Flying High With Public Funds
By Nirmala Kannangara
A stonishing revelations have now come to the fore as to how the previous regime has used Air Force commercial flights on credit facility amounting to several millions of rupees for the air travels of Rajapaksa family members and for few Ministers in the former cabinet during the Presidential election campaign.
Sri Lankan government now owes more than a staggering Rs.30.485 million to Sri Lanka Air Force and questions have been raised as to who is going to foot this bill, whether it will be recovered from those who used the commercial flights or from the country’s rate payer.
These amounts are only for the air travel of MP Namal Rajapaksa, former Housing and Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa, former Environment and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premjayantha, Chief Minister North Western Province Dayasiri Jayasekera, former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Presidential candidate S. Manamendra who extended his support for the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Scientific Affairs Minister Tissa Witharana. Meanwhile the former President and his wife too have used aircraft for the election campaign for which the office of the Presidential Secretariat is to bear the cost.
Commercial flights of Sri Lanka Air Force has been hired on credit facility by the Rajapaksa government mainly for Namal Rajapaksa’s travel from December 1, 2014 to January 8, 2015, Sri Lanka Air Force reveals.
Sri Lanka Air Force undertook 138 journeys from December 1, 2014 up to January 9, 2015 including the two flights that has taken the former first family to Medamulana after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Air Force has provided the aircraft on credit facility and is to lose revenue in the event the outstanding bills are not settled.
According to Sri Lanka Air Force statistics, Hambantota district MP, Namal Rajapaksa has used Air Force commercial flights on 25 occasions from December 1, 2014 up to January 8, 2015 which had cost the tax payer a shocking Rs.15.08 million during the period. The Sunday Leader is in possession of details of air travel undertaken by the Rajapaksas and a few other ministers which show how public money was used for personal use by the first family members and their confidants. According to the detailed report Namal Rajapaksa on December 2, 2014 has travelled from Colombo to Ahungalla in the Air Force commercial flight aircraft B-412.
“In addition, junior Rajapaksa has travelled in aircraft B-412 on December 2, 2014 from Ratmalana to Kegalle, Tangalle, Colombo and Ratmalana. Aircraft number B-412 has taken off from Ratmalana to take Rajapaksa from Colombo and has taken him to Tangalle, Walasmulla, Hambantota and back to Colombo to drop the parliamentarian and has flown back to Ratmalana on December 7, 2014,” the report says.
It further said on December 9, 2014 the aircraft (Y-12) that took Namal Rajapaksa has taken off from Ratmalana and has flown to Mattala, Bandaranaike International Airport and back to Ratmalana. On December 11, 2014 Air Force aircraft (B-412) has come to Colombo from Ratmalana and has taken the Hambantota district MP to Ratnapura and Kandy and had dropped the MP in Colombo and had flew back to Ratmalana hangar.
“On December 12, 2014 the aircraft (B-412) has taken off from Ratmalana to take Namal Rajapaksa from Colombo and has flown to Hambantota, Walasmulla, Hambantota, Kegalle, Bandaranaike International Airport and back to Ratmalana. Neither the government nor Namal Rajapaksa has paid the Sri Lanka Air Force the due money and has flown on pending payments,” Air Force sources said.
According to the Air Force report, MP Rajapaksa had once again travelled from Ratmalana to Anuradhapura, Bandaranaike International Airport and back to Ratmalana on December 14, 2014 in aircraft Y-12. On December 16 and 17, 2014 Namal Rajapaksa had travelled from Ratmalana to Mattala and back in Y-12 aircraft while aircraft B-412 had flown from Ratmalana to take the MP from Colombo to Mannar, Colombo and then to Ratmalana hanger.
On December 21, junior Rajapaksa had gone to Vanniya in Y-12 aircraft and on December 22, had gone to Galgamuwa from Colombo and was back on the same day. The report further states how he flew from Colombo to Tangalle, Kegalle and again to Kegalle and back to Colombo on December 24 in B-412 aircraft.
In order to carry out his election campaign, Namal Rajapaksa had further flown to Ampara from Ratmalana on December 25 in aircraft Y-12 and on December 26 had come to Colombo in aircraft B-412 from Ampara, Katargama to Ratmalana. The following day, Rajapaksa has taken taken off in B-412 aircraft from Ratmalana, Colombo, Deraniyagala and back to Ratmalana. “On January 1, and 2, 2015 Rajapaksa had travelled in aircraft B-412 and B-212 respectively from Ratmalana to Kegalle, Tangalle, Kurunegala and back and on the following day to Kekirawa and Aranaganwila. On January 4, he had taken off from Ratmalana and had gone to Kankasanthurai, Mattala and back to Ratmalana in the aircraft Y-12. On January 5, Rajapaksa had taken off from Ratmalana to Weerawila, Makandura, Colombo, Ratmalana, Kaduwela, Naththandiya and back to Ratmalana in B-412 aircraft while he had gone to Medamulana and Kegalle on January 6 in B-412 aircraft. He had also travelled in Y-12 to Mattala and Anuradhapura on the same day. On January 7, 2015 Rajapaksa had flown to Anuradhapura, Walasmulla and had come back to Ratmalana in Y-12 aircraft, the report further said.
