The Sunday Leader

Ministry Reimburses Fuel Bill To NLDB

  • After The Sunday Leader Exposure…

by Nirmala Kannangara

Minister P. Harrison is in the picture

Following our expose on how the Chairman and Board of Directors of National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) unlawfully settled Rural Economic Development Minister P. Harrison’s fuel bill to the tune of Rs. 1.059 million, it had now come to the fore how the latter’s office had paid back Rs.1.342 million to the former few days after the fraud was highlighted in the newspaper.

It is astonishing how Minister Harrison who speaks against the former regime’s involvement in bribery and corruptions had claimed over one million rupees from National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) for his and his staffs’ travelling cost although this newspaper is in possession of document evidence to show that a sum of Rs. 8, 000 million had been allocated from the 2016 budget for that year.

The board of Directors of National Livestock Development Board (NLDB), overruling the guidelines of the Department of Public Enterprises of the Finance Ministry on utilisation of enterprise resources, took an unlawful board decision on January 31, 2017 to grant covering approval to settle a shocking fuel bill amounting to Rs. 1.059 million, the minister had spent as travelling expenses for the visits to farms between February 26, 2016 and January 13, 2017. In addition the Board of Directors had also approved a monthly fuel allowance of Rs.175, 000 to the minister in contrary to guidelines issued by the Finance Ministry.

NLDB Chairman’s letter to the Ministry, Namal Karunaratne’s letter to the Ministry seeking information under the RTI Act and The cash receipt

Board Minutes of the 482nd meeting of the Board of Directors of the National Livestock Development Board held on Tuesday January 31, 2017 at 11am at Ridiyagama Farm, Ambalantota states as follows:-, “Fuel allocation for Minister and his staff. The Chairman briefed the Board on the contents of the subject board paper. The Board noted that the NLDB has supplied fuel for the vehicles used by the Minister of Rural Economic Affairs and his staff for farm visits and the expenditure incurred in that regard from February 26, 2016 up to January 13, 2017 was Rs. 1, 059,275/ 50”.

“The Board whilst granting covering approval for the aforesaid expenditure, resolved to allocate a sum of Rs.175, 000 per month in respect of the expenditure to be incurred on fuel for the vehicles used by the Minister of Rural Economic Affairs and his staff on farm visits”.

Section 8.3.9 of Department of Public Enterprise guidelines states as follows:- “Public Enterprises are not permitted to incur expenditure or deploy its resources (including human resources) under any circumstances on behalf of the line Ministry or any other government institution”.

 

Ministry Secretary Denies

When this newspaper inquired from Chairman NLDB Prof. H.B. Cyril at the time this issue was first exposed, as to why the Board took a decision to bear the subject minister’s fuel cost violating the Department of Public Enterprise guidelines, the Chairman first said that it was done on the instructions of Minister Harrison and later said that it was the Ministry Secretary that instructed him to settle the bills as the Ministry did not have enough funds. “The Ministry Secretary gave an assurance that the bill will be settled in due course and made a request for to us to bear the minister and his staff’s travelling cost which can be reimbursed. NLDB has already forwarded the bills to the Ministry it will be reimbursed within two weeks,” Prof. Cyril said.

But however, Secretary Ministry of Rural Economic Affairs Renuka Ekanayake refuted the allegations and said that she has never instructed Chairman NLDB to pay the Minister’s fuel bill or to allocate a monthly allowance for the Minister’s fuel.

“At all audit and management committee meetings I have clearly informed all officials including the Chairmen to strictly follow the Department of Public Enterprises guidelines and never to violate them. After taking an unlawful board decision, it is easy for the Chairman NLDB to put the blame on me. Although he has told that this ministry will be reimbursing the fuel bills, we will not do so. There is a separate vote for the Minister and his personal staff and it is from that money the minister and his staff has to utilise the funds not from any department that comes under the minister,” Ekanayake added.

