Power and Energy Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya drew a setback on Tuesday  as he failed to get the Cabinet nod to award the contract to a Chinese company for the execution of the proposed LNG power project in Kerawalapitiya. His office had decided to award the contract for GCL China for the execution of the project.
However, the tender procedure was shrouded in controversy as it has been offered to a higher traffic bidder which quoted 15.75 per unit regardless of local bidder Lakdanawi Ltd quoting only 14. 98.
Following the ministerial decision to proceed with the move earlier, objections were raised ostensibly to create public opinion against the tender being offered to this company. In one instance, the Movement for the Consumer Rights Protection moved court against the tender.
In the wake of such build-up of protest against the Ministry’s decision, it came up before the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Minister Siyambalapitiya submitted the proposal seeking approval to award the tender to this company to implement the project. He briefed the Cabinet that Lakdhanawi Ltd was disregarded because even engineers disputed how Lakdhanawi could implement the project of this magnitude at such a low cost. He said he decided to offer the tender to the foreign company after broad consultation with all concerned.
Champika opposed to tender
Then, Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka responded to the Minister. He said it would cause to loss of at least US $ 42 million to the state in 20 years if the tender were offered to the higher bidder.
He argued that the entire tender procedure was flawed.
Mahinda Samarasinghe, Nimal Siripala comes to Siyambalapitiya’s rescue
Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who joined the discussion on the tender, added a different dimension to the whole diatribe. He viewed that controversial issues should be debated, but not be capitalized to sling mud at any minister in the media for different ends.
“If there are issues, they have to be sorted out. But, the media should not be used to sling mud at the ministers in one-sided manner,” he said.
After him, Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva locked horns with Minister Ranawaka. In this instance, he disputed Minister Ranawaka’s estimate of losses to the state over the selection of the higher bidder.
“The price quoted by one bidder is inclusive of Value Added Tax (VAT). Lakdhanawi made a bid excluding VAT involved. That is the reason for the price difference between the two,” he noted. Minister Siyambalapitiya responded to Minister Siripala de Silva gleefully on this occasion.
“What Minister de Silva said is correct. Also, the price quoted by Lakdhanawi is 58% lower than the engineers’ estimate. Is it possible to execute the project at such a low cost?” he asked. On a previous occasion, he said, Lakdhanawi undertook a project for execution at US $ 225 million, but the amount shot up to US $ 296 million by the end.
“Initially, they are used to make a lower bid. Towards the end of the project, they claim more for expenses. Finally the cost becomes higher and higher. Then, we are compelled to pay it because we cannot stop any project halfway,” he said.
President Maithripala Sirisena, who hitherto remained a mute observer, intervened finally and proposed the matter to be referred to a committee for scrutinizing with the inclusion of the relevant Ministers.
Transactions in the power and energy sector are shrouded in mystery and controversy most of the time.
Govt exempts private hospitals from VAT after doctors moved to transfer burden on patients
Next came up the proposal to exempt private hospitals from VAT. Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera thanked Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne for taking initiatives in this regard. The government was compelled to remove VAT from hospital bills because medical practitioners transferred the burden on patients when charging from them for services offered.
Rumblings within JO over 16-member group
Rumblings have been created within the Joint Opposition, particularly after the 16-member SLFP group made overtures to it for future politics. There is stiff resistance from some members of the Joint Opposition, particularly those close to Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) against placements being given to these SLFPers.
They believe that these SLFPers who joined the government and enjoyed perks defected from it only because of the build-up of public opinion against the ruling side. Therefore, SLPP believes it is unfair for by its members to give way for these SLFPers.
All in all, the Joint Opposition contemplates as to how it should accommodate these 16 MPs rather than creating fissures within it.
Some of these SLFP MPs have expressed their readiness to team up with the Joint Opposition. In fact, they have vowed not to participate in the reform drive launched by SLFP under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena. Let alone, there are others who wish to remain with the SLFP while doing politics with the Joint Opposition.
MR, Basil decisive figures in deciding next Candidate
There are certain differences of opinion on the presidential candidate to be nominated by the Joint Opposition. Members such as Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila are adamant that it should be none other than former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. There is a school of thought that it should be former Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Alongside, MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara promotes MP Chamal Rajapaksa, the eldest of the Rajapaksa family as the candidate. However, it has become a lone voice. Finally, there are two main personalities who can decide on their candidate. First, it is former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who acts as the leader of all in that camp. Along with him, Basil Rajapaksa who formed the SLPP has a great say in determining the next candidate. He holds power over a bulk of local authorities in the country. It means he has grassroots level political representatives across the length and breadth of this country.
Also, he spearheads the SLPP. The next candidate will contest the polls under the SLPP’s lotus bud symbol. Therefore, Basil Rajapaksa is also a decisive factor in this regard.