Meanwhile former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa had travelled in air force passenger aircraft on seven occasions on pending payments during the election campaign.
“MP, Basil Rajapaksa has travelled to Kurunegala, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Jaffna, Palai, Wennappuwa, Matale, Medamulana, Kegalle and back to Colombo and Ratmalana on December 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 2014 and on January 9, 2015 in aircrafts B-412, B-412, MI-17, Y-12, B-412, B-412 and B-412 respectively which has cost the country Rs.4.81 million,” the report states.
Former Housing and Construction Minister Wimal Weerawansa too has travelled in Air Force aircraft on ten occasions putting the burden on to the taxpayers. Weerawansa’s air travel has cost the country Rs.5.98 million and has flown to Ampara from Ratmalana in Y-12 aircraft on December 20, 2014 while he had gone on two trips – one to Moneragala, Walasmulla, Buttala, Kegalle and back to Ratmalana and once again from Ratmalana to Kegalle and back to Ratmalana on December 21, 2014 in B-412 and Y-12 aircrafts respectively.
According to the report, Weerawansa had further travelled to Kandy from Colombo on January 1, 2015 in B-412 aircraft and on January 2 has travelled to Kandy, Kantale, Sigiriya and back to Ratmalana in aircraft B-412. The same day he had once again travelled to Hiniduma from Ratmalana and had returned in aircraft Y-12. On January 5 Weerawansa had flown to Weerawila, Matara, Ambalangoda, Matugama and has returned to Ratmalana in MI 17 aircraft to wrap up his election campaign work.
Chief Minister North Western Province Dayasiri Jayasekera too had flown in Y-12 aircraft to Hiniduma from Ratmalana on December 12, 2014 burdening the tax payers Rs.3.9 lakhs. In addition former Environment and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premjayantha had flown on four occasions for election campaign. “Premjayantha has gone to China Bay, Kantale and Valachchanai and had returned to Colombo on aircraft B-412 on December 30, 2014 and to Hiniduma, Ampara and back to Colombo on December 31, 2014 in B-412 aircraft. He had flown to Palali, Jaffna, Vanni, Mannar and back to Colombo in aircraft MI 17 and on January 2, 2015 to Palai and Jaffna and back Ratmalana which has cost the rate payers Rs 2.6 million.
Meanwhile Presidential candidate S. Manamendra who extended his support to the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa too had the luxury to travel in an aircraft in the lap of luxury free of charge. Manamendra had travelled to Ginigathhena from Colombo and was back on January 3, 2015 in B-412 aircraft which cost Rs.7.8 lakhs. Former ministers Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Dinesh Gunawardena too have travelled in MI 17 and Y-12 aircrafts respectively from Colombo to Maho, Kaduruwela and back to Ratmalana and Ratmalana to Hiniduma and back. It has also come to light how B-212 aircraft had flown twice on December 9, 2014 and December 11, 2014 to Kataragama, Galle, Kegalle and back to Ratmalana and Palai to Jaffna with a filming crew. “They were taken to film the development work that has taken place in the country and to capture the crowds that have thronged to meetings addressed by the then President,” an official from the Information Department said.
“In addition to these ministers, Air Force Commercial Flights have been used by the former First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa on ten occasions during this period. For her air travel, although the Presidential Secretariat has made the payments it has still cost the tax payers Rs.2.2 million. Although the former First Lady is not entitled to travel in aircraft from public funds other than accompanying her husband the then President, the authorities concerned has still provided her with aircraft to travel even to Colombo suburbs which is a waste of public money,” sources said.
The Air Force report shows how Shiranthi Rajapaksa had travelled to Maharagama from Ratmalana which is not even ten kilometres in distance on December 12, 2014 in MI 17 aircraft which has cost the country Rs.5.2 lakhs. “To travel a few kilometers which is not more than 10km, the then first lady choose to fly the short distance. Had she travelled on the road with all the backup vehicles the country could have saved more than Rs. 5 lakhs. This is how the former first family spent money for their luxury without considering the downtrodden people who suffer without a proper meal,” sources added.