 

Receipt an eyewash

However The Sunday Leader is now in possession of NLDB cash receipt dated June 14, 2017 which states the Rural Economic Development Minister’s Office as the payee. It has now come to light as to how the Rural Economic Development Ministry as well as the NLDB have overlooked the Department of Public Enterprises guidelines and acted against the government financial regulations.

“Until this was raised by your paper, it was from the NLDB funds these payments were made illegally. After it was exposed, the Minister’s office is said to have paid the money back to NLDB. Although there is a cash receipt to show that the Minister’s office settled the bill, we are not aware whether it was settled out of Minister Harrison’s personal funds or from the Ministry allocations. Since we do not have access to go through all these documents, it is up to the government auditors to find out who has settled the bills and whether the said cash receipt is yet another an eye wash to sweep the matter under the carpet,” reliable NLDB sources added.

Meanwhile a higher official from the Department of Public Enterprise said that knowing it is a violation of Government Financial Regulation as there are no provisions for the Ministry to pay the Minister’s fuel bill as the treasury allocates every minister a separate vote for the operational activities.

The sources who wished to remain anonymous further said that it is highly illegal for the ministry to settle the controversial bill out of the ministry vote and added that strict action could be taken against those who have given instructions to release money to settle the bill.

“If the minister has his separate vote for his operational activities what made the NLDB to settle the fuel bill and even to approve a monthly fuel allowance of Rs.175, 000 in contrary to guidelines issued by the Department of Public Enterprises of the Finance Ministry. When there is such an allocation, neither the minister nor the ministry can say that they do not have enough funds. If there is a shortcoming it has to be informed to the treasury but not to the departments under the ministry to allocate allowances,” sources claimed.

The sources further called upon other institutions that come under the Rural Economic Development Ministry to come out and expose whether Minister Harrison had obtained fuel allocation from their respective institutions as well similar to that of NLDB.

“Harrison accuses the politicians in the former Rajapaksa regime for mismanaging public funds and bribery and corruption they were involved, for the past two years many allegations have been leveled against him as well. There are many allegations leveled against him over many deals which are yet in the preliminary stages in the investigation process. After the investigations are over it is Minister Harrison who will have to resign from his ministerial portfolio. Once the government changes these politicians will go home but the ministry and NLDB officials who are public servants will have to answer when an inquiry starts on mismanagement of public funds. The Ministries and all Departments are subjected to government audits and once Auditor General’s Department start their annual audits all these frauds will be unearthed by them,” sources added.

 

Request Under RTI

Meanwhile Convener, All Ceylon Peasant’s Federation, Namal Karunaratne under Right to Information Act No: 12 of 2016 had written to the Information Officer Ministry of Rural Economic Development Ministry dated June 17, 2017 to provide all details pertaining to the fuel fraud.

The letter states as follows:- “This refers to The Sunday Leader article on how, the NLDB had illegally settled the subject minister’s fuel bill amounting to Rs.1.056 million and the Board decision taken thereafter allocating Rs.175, 000 for the minister on fuel every month. Also please submit the vehicle registration numbers the fuel had been issued and the ministry letters that had sent to NLDB giving instructions to pay the minister’s fuel bills, if the ministry had reimbursed the bills copies of them, if the Board of Directors had withdrawn the board decision to pay a monthly allowance of Rs.175, 000 for the minister’s fuel and whether actions had been taken against the NLDB by the Rural Economic Development Ministry for violating financial regulations and if so what”.

Although Additional Secretary (Administration and Finance) Ministry of Rural Economic Development Ministry, Menaka P Abeyratne by letter dated June 30, 2017, to Chairman NLDB had requested to provide information to the request made by Namal Karunaratne, Chairman Prof. H.W. Cyril had only submitted a copy of the cash receipt received from the Ministers office amounting to Rs.1.342 million but nothing else.

All attempts taken to contact NLDB Chairman for a comment failed. Although a message was left with his Secretary seeking a comment, Chairman Prof. H.W. Cyril did not respond till the paper went to press.

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