Sunday, September 20, 2009

SRI LANKA: Felix Perera: “Huge” fraud at Dikovita

By Faraz Shauketally
The Rs. 7.9 billion Dikovita Fisheries Harbour project has stumbled upon some ‘fishy’ business with charges of ‘fraud’ being made by the Minister of Fisheries, Felix Perera and ‘avarice’ by the companies involved in the construction.
The state-of-the-art Fisheries Harbour in Dikovita, near Peliyagoda, some 10 km. outside Colombo was mooted by then Minister of Fisheries and incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapakse. The CEA (Central Environment Authority) Report was obtained as far back as 1997. After much lobbying which was painstaking at times, the government got the Dutch government to take this project on: it resulted in an outright grant of 35% of the cost, with the balance being funded on a “soft” loan on an extremely fortuitous interest rate of 0.5% — guaranteed of course by the Treasury.
The Cabinet Appointed Tender Board (CATB) went through the routine motions and selected the offer which was adjudged the best. The Cabinet of Ministers accordingly approved the award of this project to the Dutch company BAM International and work commenced in March this year.
Lucrative sub contract
The sticking point appears to be that the lucrative sub contract to supply boulders for the new breakwater was not awarded to any politically connected party. BAM International has stringent checks and balances upon which they rely on, prior to awarding any sub contract.
That the sub contract is lucrative is beyond doubt: a fleet of over 50 dump trucks are in operation, making in excess of 85 trips per day, in order that the daily target of 1,200 tonnes of rock is delivered for the breakwater work. With the work beginning last March, the race is on to finish the breakwater before the onset of the Monsoon weather.
However, deliveries of the boulders have hit a problem beginning last week. Drivers are stopped en-route and warned not to make the deliveries, stating that these deliveries are not welcome in the least. On one occasion last week more than 35 deliveries were stopped and the vehicles forced to return to their base in Horana. Although no violence has been reported, the ambience was unmistakably intimidating.
Minister Felix Perera, having been at the Cabinet meeting which discussed and subsequently approved the award of the contract is of the view that this entire tender was a “fraud” and that he was responsible to the people of this country to ensure fair play. It was almost as though Minister Felix Perera was quoting chapter and verse from the Constitution and Article 28 (D) specifically.
Missed the point
The Minister however appears to have missed the point: if, he now believes that the award of this tender was not what it seems and therefore he, as Minister, wished to have this cancelled, the legal and executive remedies available to the Minister have not been exercised. At each juncture, the Minister’s pronouncements are that he would report this matter to the President: almost as though he was unaware that it was the President himself who had initiated this programme. It is difficult to believe that the President would seek to intervene in this matter especially as he was focused on getting this project off the ground for a very long time.
It is also more than “difficult” to see why the line Minister, Felix Perera appears to wish to embark on a course of action which will only delay and stymie the progress of this very important project. The people of the area in Elkanda, Ja-Ela, stand to benefit significantly from this project. As a long standing resident of Ja-Ela, Felix Perera is set to gain adulation and lots more votes by the success of this project, yet he appears to like sailing close to the wind.
Direct access to the sea
The harbour will provide direct access to the sea for the local fishermen who now have to use the Hamilton canal and Negombo lagoon. The harbour and its facilities will replace inadequate berthing facilities at various locations and provide high standard facilities to increase export possibilities.
The harbour will be approximately one kilometre long and the harbour basin is formed by two breakwaters at the seaside and quay walls at the landside. Designed to handle a daily catch of 125 tonnes of fish per day, the harbour will include an administration building, auction building, a net and glass fibre repair building, a general store with fire fighting equipment, crew amenities, a canteen, fuel and water facilities and a slipway.
The project is financed by an ORET grant from the Dutch Government and an Atradius covered soft loan provided by HSBC and supported by ORET. The total support of the Dutch Government via the ORET programme for this project is approximately EUR. 17 million.
The Dutch contractors appear to be fully traumatised by this turn of events. They had, at the beginning high regard for the rule of Sri Lanka’s laws and the island’s commitment to uphold legal contracts. They were so worried that they wished not to make any official statements in this regard. Their actions however speak louder than words: they did report this matter to the Wattala Police complaining that unknown persons were hampering their trucks coming into the area. They asked The Sunday Leader to look for “another source.”
Contact Neil Rupasinghe
A driver who was stopped earlier this week was told to contact Neil Rupasinghe if he wished to proceed: thereafter when a representative of BAM International met Rupasinghe – perhaps out of gross naivety — he was told by Rupasinghe that if “they” were given the transport contract, the deliveries of rock would go ahead unhampered and without any hindrance.
The local company Entra who are the sub-contractors were also unavailable for comment. The Dutch Ambassador promised to get back with a statement which to date he has not sent in. The Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries, promised to investigate matters and asked us to contact him early next week.
Minister Felix Perera proved difficult to get at with him apparently constantly being away from the phone: it would be of significant and monumental assistance to the general public if he either spoke to the media or issued a comprehensive and well thought out statement outlining the full implications.


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