Transport Minister Dulles Alahapperuma said that
timely detection of a massive-scam in the Private Provident Fund
(PPF) of the SLTB prevented a financial catastrophe.
"Had I turned a blind eye to what he called the
mega rip-off, the account would have been zero in few years," he
said, emphasizing that the retiring workers would have to go
empty handed. He placed the number of workers likely to be
affected at 1,600.
In an interview with The Island, the National
List MP, said that his colleague Lasantha Alagiyawanne, in
charge of the road passenger transport portfolio felt that
immediate action was needed to tackle the problem. According to
him, the Committee in charge of the PPF had gradually increased
the standard 12 per cent PPF payment to workers and by 2003 it
had been raised to an unprecedented 32 per cent.
He said that initial inquiries revealed that the
gradual increase of PPF payments had begun in 1997.
The Committee which included representatives of
Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya and
All Ceylon Transport Workers Union had resisted repeated
attempts by relevant authorities, including the Auditor General,
to scrutinize the accounts, the minister said.
The All Ceylon Transport Workers Union recently
challenged Alahapperuma’s assertion that there had an eight
billion rupee fraud in the PPF of the SLTB. Sepala Liyanage, the
General Secretary of the union affiliated to the JVP said that
this could be an attempt to transfer six billion rupees in the
PPF to the Central Bank. "The whole thing could be a ruse to
facilitate the transfer of the funds," he said.
The minister said that his efforts to revive the
SLTB had received the support of all unions irrespective of
their political affiliations. The All Ceylon Transport Workers
Union, too, has extended its support, he said. "There is
absolutely no doubt about that," he said, but no one could be
allowed to manipulate the SLTB fund. A senior SLTB official who
retired recently received a staggering Rs 6.4 million, he said.
This was the direct result of irregular payments made on the
basis of an unprecedented 32 per cent contribution by the
institution, he said.
He said that despite Langama having an annual
revenue of Rs 12 billion, successive governments had failed to
appoint a qualified chief accountant. He expressed the belief
that the absence of a qualified professional had helped a set of
crooked officials and trade union representatives.
He said that the recent appointment of a
qualified accountant as Deputy General Manager (Finance) would
help the restoration of financial law and order. He would
conduct a comprehensive investigation of the payments, he said.
Until the finalization of the report which would be ready in
about three weeks, the minister has blocked payments. "Payments
wouldn’t be allowed until the finalization of the inquiry," he
The minister emphasized that he wouldn’t want to
fight with any union. That wasn’t my style, he said. "But as the
minister in charge of the transport portfolio, I wouldn’t give
in to trade union pressure."
Although Alahapperuma claimed that the fraud was
second only to the mega VAT scam, if his assertion that there
had been an eight billion rupee fraud in the SLTB, it would
definitely be the biggest ever robbery in a government
According to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
and the Auditor General, the Inland Revenue Department had
fraudulently refunded VAT to the tune of Rs. 3.6 billion during
the period 15.11.2002 to 15.08.2004. A subsequent fraudulent VAT
refund of Rs 315 million had raised the total misappropriated
amount to Rs 3.9 billion.
The minister dismissed Liyanage’s claim that he
wanted to shift the PPF funds to the Central Bank. Fielding
questions, he claimed that officials who had been implicated in
the fraud would make false allegations to protect their
For want of an effective system by the EPF
(Employees Provident Fund) which was responsible for supervision
of PPFs, had allowed SLTB officials to misappropriate funds,
well informed sources said. Although the SLTB had brazenly
ignored repeated calls to forward annual records to the EPF, it
had failed to take it up with relevant authorities, the sources
The minister requested D.S. Edirisinghe, the
officer in overall charge of the EPF, to scrutinise SLTB