28 October, 2020

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Nahil Wijesuriya & ‘SATHOSA’ Under Ravi Karunanayake

By Upali Cooray

Upali Cooray

“There is a house available at Monarch residencies and it belonged to Nahil Wijesuriya’s (NW) daughter who is a friend of my daughter.” This extract is from MP Ravi Karunanayake’s (RK) statement in Parliament.

This story of RK& NW started more than 17 years ago. RK was appointed as the Minister of Commerce and Consumer affairs. NW was appointed as Chairman of SATHOSA by PM Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) in President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Government in the year 2001.

Nahil Wijesuriya (NW), one of the richest if not the richest, businessmen in this country. Coming from Trinity College Kandy, is a professional Engineer.

NW was a person in a hurry. He required results and motivated the existing staff to work according to his thinking. The Rajagiriya, Welisara and Jawatta super markets were brought up to higher standards of customer service on par with private owned super markets with online transactions for the shops including bar coding and stock control. Further plans were on, for expanding the online system, Island wide.

Pay increases on par with private sector were offered to attract skilled personal. He did not tolerate political influence. He supervised the engineering staff of SATHOSA day and night to give his skills in refurbishing the shops such as display arrangements and customer service. I personally consider him as a Maverick. That is his success as a businessman. However NK resigned suddenly just after I resigned in disgust from SATHOSA in July 2002. The reasons for NW’s resignation are not known to me. However I observed that he wanted to perform quite independently from the minister. Furthermore, He had his group of companies to look after. His frank view was SATHOSA staff was a hardworking and efficient lot.

Ceylon Biscuits, which put in a joint bid with another Sri Lankan firm, Carsons Group of Companies named International Grocers Alliance (IGA) was among the five parties that submitted bids for the sale of retail arm of SATHOSA consisting 150 units. The distribution of goods was handed over to a logistics company named LOGIVIS. Previously SATHOSA did its own distribution all over the country very successfully.  To make a very long story short, appointing LOGIVIS was a disaster. IGA wanted a “state of the art” system introduced.

As a consequence the retail division of SATHOSA started reducing its work force via a voluntary retirement scheme.  The VRS was offered when a 40% stake and management control of the SATHOSA retail unit was sold to the local consortium for 650 million Sri Lankan rupees ($1=LKR96.90) in July 2002. More over 100 casual employees were terminated on the pretext of over staffing and a similar number was appointed from RK’s electorate. Even illiterate drug addicts were appointed to the casual vacancies.

The IGA consortium miscalculated the political situation when Chandrika Kumaratunga led government came to power in 2004. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was appointed Minister. 

There was a necessity to probe the institution during the period RK was the Minister. RK would have been found out much earlier in 2004 long before the Penthouse deal. The new Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle disregarded it. It was believed by some, that RK and Jeyaraj were buddies though they belonged to different camps. “Birds of feather get together”.

The Directors of SATHOSA retail were giving excuses. The first excuse was the government’s failure to raise of Rs 150 million.  The second was full control.  They resigned claiming these demands were not met. The real reason is lack of any experience in doing the job.

All distribution of staple foods needed by the   poor segments of the market went haywire under the management of IGA. The orders placed for goods far exceeded the requirements. Transport was erratic. Once, a lorry was sent to Kalutara retail unit with a full load of requirements and then went to Negombo unit with only two bags ofB’onions. Around 750 cases of “Sustagen” powder was laying at Buttala shop, a faraway area where poor customers are a majority. They go for lesser priced local substitutes A tin of “Sustagen” was over Rs. 1000/-.  It is pertinent to note that even one of the share holding companies Ceylon Biscuits Ltd had to take back their confectionary products worth over one million rupees at that time. The new purchasing manager had no idea of market segments; re-order levels and re- order quantities. Distribution was in chaos.  It was too late when IGA realized this chaos within one and a half years. The contract with LOGIVIS was terminated. As a result of these grave miscalculations through ignorance, the average turnover was below Rs. 300 million for the first six months. Conversely purchases under the new management showed 1.5 Billion. This quantity could cover entire six months operation

The Chairman’s post vacated by NW was succeeded by Deputy Chairman Lal Wickrematunge the elder brother of Lasantha Wickrematunge. Lal was a balanced man who listened to the officers and wanted to continue the good work carried out by NW.

RK’s policy of appointing his cronies as Heads of some divisions such as retail marketing, security and other divisions discouraged CWE executive staff. Most held masters or diplomas in their chosen field and were trained abroad. Under these circumstances the performance deteriorated. The SATHOSA retail division with 150 shops was earning a gross margin of 14% when RK took over. It started making losses   within a few months after RK becoming minister in charge.

Another folly RK committed was to order shops all over the country to be kept open for 24 hours, making it impossible for the staff to work. Breast feeding mothers brought their infants to the shops as they had to feed the babies. The infants slept while mosquitos and other insect harassed the Babies. The electricity bills and overtime costs doubled. However much the staff tried to explain this to RK, he did not heed. In areas like Bibile where people go to bed early there were no customers after 8o’clock.

