victims - not moved by
By Amantha Perera
After six months there was a hint of a
smile on the faces of V. T. Piyasena and Nanda Gamage of Habaraduwa
proves himself foreign
victims - not moved by
litany of complaints at Peraliya and Children at the
By Amantha Perera
After six months there was a hint of a
smile on the faces of V. T. Piyasena and Nanda Gamage of
Habaraduwa last week.
For more than 200 days since the
December 26 tsunami swept their houses away, the two have been
left to live in a half-tent-half-house.
From outside it looks like a tent which
has been pitched in front of a high wall. Inside it looks like
an over-heated igloo trapping heat by the minute. "No
problems now, we are building," Piyasena said last week,
pointing at the concrete pillars that were going up behind the
Just few yards away the lazy waves were
lapping the shore. Piyasena found himself in a terrible
predicament after the tsunami. His house was located inside
the buffer zone and he could not get any reconstruction
commenced due to a government ruling which barred any new
constructions inside the zone.
"We have waited long enough, we
can't wait any more," his wife Gamage joined in. The house is
being reconstructed with the financial support of a foreigner known
to a relative.
Are they worried about the buffer zone?
"Look around, everyone is
building, it is either a guesthouse or a tourist spot, but really
they are houses," she said alluding to the green light the
government gave businesses, which loop-hole is now being used by
ordinary civilians to construct houses. Down the southern coast its
open building season, on closer inspection.
"If you wait around for
governments to help, you will be dead by now," Priyantha
Gunesekera said, who is several miles south in Hadiwatte, while
repairing his roof.
Gunesekera runs a small kiosk that is
also his house right next to the beach, and sees no option but to
remain where the waves lashed his family with a small kid and a
"This is where I do business, I
cannot go anywhere else," he told The Sunday Leader. It
also lies close to the beach. The buffer zone does not make any
difference to him, he says.
The same is true of Unawatuna where the
zone is not having any effect on anybody. Constructions which began
after the tsunami are complete and newly painted houses dot the
As far as the government's buffer zone
ruling is concerned, it is still on. "It remains in place to
the best of our knowledge, and we eagerly await the results of the
Presidential Commission which is studying the problems now. As we
have said, we hope the approach will be flexible and humane,"
World Bank Country Head Peter Harrold told The Sunday Leader.
UN Special Envoy
For several months the government
remained unmoved on the buffer zone despite protests by aid workers
from the time it was announced. First signs of change came in late
May when former US President and UN Special Tsunami Envoy, Bill
Clinton visited the devastated Kalmunai.
He returned to Colombo and said the
government needed to be more flexible on the buffer zone ruling. The
next week, TAFREN
Head, Mano Tittawela said the government had appointed a committee
to look into it. In the meantime the likes of Piyasena and
Gunesekera have run out of patience.
One of the main reasons for the law
abiding citizens to thump their nose at the government has been the
feeling of being left-out. Decisions are made hundreds of miles away
in Colombo and billions pledged thereafter for fancy projects that
appear on the drawing board. Sadly most of the refugees have seen
very little of the projects being implemented. "Where, show me
where the houses are?" R. Ariyasena languishing at the CGR
Watte refugee camp in Galle said. "We have enough toilets and
bathrooms, if that is good infrastructure, well we are OK. That is
because some families have moved out."
He said that for the seven months since
the tsunami, the Rs. 5,000 monthly allowance had been paid twice or
thrice. There are more payments outstanding than what the refugees
have received. Payments have been delayed due to alleged mishandling
of funds at government agent level and allegations of corruption -
people's names on the recipient lists.
The weekly allowance scheme of Rs. 375
which is made up of rations and money is dangerously close to being
wrapped up. It was put in place for six months. Harrold concurred
that poor consultation has plagued the reconstruction effort.
"In the process of developing the needs assessment, we
identified a number of 'guiding principles', which have been adopted
by all concerned.
"One of the key principles was
that of consultation, in order to keep those who suffered at the
centre of focus. This has not always happened, with a tendency
towards central planning. For example, house reconstruction in a
certain area may have its builder, land allocated, and services
being targeted. But no one has spoken to the potential inhabitants
about their preferences and their involvement. So this remains an
area for improvement and one that we sense is moving - albeit slowly
- in the right direction."
The speed at which the change is taking
place is not fast enough given the gravity of the problem. World
Bank statistics suggest that out of the 87,000 houses partially or
completely destroyed, 55,000 are inside the buffer zone. TAFREN
obviously felt no need to clear the air on the buffer zone ruling
two weeks ago when it went on an advertising binge, running
three-page ads in weekend newspapers at over Rs. 100,000 per page.
