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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Is The Military Operating Within Legal Limits?

Questions are being raised about revenue from special projects undertaken by the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Air Force personnel.  Many personnel from the three armed forces are involved in commercial businesses after the war.
 According to the spokespersons of the three armed forces, all revenue goes to welfare funds which in turn are used for the welfare and rehabilitation of their forces’ personnel.

 These ventures include the Eagles’ Golf Links at China Bay and the Marble Beach Air Force Resort, both in Trincomalee and Heli Tours – a commercial flight operator spearheaded by the Air Force, while the Navy operates the Jetliner nautical cruise, a whale watching cruise and the Light House Galley close to the Galle Face Green.
 The Army runs an agricultural farm within the Somawathiya National Park together with the local agents of the US based Dole Food Company – Letsgrow (Pvt) Ltd. and a holiday Resort in Wadduwa. A proposed 20 room hotel project in Palatupana, Kirinda, Yala is under construction while plans have been drawn up for three more hotel projects in Pasikudah and Kalkudah in the Eastern province.
 The question is, have the three armed forces followed guidelines when establishing these institutions?
 When looking at the Light House Galley in Colombo, the answer is ‘No’. Although open to the general public as a restaurant for the past several months, it is yet to obtain a trade license to operate as an eating house.
 Reliable sources from the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) speaking on condition of anonymity told The Sunday Leader that the Light House Galley has neither obtained the required trade license to operate as a restaurant nor allowed Food Inspectors to examine the restaurant’s kitchen.
 “They claim that it is situated in a high security zone (HSZ) and they cannot allow Food Inspectors in. If so why have they opened it to the public?” the CMC sources questioned. If the public were allowed access to the Light House Galley, then Food Inspectors should be allowed to check their standards, they pointed out.
 “We are helpless. This is Navy property and they assume they are above the law,” CMC sources said.
 If the Navy has failed to obtain a trade license to operate the restaurant, the next question is whether they have obtained a liquor license. Navy personnel also have duty-free privileges on alcohol, so is it possible that they are selling duty-free liquor at a higher price in their restaurant?
 Have they registered for VAT and do they pay corporate taxes?
 These are the questions the Navy has to answer. Although the Navy Spokesperson Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya promised to check with the Navy and revert, he failed to provide the necessary details at the time this newspaper went to print.
 However, Commander Warnakulasuriya did say that the revenue obtained from both the Light House Galley and Whale watching tours is remitted to the special Navy welfare project fund.
 “All this money is used for the housing projects of Navy personnel and also for the families of those Naval officers who sacrificed their lives in the war,” said Commander Warnakulasuriya.
 According to him the revenue obtained from the Jetliner cruise goes into government coffers while service charges come towards the Navy welfare fund.
 The money to pay the sailors’ salaries comes out of the Ministry of Defence budget, the Navy spokesman revealed.
 Although profits from the whale watching tours go to the welfare fund, the spokesman did not reveal who footed the bill to maintain the cruiseship ‘Princess of Lanka’ which is used for the tour. In addition it remains unanswered whether the Navy pays corporate taxes and VAT for the tours, since they are a profitable venture, though the Warnakulasuriya said all finances were overseen by Navy internal auditors.
 Meanwhile Air Force Spokesperson Group Captain Roshan Biyanwila said that the Eagle Golf Links and Marble Beach Air Force Resort were non-public recreation and hospitality ventures respectively, both fully owned by the Air Force. He added that the projects were funded by the Air Force Command Welfare Fund. The revenue from these ventures are used for the rehabilitation of Air Force personnel injured in the battlefield, as well as dependents of those personnel who had passed away, Group Captain Biyanwala said.
 However, he added that it was the government that ran Heli Tours, while the Air Force only provided skilled pilots, and as such the income generated from the commercial flights went to Government coffers.
 When asked who owns the properties of the Marble Beach Air Force resort and the Eagles’ Golf Links, Biyanwila said that the beach resort is on Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) land but the Golf Links is located on Air Force-owned land.
 Biyanwila explained that the SLPA had abandoned the land in question during the height of the war, and it had been later occupied by the Air Force. After the war, it was decided to start a recreation centre to generate money for the welfare of injured personnel and the dependents of those who had died in the war. The Air Force is now in the process of transferring ownership of the land from the SLPA he said.
 When asked whether the resort and golf club are VAT registered and whether they pay corporate taxes, Biyanwila said that they always abided by government regulations and had not violated them. He added that Air Force auditors were in place for the Navy enterprises; while Heli Tour’s finances were audited by the Auditor General’s department.
 All attempts to contact Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority H. M. C. Nimalsiri to find out the name of the license holder operating Heli Tours (Pvt) Ltd.proved unsuccessful.
 Meanwhile Army Spokesperson Brig. H. A. Nihal Hapuarachchi said that the income generated from the agricultural farm in Somawathiya goes to the army welfare fund, once again to provide funds for dependents’ of army personnel as well as for recreation facilities for the injured personnel.
 When asked as to why they operate this project within the Somawathiya National Park destroying fauna and flora, the army spokesperson said the farm is not situated inside the Park but in the buffer zone.
 Hapuarachchi said that the land was once owned by the NLDB, where they ran two farms before the war. When the Army gained control of the Eastern province in 2007, this land was used as a rehabilitation camp for former women LTTE cadres. After the war, the land was given to the Defence Ministry through a gazette notification, he added, though he could not provide any further detail about the gazette notification.
 According to Brig. Hapuarachchi, 5,000 acres are to be developed while banana has been cultivated on 1,000 acres.
 The army has not given the agricultural farm land to LetsGrow (Pvt) Ltd. Instead, the company lent their expertise in terms of cultivation, Hapuarachchi said.
 When asked whether LetsGrow has funded this project, Brig. Hapuarachchi said that other than paying for the workers, the SLA has not sought any financial support from this company.
 However when asked as to whether the Army has obtained the necessary approval from all relevant government agencies since this is more than a 50 acre development project, the army spokesperson said that he knew nothing more on the matter, and any further information had to be obtained from the Defence Ministry.
 However Hapuarachchi also failed to say whether the Army maintains a VAT file and paid corporate taxes.
 The three spokespersons however said that there were no restrictions for the Forces to engage in profitable businesses.
 Although they claimed that all income goes to the respective welfare funds, it is a known secret that the Defence Ministry still asks the public for funds to build houses for the heroic soldiers.
 What actually happens to the revenue these Forces earn from these profitable ventures and who benefits  are the million dollar questions.
By Nirmala Kannangara


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