Around 2,860 employees out of a total 6,760 accepted the voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). Separately, the government’s privatization arm, the Public Enterprise Reform Commission said 17 parties have submitted bids to purchase several properties belonging to the CWE. The total value of the properties isn’t known.

A leading private sector supermarket chain made a bid to take over the shops but they were not selected.  They have over 500 outlets now and a leading promoter of agribusiness, selling vegetables and fruits at very competitive prices.

Extract from RK’S statement:

“I joined politics after working with former Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, who, too, was accused wrongly by his opponents. He was described as a person who swallowed ships. I was a successful businessman before I joined politics. During my career I never earned anything through illegal means. I only lost my money because of politics. I never earned anything from politics.”

Lalith Athulathmudali the Oxford University and Harward scholar’s name is used to claim RK as his prodigy. Rk cannot hold a candle to Lalith. He was a presidential hope and would have been the savior of this country if not for his murder by the LTTE. RK was not much known while Lilith was the minister of trade. That was the peak of SATHOSA performance. The food distribution during communal riots 1983   was credited to Lalith, Chairman Zarook and his team of officers. They knew how to lead and delegate responsibility and backing the decisions.

Late Kingsly Wickramaratne, the Trade Minister did more service to Lalith’s “Mahapola” concept than RK. He handed over the land belonging to the “Mahapola” trust fund to locate Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology at Kaduwela. SLITT is the leading institution in IT education.

A key officer has fallen in to a mess allegedly carrying out orders to sell a good quality stock of rice as poor quality to a buyer known to RK at a lower price. The bribery case is now sub-judice. Therefore no further comment can be made.

RK ends his statement by quoting Dhammapada.

I too would end this essay by quoting a stanza from the same source.

“ThanhayaJayathieshoko, ThanhayaJayatheeBhayang.

ThanhayaWippamutthassa, Nathti Shoko Kuthobhayan”

“From greed arises grief, from greed arises fear, for him who is free of greed, there is no greed no grief.”

*Upali Cooray, Former General Manager (SATHOSA)

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 8
    1

    Mr. Upali cooray: Now you understans what an arrogant idiot Ranil Wickramsinghe is. He doe snot care his college mates are thieeves or idiots. they continue to appoint those, and they are always incompetant idiots. Ministers are incompetant, arrogant, stupid and dewteoying the country. I am pretty sure, in a few more months, he will come to another minister where he can steal again. If he can not he may sell the ministry to get some money.

  • 5
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    Sad, sad. Country being messed up by idiots.

  • 9
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    We all know how RK became a successful businessman before politics.

    RK was crooked from the very beginning. So is RW. Nothing happens without the approval of RW. We all know that. He has been smart to keep his name out of his “friends and family program”. Will he succeed this time? Frankly, he should be called in for questioning by the presidential commission because his initials were in Aloysious’s phone. RW is a slithering snake. I wont be surprised to see him do it again. 40 years in politics and the Batalanda Butcher will get away, again. Sri Lankan politics for you

  • 11
    2

    These are legacies of JRJ. Nahil a classmate of Gamini D and Ravi son of JRJ secretary. JRJ is the architect of all evil in this country and introducer of commission based government development. The rot started in 1977 and the cancer has grown and the patient is terminal. Radical surgery is necessary. Can the Politicians who are descendants of JRJ perform the surgery. In my view they do not have the skill. It is time Sri Lanka looks for a new surgeon from a different hospital

    • 7
      2

      Vas, did Sirimavo B, Chandrika, BK, Premadasa and MR have capability to run the country? What mess they left behind. All of them them have been the same.

    • 3
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      He was at the same school but certainly not a classmate .

  • 1
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    Mr. Uplai Cooray,

    Why it took so long to publish this news about Ravi K., what I would say is don’t pour Oil into the burning fire.

    • 5
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      Mr Mohideen
      I wrote the same article in 2002 just after resigning. But nothing happened.

  • 0
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    What about the role of D. Wijemanne

  • 5
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    The truth should be all these prominent politicians are mega thieves.and they lived on loot. during the previous govt, I heard, Ranil wickramsinghe owned even JANAVASAMA cocnut- lands into his ownership and RW’s mother was used to eat those coconuts. RW was very confident that is why he did ht eCentral Bank robbery. Now, see how he is diverting the Attention and the president is just watching it. It looks thieves are running the country and no one is able to change it.

  • 4
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    Well known, Lal W was a political appointee because Lasantha kept cheering RW; even claimed RW’s marriage was so legit to promote him in case of questions arose about sexual orientation. Week after week he tried to claim this marriage of convenience as one of love; Sunday Leader went after CBK with a vengeance after Lasantha was booted out as being Sirimavo’s secretary. He was caught spying on her plans in 1988 and General Ratwatte set a trap and caught the spy. LW had a vendetta after that and his love or his obsession and adoration of RW was very troubling or almost sexual. That was worrisome. Because he never went after RW for Batalanda or the 1983 riots. Everyone knows RK did a lot of things even during his Hayleys days. Everyone knows about his light fingers. This article is decades too late. Who banged whose mother to become close to Lalith A?