There was no information whether the zone was off or on, but there
was detailed information on Tittawela's interviews with the
international media. NBC's Ann Currie would be knowing what he
thinks, but most of the poor victims living in tents were clueless
about the reconstruction work.
From the start the buffer zone
threatened ground reality. In Kalmunai, the nearest available land
was the marshes.
In places like Galle authorities have
sometimes ventured 12 km inland (see box story) to allocate land for
those living along the buffer zone. Even when land was found, there
has been resistance from the beneficiaries to relocate. Business
people indicated from the beginning that buffer zone or otherwise
they were staying put wherever they were.
The fishing community which was
hardest-hit has also been rebelling to move out. Of the 110 families
which were allocated land and houses outside the zone in Peraliya,
about 60 have indicated that they did not want to move out.
Just before the Peraliya train tragedy site, a huge cutout
has been erected by the victims.
"The first prey of the tsunami
tidal wave was the 100 metre dwellers. They are deprived of all the
facilities. Is this justice, is it right or wrong, the answer should
be live or die. Authorities please tell us what does this
They might as well pose these questions
to Ann Currie -
she might know.
houses at Walahanduwa
Walahanduwa is 12 kms from the nearest
tsunami refugee camp located at CGR Watte in Galle. Reaching
the new land set aside for the people whose houses were
destroyed within the 100 metre buffer zone takes a long time.
Located on a hillock within a
government owned rubber plantation, rows of wooden houses
appear from the undergrowth suddenly.
Seva Lanka Foundation is setting up 150
transitional houses at Walahanduwa with the intention of
turning the site into a new township eventually. "That is
the plan," said the official at the site. So far 102
houses are occupied. "This is the place where we could
find government land, and hence the reason to move so
far," he added.Life is not easy in these camps. There is
only one generator which provides electricity for 26 families
for only two and a half hours in the night.
The camp expects an additional generator soon.
Bathing and toilet facilities are
located in rows just like in the camps with numbers painted on
the doors indicating the right to use.Building costs are
soaring. A foot of Albysia wood which cost Rs. 2 before the
tsunami has gone up in prices to Rs. 26. The same prices would
be prevailing when the permanent reconstruction work gets
underway. The government says more than 40,000 transitional
houses have been completed islandwide, but it estimates that
20 percent do not meet minimum standards.
TAFREN said last week that it expected
the construction of 25,000 permanent houses to commence by
Prema Galappaththi moved to the
Walahanduwa camp in late May. "It is much better, while
living in the tents we were sickly," she said. She could
feel happy with her new home but her husband is not there to
share with her.A fisherman by profession, staying at
Walahanduwa she said was too cumbersome for him. He remains in
Galle town closer to the harbour. "The boat leaves at 2
p.m. and will return at 2 a.m. He could not travel from here,
so he stays there," she said. Public transport is not
available at odd hours and a three wheeler ride to Galle could
cost anything from Rs. 200 upwards.
Her neighbours are faced with a similar
situation - the women have occupied the houses. But the
children and the men remain scattered all over Galle due to
work or studies.Thirty families still live in tents provided
by an Italian organisation at CGR Watte in Galle and most of
them don't want to go to Walahanduwa. "We will have to
find new jobs if we go there," said R. Ariyasena.
Seva Lanka officials said that some
families did not accept the houses and they had to return the
keys to the District Secretariat. The organisation is building
a total of 1,500 temporary houses for the tsunami victims
having plans to convert them into permanent houses.
However, land is an issue, the closest
available sites are at least 2 km from the coast.Developing
areas like Walahanduwa will take a Herculean effort. It would
be equal to developing a new town with schools, hospitals and
There is no pipe borne water available
and the drainage and the sewage system for at least 150
families will have a severe impact on the local
in building tsunami houses
By Shezna Shums
Several negative aspects have been
identified in the reconstruction of tsunami affected houses -
many of these drawbacks are predicted as disasters in the
future, if not rectified immediately.
Problems relating to construction of
houses, infrastructure as well as the implementation of the
buffer zone have been identified by the Sri Lanka Institute of
The Sri Lanka Institute of Architects
says that although many housing projects are initiated by
donor agencies, professional input has not gone into the
housing design or planning. The lapse could lead to problems
in the future. The institute has made a list of guidelines
that have to be met by any agencies building houses for the
The institute also stated that the
rebuilding effort is not taking place as quickly, saying that
it is a massive task.
Architects however said that the
rebuilding effort is still at most times bogged down.
SLIA, President, Rukshan Widyalankara
said that traditionally Sri Lankans are used to living in
housing clusters of 25 to 30 houses.
"We have not lived in such large
housing projects in the past. We have always been living in
what is called the neighbourhood or cluster developments,
ranging from about 25 to 30 houses - the neighbourhood is
community based, where community space is important."
