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Stage set for heated land debate in Parliament - UNP promises to expose Govt. amid accusations t...

Sep 21, 2011 2:46:12 PM - www.ft.lk

UNP promises to expose Govt. amid accusations that it blocked US$ 136 million land deal

Controversy over the US$ 136 million offer from a Chinese company for the Galle Face land deal is set to take centre stage at the special Parliament debate on land allocation tabled in Parliament today.
UNP MP Dr. Harsha de Silva told Daily FT that he was “ready to take them on” after the party was informed of the debate.

The gauntlet was thrown by Deputy Minister of Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, with the announcement of the pending debate on all land allocated for development projects by the Government at last week’s Cabinet briefing.  
The Government is expected to declare all land areas handed over to development at the debate. The debate has been tabled in Parliament and the opposition has been notified, Dr. Harsha de Silva acknowledged.
The debate was instigated after the opposition claimed that there had been misappropriate selling of land with no transparency whatsoever. Abeywardena, denying all reports during last week’s Cabinet briefing, stated that all documents would be shown in Parliament to prove the validity of all transactions.
“I will take him on and show that they were hypocritical with their manifesto, in which they swore to not sell even an inch of land, and now they are selling off thousands.” He stated that the party was not opposing development as the Government has alleged, but was only asking for transparent transactions for the betterment of the country.
“They are now accusing us of stopping development,” de Silva said. “We take 100% responsibility in claiming that these are corrupt land deals. The prime land near Galle Face Green, which has been given to China Aero Technology Import Export Corporation (CATIC), has been done so with no transparency at all and there have been no bids called for as well.”
There were previous concerns over the adjoining land given for the US$ 500 million Shangri La deal, but they were later ironed out by Abeywardena. The concerns were yet again on illegal land transactions which the Deputy Minister denied and said that the investment was a direct one.
“The transfer of ownership of this land for Shangri La followed State legislation and was only valued and conducted after obtaining approval from the Cabinet and Government valuer’s future commercial valuation,” Abeywardena said in June.
The Minister then stated that the 10 acres given over to Shangri La fetched US$ 125 million to the country, which was soon followed by an investment of US$ 136 million by CATIC for another 10 acres of land next to the Shangri La property. “The Government sold an acre for US$ 12.5 million to Shangri La and before a year passed, its adjoining land for US$ 13.6 million per acre.”
De Silva said: “If they go on saying ‘we have stopped the CATIC deal,’ then we are proud as a responsible opposition for standing up against such illegal procedures.”
He went on to say that for everyone who says that the opposition is idle, this is a prime example of taking the fight to the Government and “standing up for the rights of the people and seriously stopping corruption in the country”.
“We can have development and more investors. What we are doing is building the market. Transparent procurement and land deals would attract more investors and what we are doing now will have long term benefits for the country,” he said.

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