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 Post subject: Waters Edge - Chandrika’s presidential robbery
 Post Posted: Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:55 pm 
Waters Edge - Chandrika’s presidential robbery
Land, buildings to be returned

It is heartening that the highest Court of the land has understood the need to preserve biodiversity rich areas of the city and remind government authorities of the need to protect the environment, in order to save its citizenry from the inconveniences and disasters that arise from a callous disregard for natural resources and habitats. The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had abused her powers to grant a large extent of state land encompassing 224 acres acquired by the UDA for flood retention purposes, to one of her cronies for the construction of a golf course and a hotel. She and her friend Ronnie Pieris were ordered to pay Rs. 3 mn and Rs. 2 mn respectively to the State.

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Sunday October 12th, 2008
@ LL/Agencies


The Supreme Court on Wednesday, upholding a fundamental rights petition filed by two retired public servants, Suganapala Medis and Raja Senanayake, said former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, was instrumental in illegally transferring state lands meant for a 'public purpose' to a private golf course -- now known as Waters Edge.

In a landmark judgment, Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane said Kumaratunga had failed to function in a manner consistent with the expectations of a public officer, much less an Executive President, and in doing so, had completely betrayed the position of trust bestowed upon her by the Constitution and by the people of Sri Lanka.

Kumaratunga was fined Rs. 3 million while the fifth respondent and Kumaratunga family friend Ronnie Peiris, who is said to have made a Rs. 57 million profit in the corrupt deal, was ordered to pay Rs. 2 million rupees. The court also ordered that the flood retention area at the controversial site be restored and recommended that the Water's Edge complex be utilized to house government offices.

Last week’s Supreme Court judgment on the sale of 224 acres of prime State land in Battaramulla, now home to the luxurious Waters Edge Resort and Golf Course, sealed the fate of almost 600 permanent employees working at the property. The country’s apex court, in delivering its judgment in the case filed by two retired public servants, charged that the sale of the State property to Asia Pacific Golf Course (Pvt) Ltd, the holding company of Waters Edge was illegal and ordered that the property, inclusive of the hotel, be returned to the Urban Development Authority (UDA), to be used for the purpose of relocating government ministries away from the commercially sensitive areas of Colombo, whilst also allowing a portion of the land to be used as a flood retention zone, as was the case in the past.

The Court also ordered that, the UDA pay the developers of the Waters Edge property, the base cost of construction, which Asia Pacific Golf Course has put at a staggering Rs. 2.5 billion. However, the UDA has claimed that the property would have to be valued by the Government Valuer, before any compensation could be decided upon.

C. Weliamuna, the well known Human Rights lawyer and anti-corruption activist, appeared for the petitioners who filed the FR case against Chandrika Bandaranaike, Ronnie Peiris and Sumal Perera and three others, stated that his clients had no ulterior motives when filing the case.
“The two complainants came for my services around one year ago, with no ulterior motives,” he said. He made this statement in reply to conspiracy theories that claim the two petitioners are acting under the instructions of ‘some other power.’ “I consider this as a landmark ruling. A ruling that encourages any official to uphold the right procedures and the trust vested in them by the people,” he added.

The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation has declared five marshy properties - namely, Bloemendhal/Main Drain, Mahawatte/Kolonna North, Kolonna East, Kotte and Heen Marshes and the low-lying lands collectively named as the Green Belt surrounding the Parliament Lake, as Flood Detention Areas in Colombo. The Waters Edge property is located within the Green Belt wetland.

The UDA, initially, set aside this area for ‘development’ with the stated goal of “protecting, maintaining and making use of the said flood detention area in an environmentally friendly and visually attractive manner, without hampering its flood detention capacity.” However, the construction of the Golf Course resulted in changing the inherent composition of the soil in the area, together with the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer, in order to make the grass fleshy and bright green, as per the standards required for Golf Courses world over.

Furthermore, environmentalists, including Lawyer Jagath Gunewardane, have been up in arms about how the use of pesticides and fertiliser was ruining the eco-systems and biodiversity in the wetlands upon which Waters Edge is situated.

