An investment fraud is alleged in a project under which the government is making fresh attempts to hand over 62,500 acres of forest reserve and Mahaweli Authority-owned land in Uva-Wellassa for sugarcane cultivation that had earlier been rejected as a failed and non-viable project. During the previous Rajapaksa regime, the plan was made to give the land to a US multinational company through its Singaporean affiliate, but the secretary to the subject ministry had disproved of it. Also, people of Uva-Wellassa, environmentalists and civil society organizations opposed the project.
However, reliable government sources say the New York based CDVCA will now be given the land through Gazelle Ventures of Singapore, as confirmed by cabinet paper MDE/AD/03/CAB)PA/2017. Their local agent is Islandwide Marketing Services Pvt. Ltd. (IMS), with the shares of the project to be distributed as 88 per cent for Gazelle Ventures, 10 pc for IMS and one pc each for Mahaweli Authority and the farmers.
Although claimed to be a major project, Gazelle Ventures is to make a mere 150 million dollar investment on the project. That money will not be brought into the country as foreign exchange, but will be obtained from local banks. The project envisages to produce just 14 pc, or 80,000 metric tons, of the local sugar requirement, and environmentalists warn allotting this vast virgin land for sugarcane cultivation will aggravate the human-elephant conflict and create other serious problems too.
IMS is the same company that mediated unsuccessfully in 2007 to handover land to Britain’s Booker Tate for sugarcane cultivation.The questionable investment for the project is same as the one made during the Rajapaksa regime for the Embilipitiya paper company, where the facility was mortgaged to a local bank to obtain a loan. That project too, did not materialize and only ruins of the factory remain.
Concerned groups call on the government to reconsider the project that that will bring it discredit and pose a threat to national assets.