Gota recalls how he used JR’s blue print to relocate forces hq.

Prez opens a section of Akuregoda complex

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the Army headquarters couldn’t have been shifted out of Colombo if not for the eradication of the LTTE in May 2009.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Secretary Ministry of Defence, authorized the relocation of the headquarters of all three services to Akuregoda, Battaramulla.

The decision was made one and half years after the eradication of the LTTE.

Wartime Defence Secretary told The Island that he had acted to bring in a substantial foreign investment by shifting the nerve centre of operations against the LTTE and the JVP-inspired insurgency in the 80s, to accommodate Shangri-la hotel there.

Rajapaksa discussed the project on the eve of President Maithripala Sirisena declaring open a section of the Akuregoda complex ahead of the Nov 16 presidential election.

Responding to a query, Rajapaksa said that he had acted on a decision taken by Sri Lanka’s first executive President JR Jayewardene years ago to move security forces headquarters out of the commercial capital.

The Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts announced the purchase of 10 acres of state land, in January 2011. Plans were revealed to invest over USD 400 mn on the 30-storeyed star class hotel with 661 rooms.

Declaring that red tape shouldn’t in anyway be allowed to undermine foreign investment, Rajapaksa said Chairman/CEO of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Robert Kuok Khoon Ean wanted the Army Headquarters land for his project.

"Khoon-Ean’s request for army headquarters land caused a serious problem for me. It was a serious challenge. How could I shift the headquarters of the war-winning army? The army had been there for six decades. It had been the nerve centre of war for 30 years," the presidential candidate said. "Within two weeks, in consultation with the then Secretary to the Finance Ministry, Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, and the Board of Investment, measures were taken to finalize the transaction. Action was launched to shift the Army, Navy and Air Force headquarters to Akuregoda, Pelawatte, in accordance with JRJ’s plan."

Following swift negotiations, the agreement was signed on Dec 28, 2010.

The ground breaking ceremony for the Shangri-La project was held on the morning of Feb 24, 2012 with the participation of then Minister Basil Rajapaksa.

The presidential candidate said that he had secured the required approval to invest the funds received from the sale of Army property for the Akuregoda project.

The presidential candidate said that the then Colombo Mayor A.J.M. Muzammil had thrown his weight behind the project though the UNP was critical of the project. Muzammil now supports Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained how Akuregoda project had suffered serious setback due to the change of government in January 2015.

Having suspended the Port City project, the government declared, in early 2015, that funds wouldn’t be made available for Akuregoda Defense Complex project until the exact cost estimation of the project was ascertained. "Currently, this project seems like a bottomless pit and we need to know the depth of what we are getting into. From the current state of finances, allocated for this project, it seems as if they are building a complex that’s even bigger than the Pentagon," the yahapalana government declared.

In mid June 2016, the then cabinet spokesperson, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne announced the suspension of the Akuregoda project. Citing financial irregularities, Dr. Senaratne alleged that all cabinet papers on the project, had been prepared according to the whims and fancies of Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Wartime military spokesman the then Maj. Gen Udaya Nanayakkara received appointment as the Akuregoda Project Director in Aug 2011. Nanayakkara held that post till Sept. 2015 Maj. Gen. Mahinda Ambanpola succeeded Nanayakkara as the military continued with the project in spite of obstacles.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa emphasized that the Akuregoda project could have been fully completed if not for the 2015 change of government. The 2015 change plunged country into crisis, the war veteran said, adding that Akuregoda delay was just one of the many setbacks suffered as a result of foolish decisions of those who wielded power.

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