- UNP insists that illegal land transactions have taken place and wants transparency
By Cheranka Mendis
The Government will be tabling all documents relating to land that has been sold or leased for development during the last few years in Parliament today.
Following the land debate that took place yesterday, Deputy Minister Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena has announced in Parliament that all documents would be tabled and presented to the Opposition.
Instigated by the Opposition’s claims on misappropriate selling of land with no transparency whatsoever, the debate covered many ground such as Kalpitiya land deals, Somawathiya land sales, allegations on Sampur land, eviction of people from land for development and the national involuntary resettlement policy.
UNP MP Dr. Harsha de Silva told the Daily FT that the debate, which started with JVP MP Anura Dissanayake and his nationalistic argument on land being part of the family and that it must be maintained within the family without being given away, was seconded by UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara, who then ‘pounced’ on the Government regarding Kalpitiya land transactions.
“Jayasekera pointed out that there had been illegal transactions of land in Kalpitiya, where land has been sold through forged documents. He even called out the names of some of the individuals,” de Silva said.
The argument was soon followed by the 11,000 acre Somawathiya land sale to US-based Dole Food Company. “The UPFA response by Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife S.M. Chandrasena was quite poor. He tried to convince us that the land was not sold but is being utilised by people for agricultural purposes.”
De Silva insisted that the UNP was not opposing the utilisation of land for development purposes. “We are merely asking for clear and transparent transactions which abide by the rules and regulations created by the country.”
He is said to have pointed out the allegations on Sampur land and the cutting down of 75,000 trees in Knuckles for a project.
He asserted that he spoke to the US Embassy regarding the Dole issue of Somawathiya land and that the official stance from the Embassy was that Dole would never infringe or bypass the law on matters such as this.
“They stated that the subcontractors have possibly gotten together with corrupt politicians and armed forces for illegal transactions. We requested the Embassy to give the matter immediate concentration and to ensure legal transaction of operations which they agreed on.”
He went onto say: “As a responsible Opposition we take 100% responsibility on our claims that certain land transactions have been dealt with illegally. We are glad that our concerns have driven the Government to stop the Chine Aero Technology Import Export Corporation (CATIC) deal,” de Silva said. “We are not trying to stop the sale of land from anywhere. We ask only for transparency.”
Commenting on the Government’s response, Dr. de Silva said: “They basically said that our allegations are irrelevant and that they are doing everything according to the law. The Government says everything is transparent and that there is no problem.”
However, the UNP MP emphasised that there has to be a transparent process by which these land transactions are carried out.
“The UNP is not going to be extremist like the JVP and say that the Government cannot sell land. We are a responsible party and we will not switch policies for an election or to hoodwink the people. We have always been for foreign investment in Sri Lanka. However, transparency and proper procedures should be given priority.”