By Muhammed Fazl –
“The lobby is the army of the plutocracy.” ― William Graham Sumner
The last time when warnings of icebergs ahead went unheeded, the iconic ‘Titanic’ ran aground with 2/3 of its passengers in chilly waters off the Atlantic Ocean. And more than a century later, the ‘Captain of the Sri Lankan Ship’ seems to be wanting to navigate in similar conditions in the Indian Ocean…, and that which could have far more serious consequences with all of its ‘passengers sinking a lot deeper’.
Ever since the war with LTTE ended 8 years ago, we as a nation have never been threatened by external forces or by separatist elements within. During that same period, the only threat the ordinary masses ever faced, originated from none other than the private militia aligned to the Rajapaksas themselves. In spite of all that, under the false pretext of protecting the shores of our island and acting as a ‘middleman’ in the procurement of a warship for double the price of its actual value, The Capitol Maharaja Organization Limited (TCMOL) seems to be on an unholy mission in forcing President Sirisena into signing a 195 million Dollar agreement with Russia’s war machinery, JSC Rosoboronexport!
Having written about the illegal occupation of a prime land in Colombo by this same TCMOL in 2015, I was indeed surprised seeing a vast improvement in their modus operandi in the last 2 plus years. Only this time, they seem to have adopted a ‘one shot, one kill’ technique. But then, having the need to be compensated for airtime allocated through TCMOL-owned Sirasa TV to promote the agenda of President Sirisena while attacking that of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, I really did not find fault as such with the ‘movers and shakers team’ led by the elusive Mr. Raja Mahendran, the owner of TCMOL and its CEO/Director, Mr. Chevaan Devavarathan Daniel for their attempts in making an ‘extra and quick buck’.
That was all well and fine…, I mean at least until such time I was made to understand that this ‘extra and quick buck’ was actually 80 million in US Dollar terms! In addition, when it became apparent that this money has to be paid for by my meagre income and with future earnings of my 5 year-old son and that of 22 plus million other lesser mortals, what was at stake did not seem to be of any small measure either. And even by my generous allowance standards, the ‘stench’ emanating from this corrupt deal was such, I even envisaged the Presidency being impeached over a direct involvement. And that was something this country could ill-afford at this point of time.
They say ‘politicians and businessmen make strange bedfellows’. Having seen ‘influential figures’ such as construction powerhouse Mr. Sumal Perera of Access International exploiting his connections to the Rajapaksa regime at that time and straying from his usual line of business to import Heifers (cows) from Australia in a multi-million Dollar government deal, and hardware industry related manufacturer Mr. Aelian Gunawardene of JAT Holdings using his clout with the current Minister of Agriculture, and also straying from his usual line of business to import and supply fertilizers worth hundreds of millions to the State, I was least surprised when it transpired that TCMOL too venturing out in ‘unfamiliar territory’ by being the sole and invincible force behind the Russian ship deal.
During one of those conversations with my good friend, Mr. Chevaan Daniel, the Group Director and the live wire of the same TCMOL, though he initially denied of any involvement, it is only fair that I share the following official position maintained by him and just as it appeared on the Whatsapp message that he sent me;
“Absolutely NO truth to this. Reporting without even a shred of evidence is easy. And is usually the reaction to fact-based reporting on massive corruption, such as the bond scam and the Central Highway scam. Amazing how a series of web reports including a mud-slinging and smear campaign appears on a few websites almost as soon as we begin to highlight the Central Highway scam. This sort of knife flaying is expected when you take a firm position against corruption and we are aware of those behind it. If one would like to fully understand the veracity of these reports and those behind it, one should ask the Interpol. Regardless of these attacks, and perhaps even more that will continue in the future, rest assured, we will continue to relentlessly expose corruption come what may.”
Interestingly, instead of helping me to delve deeper on the same matter, being an anti-graft activist and columnist, what raised my suspicions was his attempt to deflect my attention towards the ‘Treasury Bond Scam’ investigation and the Central Highway construction project. And when the TCMOL-owned Sirasa TV ‘goes to town’ on a daily basis admonishing any and all multi-billion Rupee infrastructure projects associated with Ministries overlooked by UNP MPs, what got me even more thinking was their absolute silence on the 30 billion-Rupee Russian procurement. Furthermore, when the right-thinking, the Civil Society and most of the ex-Navy Chiefs have all voiced their opposition to it, do they not give their game away with their ‘pin drop silence’ on the same story by the usual set of loud-mouthed presenters of the same ‘holier-than-thou’ Sirasa TV?
And now that Russians are in town to seal the deal, in the event President Sirisena stands his ground in going ahead with it, I am hoping the public awareness created by this article would help me make my case more effectively and at the same time, save me time and money from being spent on invoking the Right To Information Act (RTI) or by challenging the legality of the agreement by way of a Writ Petition at the Court of Appeal.
1 – Offshore Patrol Ship (OPS) – Gepard 5.1 / Cheetah 5.1
- Designed by Zelenodolsk Design Bureau on the platform of the frigate Gepard 3.9 sold to Vietnam.
- Instead of the missile complex Kalibr-M, it is equipped with artillery weapons and a landing platform with a hangar for a helicopter
- Length: 102.14 m (335.1 ft.)