“There are two migrants named the Golden Plover and the Lesser Sand Plover, who seek refuge only in two wetlands in Colombo. One was the Kotte marshes, which has already been lost to them because of the Presidential Palace. The other, of course, is this marsh. They usually seek refuge in dry-muddy areas and the bank. They can’t forage in grassy areas like that of the Golf turf. So, because of this project, we are going to deprive the birds of their only remaining habitat in Colombo,” Gunewardane told.

Gunewardane adds that, the flood plains around the Diyawanna Oya are excellent water retention areas, because the soil is silt based and allows water to percolate well. “However, soil imported from other areas is being added to these wetlands and this foreign soil is being compacted, in order to make the profile of the soil more rigid, reducing water retention capacity.

It is heartening that the highest Court of the land has understood the need to preserve biodiversity rich areas of the city and remind government authorities of the need to protect the environment, in order to save its citizenry from the inconveniences and disasters that arise from a callous disregard for natural resources and habitats.

The Sri Lankan Supreme Court has delivered several landmark judgments recently, in which the institutions of a democratic governance model have been redefined and interpreted. The Court’s verdict on the Lanka Marine Services case defined the role of public servants as guardians of the State’s fiscal policy and property, when it held that, then PERC Chairman and Treasury Secretary of the UPFA government Dr. P.B. Jayasundera had acted arbitrarily and in a biased manner, in favour of John Keells Holdings, in the sale of the Petroleum Corporation owned subsidiary. Last week, in its ground breaking Waters Edge judgment, the Supreme Court has, for the first time since the introduction of the Executive Presidency, interpreted the Constitutional provisions with regard to the powers of the President.

The two petitioners, Sugathapala Medis and Raja Senanayake, former public servants, have gone before the Supreme Court saying that the entire transaction dealing with the transfer of State lands for the building of a golf club called Waters Edge has the hand of former President Kumaratunga present throughout the deal, and that she is guilty of abuse of power and should be punished according to the Constitution she was expected to protect as President.

They claim that former President Kumaratunga introduced a Cabinet Paper in her capacity as Minister of Finance for a group of persons to construct a golf course in a large extent of State land near the Parliament complex evicting people who were residing there, and then misled her own Cabinet to believing that foreign funds were being invested in the project through the BoI.

It later transpired, that once the Cabinet approved this project, the persons to whom the permit to build the golf course merely sold their shares to another group for a sum of over Rs. 150 Million and that one of former President Kumaratunga's friends, viz., Mr. Ronnie Peiris, with whom she regularly stays during her visits to the UK, profited to the tune of Rs. 60 Million or more from this transaction.

They say that Mr. Peiris had admitted that he made this money from this very transaction when he was questioned by the Sri Lanka Income Tax Department. The petitioners had earlier produced documentation to show the nexus between Mr. Peiris and Ms. Kumaratunga, including documentation where he received special facilities from the state owned Bank of Ceylon (London branch) also at the time she was Minister of Finance.

There were no tangible assets in this company (Asia Pacific Golf Courses) at the time it originally received this lease on Ms. Kumaratunga's Cabinet proposal, the petitioners say. They ask if Ms. Kumaratunga was guided by any expertise or experience on the part of the Asia Pacific Golf Course company to undertake this project at hand and whether their financial credentials by way of their financial profile or assets were ever taken into consideration. It is in this background that the petitioners say that Ms. Kumaratunga's personal friendship with the 5th Respondent, Mr. Peiris, becomes important.

Mr. Peiris, who chose not to answer allegations made against him in this case, had in fact admitted the acceptance of Rs. 60 Million for the transaction between the original shareholders of Asia Pacific and the current owners, the petitioners state.

The petitioners submit that Mr. Peiris being a close associate of Ms. Kumaratunga should be subject to close scrutiny under the domestic legal framework. Referring to the promoters, 'back-door investors' and Mr. Peiris, the petitioners say that 'strangers' cannot benefit from public contracts merely by influencing the people in power. They say that all these persons received 'kickbacks' from a public contract.


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