains from the latest corrupt deal (USD 1.5 bn) pertaining to the procurement of 4.5 mn mt of coal for the Norochcholai power plant.

The SJB leader lambasted the government at an entry point to the Parliament after having participated in a silent protest against what he called the unbearable rising cost of living.

The Opposition Leader said a section of the media supported the corrupt by propagating the lie that some SJB members were about to accept ministerial portfolios. The Colombo District MP alleged that the media, too, was part of the utterly corrupt government now in place.

MP Premadasa took up the coal issue close on the heels of SJB member and Chairman of Finance Committee Dr. Harsha de Silva exposing the change of qualification criteria for the procurement of coal during the tender process.

The SJB leader reiterated that his party would never join the proposed all party government especially against the backdrop of such a corrupt deal. The former UNP Deputy Leader questioned why over Rs 520 bn had been paid for coal, which could have been procured at a much lower cost.

The SJB leader told The Island that in response to a query raised by lawmaker de Silva, Lanka Coal Company had admitted that the Standing Cabinet Appointed Tender Committee changed the qualification criteria of the bidders. R.W.R. Pemesiri, former RDA chairman and Secretary to the ministry of Highways heads the Tender Committee.

Black Sand Commodities of Dubai, described as a sister company of a Russian company named Suek AG, has secured the tender even though its name hadn’t been in the list of eligible bidders.

MP Premadasa pointed out that revelation about bending of coal tender rules couldn’t have taken place at a worse time. “The government is pleading with the International Monetary Fund for urgent assistance. We are also seeking help from friendly countries by way of credit lines, currency swaps etc. But the tragedy is those who robbed the country over the years are still in control, brazenly manipulating every sector, including vital procurement process.”

The SJB leader declared that the issue would be raised both in and outside Parliament to pressure the government to revisit the transaction. The MP said that the government couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the fraudulent transaction perpetrated by interested parties. He urged the Cabinet of Ministers to look into the issue at hand, take remedial measures and initiate action against those responsible for the corrupt deal.

Premadasa said that the public had launched the ‘Gotagogama’ campaign as they couldn’t bear the cost of living amidst the shortages of essential commodities. The change of government had brought in a new administration and it was going after those who removed the President’s flag and sat on his chair while the powers that be robbed public funds and ruined the economy, MP Premadasa alleged.

Dr. Harsha de Silva said that procurement of coal had always been mired in controversy. Referring to the 2016 Supreme Court ruling in respect of a petition against awarding of tenders that resulted in massive losses to the country, Dr. de Silva said that urgent action was needed to tackle corruption.

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