By T. Lohathayalan –
On account of a secretive decision by the Jaffna Mayor and Municipal Commissioner without informing the Council, Jaffna Municipal Council (JMC) has lost 4 compactors gifted 4 years ago by Japan. The JMC is the only Council with Municipal Status in the North. This grant from Japan that covered the payable duty came in the time of the TNA controlling the mayoralty, and has now been lost during Mayor V. Manivannan’s tenure.
The background to the loss of that expensive gift that the Japanese government had agreed to, together with the import duty they had advanced, and how that slipped through our fingers is reviewed in this article from documents available to me.
The recycling of the Japanese compactors was initiated by TNA Mayor Emmanuel Manivannan. However, the handing over was delayed for over 4 years. That gifting agreement for the machines for processing waste was delayed on account of delayed permission for their import from Sri Lankan government agencies. It was so long delayed that the Japanese government has informed in writing that they re rescinding the gift.
Following the request to the Japanese Embassy for the four tipper-like compactors, agreement was formally entered into on 19 March 2019. Regarding the importation of the machines, the import duty payable to the Government of Sri Lanka was computed to be Rs. 14,329,000 (or US$83,432 at old rates). This was well beyond the means of JMC.
This colossal sum was donated by the Japanese Embassy as an additional gift to the JMC – ironically, paying the government of Sri Lanka to grant a gift to one of the government’s own councils! This sum from Japan was received and placed in a separate account by JMC
This scheme was put in place in Mayor Arnold’s time but on account of lack of government permissions and the Zahran bombs and the Corona Pandemic, although some progress was made, the actual gifting of the 4 compactors did not take place.
Be that as it may, on 12 June 2019 the then Mayor, Emmanuel Arnold, had written to the Department of Imports and Exports asking for permission to import the vehicles. Shortly after writing that letter, he also submitted on 18 June 2019 the completed application form for that permission.
Thereafter on 14 Nov 2019, Rs. 115,000 was sent by JMC and the document certifying permission to import was obtained. This application is usually valid only for three months. However, the JMC was unable to obtain the required permission from the External Resources Department (ERD). In pursuit of this permission, Mayor Arnold wrote on 15 June 2020 to the Director of the External Resources Department and shortly thereafter asked on 14 Nov. 2019 for an extension of the permission obtained from the Department of Imports and Exports of the permission to import that was granted but expiring.
Up to 2 Nov. 2020 no reply had been received from the Department of Imports and Exports, nor had a reminder been sent. During this period, Mayor Arnold wrote to the Treasury on 30 June 2020 seeking to have some of the obstacles removed. He asked that the money in JMC possession be taken-over by the Treasury and the import facilitated.
The Period of Present Mayor V. Manivannan
The present mayor V. Manivannan, then a Council Member, assumed duties as Mayor at the end of December 2020. He was told that the import of the compactors was possible only if the Cabinet gave special permission. This was necessary for the gift of the compactors to go ahead. Mayor Manivannan wrote to Minister Douglas Devananda whose party the EPDP’s Council Members had helped install Manivannan as Mayor after displacing Mayor Arnold in a vote of no-confidence by turning down the budget.
In that letter dated 19 Nov. 2019 Douglas Devananda was asked for help in getting Cabinet authorization. However up to early 2022 the External Resources Department (under the Ministry of Finance) had not given permission for the import of the used compactors.
In this period Mayor Manivannan in his letter of 5 May 2019 has noted many reasons why he could not obtain the permission of the External Resources Department. Many did not find his reasons convincing. As a response to that letter, the Japanese Embassy on 29 July 2022 wrote to the JMC referring to the Mayor’s letter, and stated that they were cancelling the gift and asking for the return of the money they had sent to the JMC to defray the import duty.
The lack of authorization for over 4 years to clear the 4 vehicles through customs is the reason why the municipality has lost the benefits of this generous gift of 4 vehicles and the payable duty.
A process that had been corresponded on by the municipality through its efforts for 4 years was aborted when the Jaffna Municipal Commissioner on 5 May 2022 replied the letter from the Japanese Embassy asking for the subject to be closed and the money to be returned. It is not clear who precipitated this, the JMC or the Embassy. As a result of the process being aborted, it was no longer possible to approach others for help. There was no sign that the Cabinet would move to permit the import of the vehicles. It was announced that a decision was taken to return the grant to the Japanese embassy. With that it seemed impossible to revive alternative efforts.
Even after this letter was transmitted by the Mayor and commissioner, 4 monthly meetings took place where Japan demanded the return of their money. A subsequent meeting took place at the JMC itself where Council members came to know the full details. It is a disgrace to the Council that it was not informed even as an ordinary matter.
It is clear based on the evidence that the decision to agree to the cancellation of the gift was the secretive decision by Mayor Manivannan and the Municipal Commissioner that led to the Japanese Embassy’s letter dated 29 July 2022 asking for their money back. Some at the JMC suggest whether it was really the Japanese embassy that asked for such a letter.
A lost Cause
At present the JMC is using over 10 compactor machines to process waste that are rented at very great expenses. The current JMC administration is in a questionable state a to why it is spending so much on renting equipment when staring the Japanese gift horse in the mouth without doing what was required efficiently to get the gift for the people of Jaffna from the people of Japan.