The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has got itself into a tussle with real estate and development company Lanka Realty Leisure Ltd, where the latter had filed for an enjoining order, which was issued by the Colombo District Court against the State entity.
On June 16 June, Colombo District Court Judge Amali Ranaweera issued an enjoining order preventing the SLTDA from cancelling the lease agreement with Lanka Realty Leisure Ltd., for a resort in Yala, Palatupana area, which was secured on a 99-year lease in 2017.
Lanka Realty Leisure Ltd alleges that despite having invested a preliminary down payment amounting to Rs.30 million with taxes paid up to December 2020, the SLTDA has drafted a ‘deed of declaration’ and referred it for registration without meeting a lawful closure on the lease agreement.
According to Lanka Realty Leisure, formerly known as Ascot Leisure Ltd., the enjoining order was filed to prevent SLTDA from cancelling the lease and if such steps have been already taken to make such action null and void and prevent the SLTDA from granting the rights of the land mentioned in the lease to another
Lanka Realty Leisure alleges the seven-acre land plot, which had been provided in 2014 with the aim of empowering the business community for developing the tourism industry in the post-war period, had been reclaimed without letting it being developed due to nepotism practised by the newly appointed SLTDA Chairperson Kimrali Fernando.
In a widely circulating social media post, Fernando was accused of deliberately hampering the progress of the upcoming tourism project of Lanka Realty Leisure for personal interest—which is to eliminate competition for the Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Yala, operated by Dilmah’s Wild Coast Lodge Pvt. Ltd owned by Fernando’s husband’s family.
Speaking to Mirror Business, Lanka Realty Leisure Executive Director Hardy Jamaldeen said SLTDA Chairperson Fernando had taken steps to cancel the lease on her own decision without consulting the authorities and the SLTDA board of directors.
“Government funds have been used by filing a declaration of cancellation on the lease which we (Lanka Realty Leisure) rightfully hold. The land she is trying to protect is coincidentally is on the immediate neighbouring site of Dilmah’s Wild Coast Tented Lodge,” he said.
Lanka Realty Leisure maintains that they couldn’t develop the leased property as per the lease agreement due to a dispute between the shareholders of the company, the Easter Sunday incidents, and the latest COVID-19 pandemic.
However, investors who acquired the other seven-acre plots for lease with Lanka Realty Leisure have concluded construction and the resorts are in operation, including Cinnamon Wild Yala and Dilmah Wild Coast Lodge.
While a Cabinet decision was taken in August 2019 to allocate the said seven-acre plot to a foreign hotelier running a luxury safari lodge in Tanzania, Jamaldeen stressed it was not the land leased to Lanka Realty Leisure that was reallocated.
Kimarli Fernando’s husband, Malik J. Fernando, calling the whole saga a smear campaign against his family and the integrity of Fernando, in a Facebook post quipped that he would frankly prefer Jamaldeen’s resort next to his resort rather than the African lodge specialist for “obvious reasons.”