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Several irregularities at Ports Authority revealed during COPE meeting

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The Sri Lanka Port Authority was called before the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) which met on Sep. 09, 2023 Chaired by Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Member of Parliament.

The Auditor General’s report for the year 2021 and the current performance were examined and the Secretary of Ministry of Ports, Naval and Aviation Services Mr. K. D. S. Ruwanchandra, Chairman of Sri Lanka Ports Authority Mr. Keith D. Bernard and a group of officials were summoned before this Committee. Moreover, on June 22nd, 2022, when the Sri Lanka Port Authority was summoned before COPE, the progress of implementing the recommendations was also examined.

Attention was drawn to the following points.

Proposal to COPE within 3 months

The COPE Chair Prof. Ranjith Bandara recommended that 3 proposals pertaining to revenue enhancement, cost management and efficiency enhancement of Sri Lanka Ports Authority be submitted to COPE.  The Chair recommended that the Port Authority will be summoned before COPE on the 8th of December. The 3 proposals should be submitted to the COPE the Chair further said.

Non-payment of money to be credited to the Consolidated Fund from 2016 – 2021    

The financial results of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority in the past few years were taken into discussion. The Committee questioned the officials present regarding the non-payment of 4.975 million rupees of the profit earned by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority from the year 2016 to the year 2021 which was to be credited to the Consolidated Fund.

Report on purchase of cranes

Contract entered into for purchase of 12 oversize cranes and 40 automatic gantry cranes to maximize operational capacity at East Terminal

COPE questioned the officials regarding not making amendments to the contract of the USD 282.56 million reached with the contractor to purchase 12 large cranes and 40 automatic gantry cranes to maximize the operational capacity of the eastern terminal. The Members of Parliament present pointed out that this was also discussed when the Sri Lanka Port Authority was summoned before COPE on June 22nd, 2022. 

The officials present mentioned that contracts were reached on the said in the year 2021 and despite the issuance of Letter of Credit (LC) by the Bank of Ceylon, these payments could not be made due to the prevailing situation in the country. The COPE Chair mentioned that due to the non-amendment of this contract, legal issues may arise in the future. Also, operational cost has been spent for this. As a result, COPE recommended to give a report on this said within a month.

Reduction in container handling capacity

COPE pointed out that according to the reports of the Auditor General, it is observed that the container handling capacity of Sri Lanka Port Authority of the Colombo Port has decreased from 81% to 28% by 2022. 

Furthermore, the Members of the Committee present pointed out that the western terminal has been working to increase the income through the activities of private investors. As a result, COPE pointed out that the ability to compete with the private sector should be also be created. 

The Committee was also questioned regarding the preparation of the comprehensive plan for the next 5 years. According to this, the officials pointed out that 50% of the comprehensive plans prepared for the next 5 years have been completed. The officials further agreed to present this plan to the Committee when the Authority is called before COPE again.

Decrease in the arrival of naval vessels at the ports of Colombo, Galle and Trinco

COPE also drew attention to the decrease in the arrival of naval vessels at the ports of Colombo, Galle and Trincomalee from the year 2018 to the year 2022. 

COPE also questioned the non-arrival of even a single ship at the port of Kankasanthura from the year 2020. 

The officials pointed out that though there was a decrease in the year 2022, it is getting better now. The officials mentioned that the ports other than the Colombo port were used to import raw materials such as cement and the reason for this was the decrease in the import of these raw materials during the past period. 

Thus, the Committee instructed to focus on further activation of the existing ports at the provincial level.

Suspension of plans to build multi-purpose terminal at Galle port

There was also a discussion about the plan to build a multi-purpose terminal at the Galle port and the fact that the project had to be suspended due to the 3-year delay in obtaining approval from UNESCO. 

On March 28th, 2006, the Government of Sri Lanka and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation had signed a loan agreement in this regard and it was necessary to obtain the approval of the UNESCO organization to carry out the construction in connection with the Galle Fort, which was designated as a world heritage. 

Given that this approval was not obtained for 3 years, it has been decided to suspend this project. But the Committee pointed out that the consultant fee of 418 million rupees spent for this purpose is observed as a net expense. 

