The Government’s dubious land deals became a hot topic in Parliament again yesterday when the main opposition United National Party sought to expose another lease rental and tax holiday to a little known private developer.
UNP National List Legislator and Economist, Dr. Harsha de Silva exposed a ruling party decision to exclusively lease a highly valuable 29 acre property in Maradana to Chelina NEB Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd, a company with only three share holders and a share capital of Rs. 30. “According to the Cabinet Memorandum 13/0949/561/011, Chelina NEB Lanka will be leased a land of 29 acres, which now leased to Sri Lanka Railway. BoI will be the middle men in this transaction. This is an unsolicited proposal,” De Silva charged.
He said that this was the same property that also houses the Tripoli Market which the Defence Ministry currently occupies.
“When merchants of the market asked for it to be returned for business purposes and wrote multiple times to the Defence Ministry and the Urban Development Authority they responded saying it cannot be returned because it was a military compound now. How can this property now be available to be leased? And how can this unknown company be given exclusive rights” the UNP MP queried before a stunned Chamber.According to Dr. De Silva the value of the total investment for the first phase of development of the property amounted to USD 1.3 billion. “How can such a large investment happen without anyone knowing about it?” he said.
He explained that the first phase of development had been allocated US$350 million (Rs.47 billion) to develop basic infrastructure facilities such as internal roads, power, and sewage and storm-water management. In the second phase, US$1 billion has been allocated to build residential and convention towers, hotels, and many other business facilities. @Chelina NEB Lanka is a company with three shares with the total stated capital of Rs.30/-. How can such company develop this land worth over Rs.4.7 billion?” he demanded.
De Silva queried as to how the developer was planning to sell apartments of the building above the fourth floor on a free hold basis when the property was on a 99 year lease.
De Silva said that while the 99 year lease value was not mentioned in the cabinet paper, it noted that the price would be determined by the Government valuer.
“But in the Chelina NEB proposal, it clearly states that in lieu of the rental, the company would be handing over one building being developed to the Ministry of Transport. “If five acres was leased to Krrish at Rs. 5 billion, by that same valuation this land should be worth at least Rs. 46.8 billion or 360 million US dollars,” he observed.
Chelina NEB that was proposing to build a massive business facility on the 29 acre property notes a peculiar strategic advantage in its portfolio Dr De Silva revealed in documents tabled in Parliament. “This company lists as its strategic advantage its ability to obtain Government projects. Its portfolio claims that because of the secrecy and sensitivity of these projects they are unable to publicly name their clientele,” De Silva revealed.
“Tell us what these government projects are, there can’t be secret government projects kept from this House,” he charged, also asking the Government to name the three directors of Chelina NEB Lanka which is a subsidiary of the Chelina Capital Corporation.
He said that like other dubious deals made by the incumbent regime, this transfer of land will also be made free of taxes under the condition that BoI will lease it to Chelina NEB Lanka for 99 years based on the valuation received from the Government Valuator. with the advantage of undertaking Government projects.
Speaking soon after the UNP Legislator, DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake named a director of the company and said it was Lohitha Abeysinghe who had direct connections to a senior Minister in the Government.