The Sunday Leader

Enjoying Undue Benefits

  • Former MPs, Ministers, and Deputy Ministers

by Alishya Gunawardene

Nearly four months since the dissolution of the previous parliament and two months since the resignation of the former Cabinet of Ministers, the Parliamentary Members (PMs) and Ministers of the previous regime are still enjoying undue benefits, as they continue to use the government vehicles and residential quarters, and facilities that were given to them by the previous government while they were in office.

A recent Cabinet meeting revealed that of the 621 vehicles that need to be returned, 150 are still missing.

In a Cabinet briefing this March, Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne stated that a former minister was entitled to two vehicles, while a deputy minister was entitled to one official vehicle. However, he stated that some ministers had exceeded the allocations by using approximately 20 vehicles each.

“But we came to know that some of them are using about 20 vehicles.” He said the relevant individuals will be prosecuted strictly, and that President Sirisena had instructed Minister Karu Jayasuriya to submit a comprehensive report on the matter.

Media Minister and Cabinet Spokesman Gayantha Karunathilaka stated last week that the government plans to prosecute each and every politician of the previous regime who does not return to the present government the vehicles that were afforded to them by the government during their term of office. He stated that many of the parliamentarians and ministers of the previous regime are still using the luxury State vehicles that they should have returned at the termination of their office, despite perpetual urges from the government regarding their return.

The government has instructed police to investigate the issues of missing vehicles and to seize State vehicles being used illegally by those who are no longer entitled to them. Raids are expected to commence this coming week. Responding to the queries made by The Sunday Leader, Police Spokesperson ASP Ruwan Gunasekara stated that no arrests have been made yet and that action would only be taken against the ministers and parliamentarians of the past regime only if there is an official complaint lodged by the relevant ministries against them. He stated that after the complaint is made, investigation will be conducted, and the government property will be seized from the relevant people. Furthermore, Minister Karunathilaka had revealed that President Maithripala Sirisena gave away to various State Institutions 126 vehicles from the Presidential Secretariat fleet and had thus saved the Presidential Secretariat Rs. 126 million in fuel cost. Sources reveal the government has frozen the influx of new vehicles being acquired for ministers and public officials – whether it be through purchase, lease or rent – by imposing a ban on new vehicles for the government workers till the end of the year.

In January this year, soon after the presidential elections and the demise of the Rajapaksa regime, the police seized more than 50 unreturned State-owned vehicles of the Presidential Secretariat’s fleet. Amongst these vehicles were bullet-proof limousines, and moreover, 128 vehicles were missing. History certainly seems to be repeating.

“All parliamentarians should have handed over the government facilities soon after the dissolution of the government,” Leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya Udaya Gammanpila told The Sunday Leader. He said that it has always been his practice to return facilities that are no longer entitled to him. He reiterated this by providing examples – in 2009, before announcing his candidacy in the provincial council elections, Gammanpila resigned as Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority and handed over the facilities afforded to him by the organisation. Again in 2014, when the Western Provincial Council was dissolved, government facilities provided to him during his term of office were returned to the government within 24 hours.

“If the facilities are not being returned, the government is duty-bound to deal with it in a very strict manner,” asserted Gammanpila. “Unfortunately,” he stated, “the present government is using these facilities – vehicles, bungalows, security, etc. – as leverage to influence the opposition and to gain their loyalty; that is why the government got so late to remind the politicians of the previous regime to return the vehicles.” Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Champika Ranawaka told The Sunday Leader that his is a new ministry which does not yet have a head appointed to allocate finances to the functions of the ministry. “We are paying the bills out of our own pockets,” he said, “we pay the phone bills, the fuel charges; all personally.” He further stated that his deputy, secretaries and advisors are all entitled to vehicles but have not been given any. “It would be extremely unfair to prosecute us. We are doing government jobs and yet we have no vehicles, no budget, and no funds,” Ranawaka said. He said that his ministry has informed the Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance of their circumstances, and permission has been granted for them to use government facilities until such time that their expenditure is securely covered.

Secretary General of the SLFP Duminda Dissanayake told The Sunday Leader that the government has given the politicians of the previous regime a grace-period, and further stated that the vehicles and facilities will be returned before the deadline expires.

The Sunday Leader spoke to Executive Director of CaFFE Keerthi Tennakoon about this issue, and he stated that continuous pressure has been put on the politicians of the previous regime to return the vehicles – both before and during the parliamentary elections. He said that several institutions such as the Divi Neguma, vocational training institution and the Presidential Secretariat have not been returned their vehicles.

“This is a very serious issue. When the university students gathered in front of the UJC and demonstrated a protest, to take them into custody, the police used the excuse that they are damaging the State property. However, these vehicles, worth millions of rupees, have not been returned and no action has been taken yet. Only the letter writing part has taken place so far. This is a very big issue, and a shame to the very concept of good governance itself.

“Furthermore, we know that the additional secretaries and the senior assistant secretaries are writing letters to them continuously, and are doing nothing beyond the writing. Actually, if an ordinary citizen – or even, for that matter, a government official – did such a thing, then definitely they would have had to face the consequences. But the politicians and their very close friends and relations have taken all these vehicles, so no action is being taken.

“According to our statistics, just after the election, there were 120+ vehicles that were not returned, and currently we do not know the exact number of vehicles, but for sure, at least according to our sources, it should exceed 35. Some of these vehicles, especially vehicles belonging to the Presidential Secretariat, have gone missing for sure and everybody knows it.

“For example, take the vehicle that was found in the BMICH premises. The government institutions claim that the vehicle belongs to them, and that in itself shows the gravity of things. This government’s property had gone missing and nobody knows where they are now. Government institutions themselves are unable to trace their own properties. On the other hand, however, it is the responsibility of these government secretaries and government officials to take necessary action,” asserted Tennakoon.

However, the question whether these vehicles will be returned or whether they will be forcefully taken away remains to be seen.

1 Comment for “Enjoying Undue Benefits”

  1. laksiri

    some of the thinks never fixed. this country also same. look the sirisena bill just to give Sinhalese speech in UN cost SLRS90M.. this is a joke. people have to pay. unless by nature lot of dirty politicians take away from this country .we do not have future.. this is the nation send 1.5m poor people to make dollars from middle east doing modem day selves.

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