Exclusive: SLTDA hands over land to private company! Chairwoman’s extreme nepotism further exposed!!

Exclusive: SLTDA hands over land to private company! Chairwoman’s extreme nepotism further exposed!!

21 July 2020 02:04 pm

All preparations are underway on handing over a land under the Yala Palatupana Wildlife Resort Development Project to Dilmah Company for free, sources disclosed.

The affair has been initiated by former officers of SLTDA and SLTPB, after which Kimali Fernando, its brand new Chairperson, has made sure for its renewal. 

Kimali Fernando, wife of the youngest son of Merrill J. Fernando the Chairman of Dilmah/MJF Group, was appointed as the Chairwoman to SLTDA upon the new government's reigning in. 

Looting state property has been quite the fashion throughout the years, in which case even former minister of Tourism John Amaratunga was evaded during the previous government by involving high chairs and senior officials of SLTDA and SLTPB, continuous for a new phase as well.

This latest chapter unfolds itself with SLTDA making an interesting decision on October 04, 2019 through its Board of Directors Paper. That is, to set up a leopard research centre on a land of one rood and 15.5 perches. This has also been named as "Leopard Research Centre". The land is located two blocks away from the controversial land belonged to Lanka Realty Leisure (Pvt) Ltd., for which the SLTDA is in trial.

The land in between belongs to Dilmah Tea Company, we disclosed in an earlier report.

The Board of Directors paper has been tabled by Prasad Jayasuriya, Director of Tourism Planning and Development of SLTDA. Set aside the unmasking of professionalism of Jayasuriya and P.U. Rathnayake, who happens to aid his fraudulent activities, let us turn into the contents of the Board of Directors paper. 

During talks, the Director General has informed that negotiations with hoteliers have been conducted regarding the establishment of this tourist resort in Yala Wildlife Reserve, following which the hoteliers, whose identities/companies remained anonymous at the moment, have agreed to carry out the project.

It was a mistake to cite that the oversight process must be subject to 'Cabinet Approval' and therefore, must be removed, the Director General has further said during talks!

Being it said, the Board of Directors hereby approves the establishment of Leopard Research Centre!

Dilmah/Merril J. Family behind the deal 

Malik Fernando is the youngest son of Merrill J. Fernando the Chairman of Dilmah/MJF Group. Malik was a former director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau or commonly known as SLTPBA, which is now under the SLTDA.  

P.U.Rathnayake was even removed from the position of Tourism Development Authority due to various irregularities committed on his account, and was later brought back to the body by Chairperson Kimali Fernando. 

Without proper approvals, cost estimates and guarantees, these people were, and still are, cooperating with the Chairwoman in the handing over of the land to Dilmah Group under a lease agreement. 

Cabinet Approval sought by 'mistake'? 

SLTDA had said that it was a 'mistake' to cite that Cabinet Approval was required to implement the project under a special circumstance, in which case, they have already been instructed by the Attorney General to do so regarding the land affair. That being said, it is revealed that the SLTDA had consulted the Attorney General in this regard on November 26, 2018, after which they were advised in January, 2019 that this affair in fact should not take place without the approval of the Cabinet. 

In the backdrop, the SLTDA on October 04, 2019 viewed through a board of directors paper that they do not wish to obtain the Cabinet's approval. 

Attorney General's advice consulted and cast out 

SLTDA consulted the Attorney General in this regard on November 26, 2018. In response, Senior Additional Solicitor General for AG's Office Sanjay Rajaratnam PC on January, 2019 emphasised the following important points;

  1. Among the agreed objectives cited in the lease agreement is the land in question for the construction of a "hotel" called the 'Leopard Research Centre'.
  2. In order of doing so, relevant authorities such as the Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation have to inspect the land. But this has not been accomplished.
  3. Thus the technical and financial aspects of the lease agreement are not mentioned.
  4. The board of directors of the company, which was set up to provide land for the construction of the aforesaid hotel, is comprised of only two state directors.
  5. Accordingly, the number of directors responding to the Public Sector exceeds the fixed number of state directors.
  6. This also indicates that the Board of Directors has always been dominated by private companies. Its chairmanship is always nominated by a private company.
  7. Accordingly, as the SLTDA provides a land at zero cost to a private company, the terms of its lease agreement should be reviewed.
  8. Cabinet Approval should be obtained prior to implementing the agreement. 

