A walking path in Wattala which was the focus of controversy recently, had been constructed at 10 times more than the current cost, Minister of Tourism, Lands and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga said today.
He said that various individuals with vested interests have been attempting to implicate him in the removal of the walking path along the Wattala-Mabole Kalu Ela left embankment during the past two weeks.
“Unfortunately, the media without verifying facts has been blindly giving coverage to these individuals whose ‘stories’ are far from the truth. As stated previously I wish to reiterate that I have no personal interest in this matter, my involvement is purely to ensure the well-being of the people of Wattala, whom I have been representing in parliament since 1978. As I have consistently maintained the walkway in question has been illegally constructed on private land without the consent of the land owners by the previous government,” he said.
He says the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (LRDC) which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Province Development has affirmed by letter dated 18th of March 2016 addressed to him that the land in question “is not vested with the state.”
It goes on to state that it has no objection to a road being constructed if the “land owners are agreeable.”
“Once I received this information I conveyed it to the legal land owners. The roadway that is to be constructed adjacent to the walkway which is at the center of this controversy is primarily to access a block of land where it has been proposed to construct a housing scheme for families in the area. The roadway will also serve the twin purpose of keeping the canal clean by facilitating the movement of heavy equipment,” he said.
The Minister however said that considering the many requests for the walkway to be retained he has appealed to the land owners to consider allowing the walkway to be reconstructed on their land and to also bear the cost of reconstruction.
“They have graciously agreed to my request and work has now commenced to build a new walkway and access road. These works are expected to be completed by the end of this month. The work is estimated to cost Rs. 8 million including the laying of new paving stones for the walkway,” he said.
Amaratunga said that considering the current cost of construction, which is financed entirely by the land owners, it begs the question as to how the original walkway constructed by the state was said to have cost Rs. 80 million, which is 10 times more than the current cost.
“I would like to ask those protesting today whether tenders were called for the original project using state funds and whether BOQs were prepared. If so I call upon such documents to be made public so that we could reconcile the mammoth difference in cost. I would also like to pose the question as to how state funds amounting to Rs. 80 million were utilized to build a walkway on privately owned land without the expressed permission of the land owners. I would like to direct this question to those alleging that public property has been destroyed,” he said.
The Minister also questioned individuals who have been protesting against the removal of the walkway whether they would allow the state to construct a similar walkway across their lands without their permission. (Colombo Gazette)