Sacked official back at Sathosa job



BY SURESH PERERA


In a shocking turnaround, a consultant of a key government-owned trading company, whose services were terminated over an alleged multi-million rupee scam, has found her way back to a top slot in the same institution, due to what insiders described as "political patronage".


The contract of employment of this Lanka Sathosa official was terminated in February 2015 after being found guilty by an independent one-man tribunal, which probed the procurement of 50,000 kilos of big onions valued at Rs. 3.26 million from a private trader at the Dambulla Economic Centre.


The consignment had been imported from India by this businessman and purchased by Lanka Sathosa at Rs. 65 per kilo, but before the commodity could reach the market, the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) raided the warehouses and seized the whole stock as the onions were found unfit for human consumption, officials said.


With the stock was destroyed on a court order, a fine of Rs. 500,000 was imposed on Lanka Sathosa, which had to incur a total loss of Rs. 3.76 million as a result of this procurement, they said.


As the tribunal appointed on the instructions of Cooperatives and Internal Trade Ministry (as it was then known) found the senior official and two managers guilty of procuring rotten big onions unfit for human consumption, their services were terminated by the state-run company’s management.In addition, the official concered was directed to reimburse Rs. 942,456/25, being one-fourth of the value of the consignment, but this had not been done at the time she was re-appointed by a controversial politician on August 12 on the eve of the parliamentary election, insiders alleged.


The other two officers found guilty were also ordered to reimburse half and one-fourth of the value respectively after the stock was seized and destroyed, but all three of them have still not paid the money to the state.


In the letter sent to the senior official terminating her services, she was accused of "wittingly or unwittingly leaving room for financial impropriety, which resulted in the loss of public funds and/or aiding and abetting a serious fraud, as proven by the findings of the tribunal".


The tribunal’s report runs into 41 pages and during inquiry proceedings, a Lanka Sathosa accountant had testified that the stock was procured outside tender procedure and the official concerned had recommended the purchase at Rs. 65 per kilo.


Amongst the others who gave evidence before the A. H. Gamage one-man tribunal were Lanka Sathosa officers serving at the McCallum Road and Welisara warehouses, Kurunegala distribution centre, regional-based managers and accountants.


The senior official told the tribunal that she served as a Director at the time of this procurement and she gave instructions to the regional manager to load the onions into lorries only if they were in good condition.


In emergency situations, another senior official meets the Chairman and communicates to the procurement committee purchases of perishable commodities such as onions and potatoes to be made, she claimed.


Quotations were also called from two other suppliers, who listed a higher rate (Rs. 75 and Rs. 77 per kilo respectively), she asserted. However, the tribunal was of the view that the two other bids were written in the same handwriting and signatures on them were forged.


In May 2015, months prior to the reappointment, a lawyer representing Lanka Sathosa wrote to the senior official concerned giving 14 days notice to reimburse Rs. 942,456/25 to the institution. Failure to do so will result in legal action being filed to recover the dues together with interest and legal charges.


This followed the Board of Directors unanimously approving the consultant’s termination of services and resolving that a letter of demand be sent to her and legal action be instituted to recover the dues in the event of non reimbursement.


But, despite the non repayment, she has bounced back to a top slot, thanks to political patronage, officials asserted.


Officials said that the Bribery Commission and the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC) are also probing complaints in this regard, but there was no independent verification.


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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