The official residence of the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in London is up for grabs once again despite a decision taken by former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar not to dispose of it in exchange for another -- his decision being overturned by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mr. Kadirgamar`s successor Anura Bandaranaike shortly after his death, and shortly before the preisential election, The Sunday Times learns.
When the late minister was sent a proposal by the London mission suggesting that the property situated at No. 35, The Avenue in London`s plush diplomatic enclave at St. John`s Wood area be exchanged for another property situated down the same road, the late Mr. Kadirgamar had despatched a team of three senior officials to check out the proposal.
The officials were W.S. Molligoda, Director, Buildings Department, I.A. Wimaladasa, Deputy Director Public Finance, Ministry of Finance and W.A. Wijayaratne, Director General (Administration) of the Foreign Ministry. The three officials were asked to study different aspects of the proposal, the feasibility of the exchange, including the cost-benefit factor, the prevailing real estate values in London and the structure of the building to be exchanged for.
After careful scrutiny of the proposal which included an inspection of the building, the officials had decided unanimously that the proposal was not a fair-exchange, and was to detriment of the government.
The officials came back to Colombo and had reported to the Minister stating their objections to the proposal. They had stated that the new property was lesser in extent, and that the foundation of the other house was older than the residence presently owned by the Sri Lanka government. They had also pointed out that the exchange was between a bungalow and an apartment.
Minister Kadirgamar had accepted the report of the three officials and turned down the proposal submitted by the London mission.
He then instructed his Ministry to provide funds for repair work to be conducted to the building at No. 35, The Avenue, the major repair work being the plumbing. The London mission had accordingly submitted estimates to the Ministry shortly before Minister Kadirgamar`s assassination on August 12 this year, and the monies had been ear-marked for release.
Shortly after the Minister`s assassination, however, the same proposal had re-surfaced with President Kumaratunga who had despatched a different team of officials, headed by Daya Liyanage, who was at the Treasury in charge of National Procurements. None of these officials was a technical person competent to assess the condition of a building, The Sunday Times learns.
Officials of the Foreign Ministry and the Government Buildings Department were specifically kept out of the second team, but reports from London indicate that a private consultancy firm in the UK was retained for the purpose.
That second team sent by President Kumaratunga then approved the original proposal for the exchange of No. 35, The Avenue with the apartment down the same road. Anura Bandaranaike was the Foreign Minister at the time. He too has given his consent for the exchange.
The entire exercise is shrouded in mystery and the Foreign Ministry in Colombo is unable to state whether the exchange has, in fact, now taken place.