  • 3
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    Sri Lanka will succeed only when we have leaders who put the country and people FIRST, over their own interests and pockets….unfortunately that will take a miracle.
    Our leaders are corrupt, selfish, and despite their election promises, they eventually give in to greed, and self interests. It is a shame that we cannot trust anyone.

  • 2
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    Upali, isn’t SLITT owned by Kingsley Wickremaratne’s son in law ? He is a Phd from Canada cannot rememeber the name now. If so, it is serious corruption.

    Most politicians come and rip public assets and sell it off to businessmen for a commission. They will have to carry the big karma over many births and suffer as poor men for cheating public money. These karma doshas (sins) can never be redeemed even with meritorious deeds. I myself suffer so much for the past bad deeds in previous births. Have done lot of poojas and danas but still suffering. So, please politicians and officials do a honest job.

    • 0
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      Sunil
      “I myself suffer so much for the past bad deeds in previous births. Have done lot of poojas and danas but still suffering.”
      If we assume that Karma exists, then it is clear that in Karma domain the “poojas and danas” are considered bribes and so ignored

    • 0
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      Sunil
      No it is not owned by anybody. It is a state sponsored leading degree awarding institute approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Universities Act. It is a member of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), as well as the International Association of Universities (IAU). Also the first Sri Lankan institute to be accredited by the Intuition of Engineering & Technology , UK. .
      Dr Professor Gamage is the CEO/Chairman..Adjunct Professor
      Curtin University, Australia, Visiting Professor,The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
      Yes Dr. Gamage is Kingsly Wickramaratne’s son-in-law.. You cannot deprive a qualified man of his profession. What is called nepotism come in to play when unsuitable.unqualified persons are appointed.

    • 0
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      no point in doing poojas and dana’s… only God can forgive, there is no next life, we have to face eternity after our deaths… heaven or hellfire,

      so lead a good life knowing you will be judged by your deeds and your words. know that only God can redeem your sins, so be sorry turn away from them, (there is always forgiveness with God for the true repenter) and purpose to live a good life, even by the five or eight laws that you Buddhists believe.

  • 4
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    Ranil wickramasinghe is good for nothing! so is Ravi Karunanayayaka!
    What a country and what a waste of public money!

  • 2
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    Thank you Upali Cooray for the courageous exposé.
    Most of the “culprits” are from one section of Lankans. Lots and lots of “other” Lankans have suddenly become filthy rich. One wonders “How?”
    Upali ends with Darmapada quote
    “ThanhayaJayathieshoko, ThanhayaJayatheeBhayang.
    ThanhayaWippamutthassa, Nathti Shoko Kuthobhayan”
    Translation
    “From greed arises grief, from greed arises fear, for him who is free of greed, there is no greed no grief.”
    Recent DNA test shows that “Greed” and “Grief” are twins!

  • 3
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    Ravi is a Christian. So let me quote a few verse from the Bible which is equally apt.

    “The righteous man walks in his integrity.
    His children are blessed after him” Prov. 20:7

    “even a child is known by his deeds,
    Whether what he does is pure and right” Prov. 2011.

    “The righteous God wisely considers the house of the wicked.
    Overthrowing the wicked for their wickedness. Prov 21:12.

    “Bread gained by deceipt is sweeter to a man,
    But afterward, his mouth will be filled with gravel. Prov: 20:17.

    I could go on and on. Basically, there is a mighty God who knows our every deed and we will be eventually judged.

  • 0
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    Nahil Wijesuriya left Sathosa after his wife died in a car accident on the Colombo – Negombo Road at Wattala and had to take his young children to UK where his sisters – Both Doctors lived.
    The actual privatization happened after he left Sathosa

    • 0
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      Mr Wijesuriya was one of the best bosses I worked for when he was the Managing Director of East West Information Systems (later it became EWIS). 4 months after I joined East West, I was confirmed as a member of the permanent staff and to top it all, i received 3 months bonus for Xmas. He had the ability to revamp mediocre organisations to good profit making institutions. He did the same with ETV. Once he made enough profits, he sold it to Edirisinhghes. I think his wife died in Col 3 (in front of the USA embassy)

  • 0
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    “He was a presidential hope and would have been the savior of this country if not for his murder by the LTTE”

    sirisena cooray bumped off lalith.he knew that as you rightly pointed out lalith with his towering personality was sure to become president one day.However premedasa wa furious with cooray for doing that.he blasted cooray and said that the whole country now will think he did it. so in order to convince the country that the LTTE did it and is now trying to kill him too,premedasa asked babu to go and keep a bomb under a wall near the may day ceremony.Babu went there but found some guys seated on the wall.He was coming back to tell preme that he can’t keep it there when preme made the signal for the stooge ASP to detonate.Just before he died look at the video and see him making a downward action with his handkerchief.He killed himself and bau got blown up.

    Preme also killed denzil kobbekkaduwa,not the LTTE.Also ranjan.Only gamini was killed by LTTE.Even vijaya was killed by preme,not JVP.He was the worst killer of potential competitors in our history. hOwever he did not kill upali as people talk here.Upali was killed by malaysian mafia.

  • 0
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    With all this the people esp in Colombo still sing praises of RW, RK and Sirisena. Mind boggles!!

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