The Nation reliably learns that the Urban Development Authority (UDA) may have breached a presidential directive and divested a piece of land near the Parliament without official sanction.

The property in question had been taken over by the previous regime. It had been returned to the original owner subject to the caveat that the land be developed, and as such the acquisition had been dropped. However, it had been reacquired in 2013 due to a lack of development on the part of the owner.

After the government changed in January 2015, a presidential directive dated February 25 had effectively forbidden the return of the land to its owner without having first consulting President Maithripala Sirisena. This meant that no transaction involving the land and its return to the owner could go ahead without his looking into the matter.

In a letter dated May 20, 2015 (Board Paper No 58/2015) however, the Board of Management of the Urban Development Authority decided to divest the land. Specifically, the Board approved not only a divesture, but a sale of the land in question to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia “at the Government Chief Valuer’s valuation.” Whether this was done with the president’s consultation has not been stated in the document.

Then, in a gazette notification dated July 2, 2015, the following points have been noted. It has categorically stated below three facts which said “That the owner of the land alleged that he had been approached by the Saudi Embassy to purchase it,” “That following an agreement between the owner and the Saudi Embassy, the UDA has approved the divesting of the land to its original owner, which will facilitate the sale to the Saudi Embassy in order to build a consulate;” and “That the land will be sold to the Saudi Authorities as per the Government Chief Valuer’s Valuation.”

“The Nation” tried to contact officials of the Urban Development Authority to clarify whether the original Presidential directive dated February 25, 2015 still valid and “If so, did the gazette notification and the Board Paper take note of the directive to NOT divest the land without first obtaining the president’s agreement?”

However, despite repeated attempts, officials from the UDA were reluctant to talk, instead directing us to the Chairman’s office. Despite another set of attempts, the Chairman could not be reached, either on his mobile phone number or his office contact number. Meanwhile, the official from the Presidential Secretariat who signed the directive (Presidential Advisor Thilak Ranawiraja) is out of the country, the Secretariat told us.