Corruption rises above Lotus Tower?

While the fireworks were illuminating and banging the Colombo’s skies during the celebrations for official opening of the 350-metre high Lotus Tower, the tallest structure in South Asia, President Maithripala Sirisena dropped a bombshell by revealing the country in a live telecast a startling fraud that had allegedly taken place at the beginning of the construction of the tower.  

He said that while the opening of the Lotus Tower was a positive development for Sri Lanka, there were concerns attached to the project as an estimated Rs. 2 billion loss was incurred to the government due to an advance payment for the project in 2012.  

The contract to build the Tower was awarded to China National Electronic Importers and Exporters Corporation (CEIEC) and Aerospace Long March International Trade Co. Ltd (ALIT) by the government. He said that the tower was to be built under a tripartite agreement with the Sri Lankan and Chinese governments and ALIT being the partners. 

After Sri Lankan Government paid an advance payment of Rs. 2 billion to ALIT in 2012, the company has suddenly vanished in 2016, President Sirisena told the gathering where the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka was also present.   

Sri Lankans have heard about vanishing companies with huge amounts of tax money paid by the people after signing various contracts with Sri Lankan government. For instance, we were told that Sri Lankan government had similarly paid for a Company called Bellimissa in the UK for the purchase of MiG 27 fighter jets and later it was also said that there was no company by that name in the UK!   

It is strange that the President or the government had not revealed this lost advance payment to the people who ultimately have to bear the burden, for the past three years, since the government came to know that the company was a nonexistent one. 

Also the President did not reveal as to what action the government has taken to deal with the people who had selected the company for the project. If it was a tripartite agreement that included the Chinese government, leaders of that government also has a duty and a responsibility to explain what has really happened, as ALIT, the vanished company is said to be a Chinese firm and it has tarnished China’s image as an investor around the world.   

The President did not say if any investigation into the fraud has been initiated, apart from the investigations to ascertain whether there was a company called ALIT. It is his duty to explain as to why he had not ordered a probe either by the CID or the FCID or some other relevant institution, if investigations have not been initiated yet.   

The Present government and the President during the early period of their administration had a special knack in exposing the frauds and corruption running into billions of rupees committed during the last regime. However, later they lost interest in taking the culprits to task, except for few cases provoking insinuations that the anti-corruption drive of the government itself had been a corruption. 

Once in 2017, the President himself had accused the UNP led government of intentionally dragging the corruption cases. Later he who wanted to “send the corrupt people of the last regime to hell” joined hands with the same people and formed a government in October last year.   

Now, he is again “exposing” corruption committed during the last government. People would take this seriously only if he takes appropriate action to bring the people responsible to book, or otherwise people would treat this “exposure” as a bargaining point in his party’s negotiations to form an electoral pact with the SLPP, the party led by the leaders of the last regime.   

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