Q&A – Is Sri Lanka’s Parliament & Lawyers protecting Citizen’s Land Rights?



Unknown to most Sri Lanka is facing unprecedented interferences most of which when known will be too late to reverse. Every aspect of danger centres on the periphery of land, its ownership and its grabbing legally via statutes being drafted by non-Sri Lankans. These questions and answers from an attorney knowledgeable in electronic land laws and local and foreign land statutes provides readers an understanding of what is at stake and the need to demand that Parliament wakes up to the irregularities taking place and lawyers take a more responsible and pro-active role in land rights.


Why is land important to a sovereign country? Land provides the basis for political organization. There is currently no state without land. Land often constitutes the most important measure of the space where sovereignty is exercised. If the governing statutes are drafted by foreigners and without a land policy lands are alienated and leased out to foreigners, there will be no space to exercise sovereignty.


How many laws enacted during colonial rule continued after independence in 1948? 

Most of the laws continue without any revision. Some of these laws date back to 1864. Serious note has to be made that they date back to 1864. As a result, land fraud and corruption are plausible as there are no laws governing land registries, land contracts etc. only a set of optional rules under the colonial laws which address these. The validity of this was seen recently when the Registrar General released a news item that 50% of lands registered in the Government land registry are fraudulent. This is shocking news.


Did independent Sri Lankan Governments attempt to change the land laws after independence, if not why? 

No Government since independence has encouraged local research. Presently a new administrative process is adopted to allow foreign organisations, economists and foreign lawyers to be allowed to research and revise land laws merely to obtain a higher standard in the foreign Index called the Doing Business Index. [without any interest to safeguard and secure the land rights of owners in the country] We are simply dancing to international tunes without realizing the dangerous ramifications.


Were there attempts by lawyers to change the land laws after independence.

Amendments were introduced to the Conveyancing and registration system mainly to secure and protect land owners and their rights, to  protect the identity of the owners and to protect the deeds and documents that are often reported lost  in the registries. The successive governments have not considered the attempts of the local lawyers to adopt new modern localized laws in place of the colonial ones.


What are the implications of not changing the colonial land laws? 

Serious obstacles are faced by land owners and the chaotic and iniquitous state of the land market in Sri Lanka as a result of the laws that date back to 1864.


How do prosperous nations legislate their lands 

They progress by modernizing the laws and interacting with experts and professors of law of their countries and of other prosperous nations.  Their land laws conform to local conditions and needs, such as community property rights and the protection of resources. What can be done with land or property and its usage is discussed with the people of the country, this is the principle rule they observe.  They also maintain that all laws are strictly observed as the Rule of Law is synonymous with land rights. These are areas Sri Lanka has not ventured into. There is no proper dialogue between Parliament – People – Lawyers/Experts.


How have international agencies exerted pressure upon Sri Lanka’s land laws?  

Before independence the colonial rulers governed our lands. Presently on the basis of the Atlantic Charter the governing system had moved to the UN agencies – Presently we continue with the post war world order created by the Atlantic charter, the FAO, World Bank, Global Land Tool Network [GLTN], International Federation of Surveyors [FIG] and a new organisation promoted by the USA Government called the Millennium Challenge Corporation [MCC] are engaged in our law making while our legislatures and lawyers remain clueless.


The frightening aspect of this was seen when a foreign embassy carried a paid paper advertisement  Example  Advertisement  made by  foreign Embassy for land titling in Sri Lanka. The Bim Saviya re-engineering report is made by a company selected by them to commence re-engineering and  technology being introduced to land registries with foreign law.


What is the effect of long term leases?  

The law requires the leases to be registered and copies of leases to be available in land registries for public inspection. These laws are not observed. The next generation will not be able to determine their rights once the 99 year lease period is  over . –[All leases should be registered under The State Land act 8 of 1947 and the Act 21 of 1998]


How legal is the land privatization special provisions act and the Land Bank Act ? 

They have been drafted without the knowledge of the existing statutes that are introduced recently by another set of foreigners restricting the land rights of owners and without the knowledge of the fact that the country has insecure land registries which do not safeguard the interest of the grantees.


Example the restriction on the  right of grantees  under Bim Saviya – Grantees cannot transfer land to spouses they cannot take loans from banks jointly with spouses, they have no access to court if their lands are taken by forgery or fraud. They cannot subdivide land without expensive procedure. They can obtain compensation from the Government under a statutory insurance scheme if they are affected by land fraud. The grantees will be affected by the personal laws the women will be deprived of their right to nominate their heirs.    


They will be affected by unreliable land registries, Even when introducing the electronic register they failed to introduce the basic laws to protect the registered owners [preserve and archive the identification of owners to protect from forgery]. The grantees will be vulnerable, fraudsters can easily forge their signatures. Already the corruption level has increased, the lands are being blocked out and sold.     


What is the Land Bank Act is a special register to be established to register lands.   

Act 21 of 1998 had already introduced a comprehensive compulsory register which states that it is final and conclusive and does not have any room for another register –A violation of the law given in Act 21 of 1998


Who is drafting the present statutes?

It is strange that the lawyers and the people in the country remain silent when foreign agencies and foreign economists are making changes to our land laws since 1952 [vide Book on Title Insurance written by Dr A.R.B.Amerasinghe the International Bank For Reconstruction and Development [present World Bank] made their first research report about the land ownership of Ceylon.  It was a report termed “Insecurity of Land Title’, required to introduce a foreign law to govern land rights.]


Are the statutes available to the public? No

It is strange that the public and lawyers are brain washed to the extent to be silently accepting the rules—


1] to wait until a bill is gazetted and within 7 days of the date of the gazette to rush to court [when bills are introduced by foreigners]  

2] to accept the provision in the constitution that we cannot contest any of the statutes if they are passed even if they are in violation of the constitution.


How can foreign land grab under numerous investment nomenclatures be stopped if it means the land will be lost for posterity?   

Land statutes should be drafted and considered with local research teams. They should immediately remove all restrictions that does not permit locals to interact and participate in the law making. Follow the prosperous nations where they prohibit foreigners from intervening.    


What is the environmental impact of the land for foreign investments? 

The usage of land rights for example as given in the land privatisation act is to ‘to do anything an owner requires‘ this is not permitted internationally as land does not belong to one generation vide the laws of International Federation of Surveyors and other UN organisations. Land must be kept for future generations with minimum  pollution.


What is the role of the legal fraternity of Sri Lanka in assisting the Citizens uphold the sovereign land rights? 

To immediately to commence legal education to include the modern subjects relating to property law with technology. The country does not have intellectual independence as the legal education system is limited to the colonial statutes both in the University and the Law College. The syllabus needs serious revision to conform to the needs, demands and threats that requires the legal fraternity to have the fundamental knowledge to address any threats on behalf of the Nation & its people. 


Under the guise of development, on account of corruptions within the political system and the lack of knowledge regarding global transnational land grabbing nexus Sri Lanka’s legal fraternity are unable to address the threats legally and as a result the Nation and its Citizens are likely to suffer. The immediate need is to therefore stop foreigners drafting Sri Lanka’s legal statutes, changing Sri Lanka’s land laws and registries but in turn appoint a team of local lawyers & experts to immediately study where such interventions have taken place and where Sri Lanka is likely to find threats to its sovereignty & territorial integrity & immediately reverse these detrimental decisions while also studying all colonial statutes and relooking at ways to change them to suit Sri Lanka and not foreign investors or foreign governments.



Shenali D Waduge

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