Uma Oya project: USD 248Mn misappropriated – activist

‘Who shared commissions?’



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Following a massive public protest in the Bandarawela town early this week against unprecedented environmental problems caused by Uma Oya project, a leading civil society organisation yesterday alleged that as much as USD 248 mn had been misappropriated by the politicians and officials who launched it during the previous SLFP-led UPFA administration.

The protest, backed by all political parties, drew large crowds from various parts of the Badulla District. Having joined the protect, Badulla District UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri assured the crowd that he would sit as an independent member in Parliament unless the government took immediate measures to provide relief to the affected.

Executive Director of CAFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Election) and Anti-Corruption Front (ACF) advisor Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon yesterday told The Island that the government should immediately launch an inquiry into the Uma Oya project.

Tennakoon participated in the Bandawela protest.

Tennakoon insisted that there was absolutely no basis for the Uma Oya water being diverted to Hambantota.

The CAFFE Executive Director claimed that the Uma Oya development had been approved in spite of a cost overrun of USD 248 mn during the same administration.

Tennakoon said President Maithripala Sirisena’s pledge to bring in foreign experts to address the issue did not make sense. He called for an examination of the role played by Iran which provided funds for the project.

According to him, a Canadian consultancy firm had estimated the cost of the project at USD 155 mn in 2005-2006 though it was significantly increased by Iran resulting in disagreement with Sri Lanka, Tennakoon said. Emphasising that those who had represented Sri Lanka at negotiations with the Iranians had strongly objected the move to push the cost beyond USD 300 mn, Tennakoon said that within six months later the then government finalised the project at a staggering cost of USD 548 mn. Iran has assured 85 per cent of the funding whereas Sri Lanka provided the rest.

Claiming that he had been able to collect a lot of information about the Uma Oya project, Tennakoon said that it would be pertinent to question Sri Lankan officials who in consultation with Iranian experts in Dec 2008 recommended the implementation of the project at a cost of USD 548 mn. Although the then Irrigation Secretary A.D. S. Gunawardena objected to the joint proposal, the government gave the go ahead.

Tennakoon said Gunawardena could be requested to provide a statement to police investigators and on the basis of his statement further action could be taken.

Iran stepped in three years after the Canadian estimate.

Tennakoon alleged that corrupt politicians had put pressure on officials to go ahead with the project without being bothered about cost. "Political pressure led to Irrigation Secretary A. D. S. Gunawardena quitting his post on January 9, 2009," Tennakoon said, adding that in his letter of resignation, Gunawardena had declared that he had decided to resign as he couldn’t sign an agreement which caused the country to incur an additional expenditure of USD 248 mn.

Tennakoon said Gunawardena had received appreciation as the senior irrigation engineer responsible for rehabilitation of Parakrama Samudraya following the breaching of its bund some years back.

Tennakoon said the project received environmental impact assessment reports on April 12, 2011 after the government had given the go ahead. He questioned the validity of securing environmental impact assessment reports after launching such a project.

Tennakoon said all documents pertaining to Uma Oya project could be easily found and most importantly as those supported and opposed were still in the land of the living they could be questioned. Responding to another query, Tennakoon said that he was ready to face the consequences if he could be proved wrong.

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