This suggests that SLTDA is providing this land belonging to Yala Palatupana Tourist Zone for free of charge whilst requiring Cabinet Approval, however, without consulting the Attorney General. This leads the Board of Directors Paper to cite that requesting the Cabinet's approval was a 'mistake'.

What does it indicate? SLTDA, which is entitled for the development of Sri Lanka's tourism industry at its number one priority, works day and night to pass on the island's wildlife resources to relatives it has special ties with, ruling nepotism!

The Attorney General clearly cites that a 'hotel' named Leopard Research Centre is proposed for construction, whilst lamenting the fact that the board of directors being dominated by the Private Sector. Hence the letter reveals that the project has not been approved by any competent authority. 

Are we to understand that a direct gamble with the public funds is being played by SLTDA, selling millions of rupees worth of land to their family members for free, even without obtaining the approval of the Coast Conservation and Wildlife Conservation Authorities and Departments? 

Leopard Sighting on top of the rock!

It should be specially noted that this part of land should be reached through the land belonging to Lanka Realty Leisure (Pvt.) Ltd. for which SLTDA is a meeting a trial before the District Court. We note this in particular, as there is a clear indication of a significant connection between the SLTDA's illegal reclamation of the questionable land belonging to Lanka Realty Leisure and the land sought for leopard sighting. That is, because 'leopard sighting' would have been much easier were they to reclaim the Realty Leisure land, illegally or otherwise!

Below diagram shows how these three land plots are divided. 

Malik Fernando fooled John Amaratunga too!

Malik Fernando succeeds in deceiving former minister of Tourism John Amaratunga by revealing his objective of seeking privileges from the 'next government' in a newspaper article, thereby earning the minister's patronage.  

Below is an excerpt from a letter sent to Fernando by then minister John Amaratunga on October 6, 2019, regarding an interview with the 'Business Times' in the Sunday Times.

Commenting on Fernando's appointment under his approval as a Tourism Promotion Bureau Director with the approval of THASL, the former minister  strongly condemns Malik's duplicity. Depicting actual political hypocrisy, Fernando states that the TPB will be completely dissolved and experts will be brought in for the promotion process 'when the next government comes.' There, former minister Amaratunga blames him for neglecting his collective responsibility as a director.

In response, Malik Fernando stresses that the points he brought out had been distorted by the journalist who wrote the report. 

Replying, Amaratunga, among others, states that Fernando should have sent the corrections to the newspaper! "As a board member of SLTPB, you are duly bound to act in the National interest at all times and your private designations have no place in this scenario,” the former minister said in his second letter.

Malik Fernando is also a director of Dilmah Tea, which plans to acquire a land of one rood and 15.5 perches for the proposed Leopard Research Centre, the letter further revealed. 

Who misappropriated public funds on behalf of Dilmah?

Our investigations into the case shored two names in this regard, namely, Prasad Jayasuriya and P.U. Rathnayake. Irony is that these two are leapfrogging within SLTDA despite any government or leadership changes, as if they are vampires eternally bound with the thirst for blood. Prasad Jayasuriya is already a SLTDA director, whilst P.U. Rathnayake, a former director general of SLTPB. He was removed from SLTPB following an investigation into an irregularity on his account. Both Jayasuriya and Rathnayake are good friends with Merrill J. Fernando's youngest son Malik Fernando. 

We pose no objection to SLTDA's move to convert Yala Palatupana into a resort project. But in the backdrop that that the tourist guide who is hardly maintaining his livelihood at a difficulty to even obtain his Rs. 10,000 allowance, the SLTPB, which is now under the SLTDA, is preparing to hand over a land worth millions of rupees to Dilmah Group for free, indicating injustice. 

Second from left in the photo - current Chairwoman Kimali, Merrill J. Fernando and, Malik J. Fernando in the far right.

As long as there are state-operated bodies like SLTDA that plunder public property and misappropriate public funds, as long as citizens hesitate to poser objection to such irregularities, there will be no progress for Sri Lanka.

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