- Speed: 28 knots (52 kmph)
- Range: 4,000 Nautical Miles (7,000 km) at 10 knots (19 kmph)
- Takes 2 years to build.
- Total quoted value of the ship being US$ 158.5 million, supposed to be inclusive of costs of onboard spares and ammunitions.
2 – Final Cost
- Cost of the ship = US$ 158,500,000/-
- Upfront fee for State credit = US$ 1,000,000/-
- Interest component @ 4% per annum (payable in equal instalments within 10 years & semi-annually) = US$ 28,560,000/-
- Cost of the training package = US$ 7,000,000/-
TOTAL COST = US$ 195,060,000/-
3 – Competition
- Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) — R 623 Sayurala (”Sea waves”)
- Built by Goa Shipyard Limited, India and sold to the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) for US$ 74,000,000/-
While I do not wish to dispute the immediate requirements of the SLN or question the increased budgetary allocations made for Defense expenditure during peace times by our Finance Minister Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, considering all circumstances, past incidents and analyzing available facts and figures, raise does it not the following questions:-
1. Was his opposition to the purchase of the Russian ship that expedited the premature retirement of Mr. Travis Sinniah from the Navy, and just one month after being appointed as its Chief? Not to mention every other Navy Commander getting service extensions.
2. Lacking resources and the fire power to confront militarily regional threats such as the US forces based in Diego Garcia, Navies of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc., does it really make sense to acquire a warship costing a fortune when our requirements are to curb poaching and smuggling of narcotics etc., and that which can be easily met with Fast Attack Crafts (FACs) which cost much cheaper?
3. Based on my investigations, of the three different committees that were appointed and respectively headed by Rear Admiral Wattewa, Vice Admiral Ranasinghe and Rear Admiral Rosairo at different stages to look into the procurement, none of them seems to have given the approval to go ahead with the Russian ship deal. Even though I was unable to have access to the reports, in the event the matter ends up in court, I sure hope the MOD will not come up with lame excuses not to table it in the open. And when Chief of Defense Staff, Rear Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne took it upon himself to be the lone voice in favour of the procurement and his reason being, the requirement to protect foreign naval ships when they make a port of call in Colombo (a case of a ‘small fry’ trying to protect a shark), could there have been a more idiotic justification from someone of his stature and rank who may or may not have a ‘personal interest’ in the deal?
4. The Russian signatory JSC Rosoboroexport being a Joint Stock Company with different private manufacturers and being ‘controlled’ but not ‘owned’ by the Russian government as claimed earlier, could it have been a genuine oversight on the part of the government spokesman, Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara when he stated in parliament recently about this ship deal being a ‘government to government’ one? Or could it have been a deliberate lie to mislead the masses while possibly shielding his masters who may or may not be sustaining him financially?
5. Just as JSC Rosoboronexport’s policy of restricting exports only to national agencies of partner countries, is the Ministry of Defense (MOD) in Sri Lanka or the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) legally empowered to procure military hardware from semi-government entities abroad or from privately owned ones such as the same JSC Rosoboronexport who may or may not have been funded by a State line of credit or by being subcontracted by their respective governments?
6. Does the deafening silence of the Rajapaksa clan on this matter have anything to do with war-profiteering allegations involving the initial part of the loan amounting to US$ 165 Million? If that was the case, could it have been possible for Mr. Udayanga Weeratunga, their close relative and ex-ambassador to Russia to have ‘played a key role’ in earlier military procurements?
7. As a compromise to rescinding the ban on tea exports to Russia, just as the government reversed the ban imposed on the importation of cancer-causing raw materials used for the manufacture of asbestos, would President Sirisena-led MOD or SLN use the same pretext to sign the agreement for the warship?
8. If the purchase of the Russian ship at US$ 195 million is a foregone conclusion, and if selling the Mattala Airport at around US$ 200 million is what it takes to pay for the ship, would the future generation be kind enough when judging President Sirisena’s handling of the economy?
9. If silence on this matter is the price that members of the United National Party (UNP) have to pay for being part of a coalition government, would it still be wise for the UNP to remain in such a government on principle?
10. Was it the exposé of the Russian ship deal that led to the banning of the London-based lankaenews.com in Sri Lanka?
11. We have survived for decades with 2 of Russia’s most famous exports – cancer causing Asbestos material and STD-infected prostitutes. Hence, should their ‘good intentions’ be still up for debate when they offer us unwanted military hardware at twice the original cost and funded by a line of credit carrying a commercial rate of interest of 4% per annum?
Thanks to manipulative media institutions and corrupt advisors surrounding him, President Maithripala Sirisena whom I metaphorically referred to as the ‘Captain of the Sri Lankan Ship’ above, is no doubt a man caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. While I am hopeful of his good judgments prevailing, I am also optimistic that he would eventually steer the country to safety and prosperity by fighting off saboteurs trying to hold him to ransom. And if a line of credit is what it takes to pawn the entire population and a future generation, I far rather opt for being invaded by a foreign power having far bigger naval ships than being enslaved by debt!
*The writer is an Independent Social/Political Activist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and through Facebook (Fazl Muhammed Nizar)