The officials pointed out that due to the priority being given to the development of Hambantota port, the priority on Galle port was reduced. 

However, the officials mentioned that this money is not an idle expenditure as they hope to develop the Galle port as a tourist port in the future. The officials also mentioned that the Sri Lanka Port Authority has not been affiliated on the said matter.

Payment of OT despite excess employees

It was revealed that there are 914 excess employees in the Port Authority. 

Given the context, COPE pointed out that overtime allowances have been given to the employees. COPE also pointed out that it is observed that money has been given as overtime allowances in the year 2021 as well. 

Accordingly, COPE also instructed the Department of Management Services to pay attention to the excess number of employees and take necessary action. The Committee instructed to resolve the issue related to the number of employees when being summoned back before the Committee.

Failure to install CCTV, covering all gates and bonded Warehouse of SLPA

An inquiry was made regarding the non-installation of CCTV cameras covering all the gates and bonded Warehouse of the Sri Lanka Port Authority. 

The officials present said that CCTV cameras will be gradually installed for the places necessary. The officials pointed out that 538 cameras have been installed so far and about 400 will be installed in the future. 

The officials present said that they will install these CCTV cameras within 6 months.

Night Navigation system at Trinco port not functioning at its maximum

COPE also inquired about the Night Navigation system at Trincomalee port not functioning at its maximum.

Rs. 1.2 billion for food expenses in 2022

It was disclosed that 1.2 billion rupees have been spent on food for the year 2022. Accordingly, the Auditor General mentioned that 498 million rupees have been spent on snacks.

It was also decided to re-summon the Sri Lanka Port Authority on December 8th, 2023 to review the progress of these recommendations.

State Ministers Jagath Pushpakumara, Janaka Wakkumbura, Members of Parliament – Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Rohitha Abegunawardhana, Eran Wickramaratne, S. M. Marikkar, Sanjeeva Edirimanna, Jagath Kumara Sumithraarachchi, Madhura Withanage and Prof. Charitha Herath were present at the Committee meeting held.

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Cabinet decision to suspend ‘Parate Executions’

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All Parate Executions have been suspended until Dec. 15, as per a Cabinet decision made today (26 Feb.).

The relevant proposal was furnished by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, following a request made by Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, and Minister of Industries Ramesh Pathirana.

Accordingly, the relevant amendments are due to be presented before the Parliament soon.

State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya had informed Parliament last week that steps will be taken to suspend the powers of the ‘Parate execution’ law for a certain period for the purpose of protecting the small and medium-scale entrepreneurs (SMEs).

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Parate execution law to be suspended: Siyambalapitiya

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Deshabandu Tennakoon appointed as IGP

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Deshabandu Tennakoon has been appointed as 36th Inspector General of Police in Sri Lanka.

President’s Secretary, Saman Ekanayake had handed over his appointment letter earlier today afternoon (Feb. 26).

Since Nov. 29, 2023, Tennakoon served as the Acting IGP. Deshabandu Tennakoon joined the police service in 1998 as an Assistant Superintendent of Police.

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Palestinian PM resigns

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Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has announced the resignation of his government, which rules parts of the occupied West Bank, due to the escalating violence in the occupied territory and the war on Gaza.

“The decision to resign came in light of the unprecedented escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the war, genocide and starvation in the Gaza Strip,” said Shtayyeh, who submitted his resignation to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.

“I see that the next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the new reality in Gaza and the need for a Palestinian-Palestinian consensus based on Palestinian unity and the extension of unity of authority over the land of Palestine,” he said.

Shtayyeh’s comments come as US pressure grows on Abbas to shake up the PA and begin work on a political structure that can govern a Palestinian state following the war.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has on numerous occasions rejected calls for the PA under Abbas to take control of a Palestinian state and govern Gaza.

Last week, Israeli lawmakers backed Netanyahu’s rejection of any “unilateral” recognition of a Palestinian state.

“The Knesset came together in an overwhelming majority against the attempt to impose on us the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would not only fail to bring peace but would endanger the state of Israel,” said Netanyahu.

(Aljazeera)

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