Many of the new housing projects have at least 100 houses
being constructed and the number increases to 200, 300 or
"In one of the places in the east
coast, 1,800 houses are being planned, and in the Sri Lankan
tradition such housing complexes of this magnitude were not
heard of," Widyalankara said.
SLIA is aware of this issue, but not
all NGO or donor housing projects are monitored by this
institute. Another huge problem facing the reconstruction of
houses is the shortage of building materials and labour.
"There is a problem with the availability of materials
specially in the east coast where most of the materials come
from the uncleared areas of the north and as a result the cost
of materials have become very high," the SLIA President
Projects need to be properly
coordinated according to the experts with attention given to
infrastructure. "The house is not the only thing which
matters. Things such as road works, drains, sewerage systems
are very important," Widyalankara added.
In most instances the donors are not
development - the government is in charge of this aspect. At
Walahanduwa in Galle where 150 families are to be resettled,
the infrastructure remains at a bare minimum. "If the
infrastructure part is not planned during the initial stages,
you will find that the houses will get flooded during rains
and waste flows into the nearby rivers or lakes,"
Widyalankara said. The architect feels that the buffer zone
was taking valuable land from the coastal areas.
"So the density of the rest of the
areas will have to be increased. This is something the UDA is
looking at and still nothing has been done," the SLIA
said. In effect what was a four-storied building outside the
zone would need to be six with zoning requirements. "The
balance inland areas will have to be compensated for the loss
of density in the buffer zones," Widyalankara said.
Galle Road is also one of the country's
main arteries and is situated along the southern coast, with
the buffer zone land space that is already crowded will get
even more crowded.
Meanwhile, the institute also points
out that there is already an act, the Coast Conservation Act
which oversees the development in the costal areas.
"Authorities have not been able to implement this act
properly," highlighted the institute.
"Regarding the buffer zone or how
to handle the tsunami, there are other ways like the Japanese
experiences with the tsunamis and we have to give priority to
those, on how they protect buildings and people with warning
systems, and insurance," SLIA added.
Damning new evidence has surfaced which
shows Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse not only contravened a
specific cabinet decision when opening a private account and
siphoning off over Rs. 82 million of public tsunami funds, but also
shrouded the whole exercise in a thick mantle of secrecy by not even
giving an address for the monthly bank statement to be forwarded.
The minutes of the cabinet meeting of
February 10 revealed that cabinet, having taken into consideration
the Prime Minister's cabinet note, had unanimously agreed that all
tsunami funds received both locally and internationally should be
deposited in the official Disaster Relief Fund established at the
Central Bank. This was in keeping with the circular issued by the
President through Secretary W.J.S. Karunaratne on December 29, 2004
that no separate account for tsunami funds was to be established.
The cabinet decision rejecting the
Prime Minister's cabinet note on the issue had been communicated in
writing to the Prime Minister's Secretary, Lalith Weeratunge for
action, by Cabinet Secretary, D. Wijesinghe and Additional
Secretary, P. Hapangama on February 17. Copies were also sent to the
President's Secretary, Finance and Planning Ministry Secretary and
to the Auditor General.
The extent of Prime Minister
Rajapakse's stealth in opening the private account was such that he
and a band of his select officials refused to provide the bank with
an account address contrary to accepted banking regulations. The
bank could not send statements without an address. However, the
Prime Ministerial delegation assured the bank they would personally
call over at the bank to collect monthly statements instead.
Furthermore, the bank did not ask for
or check whether the four private individuals put forward as
signatories to the account were in fact authorised to do so
according to a trust document or articles of association if it were
The Standard Chartered Bank too has
been remiss in its dealings on this account which was opened with no
proper documentation of either a certificate of incorporation of a
company, a trust deed or any other document. In fact Senior Advisor
to the Prime Minister and Desk Officer, 'Helping Hambantota' Fund,
Willie Gamage himself admitted to The Sunday Leader the programme
was a temporary fund management programme.
But even these precautions were not
enough for the over cautious Prime Minister. A veneer of legitimacy
for public and political consumption was necessary. He, together
with Weeratunge, quickly gathered up a random list of names from the
Prime Minister's Office register of tsunami relief donors and
published the list in some newspapers on February 2. The donors on
this list, he claimed, specifically requested that their monies
should go to develop Hambantota only.
He then formulated a cabinet note on
the same date giving no details of the private account opened at the
Standard Chartered Bank but stated in general terms that on the
request of the donors to use the donations for Hambantota, he had
deposited those monies in a Hambantota Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund.
The Prime Minister's cabinet note was reminiscent in its reticence
only of the kind shown by a shy young curate towards the village
But the cabinet of ministers would have
none of it. Having considered the spartan details of the Prime
Minister's cabinet note dated February 2, cabinet unanimously
decided that contrary to the contents of the Prime Minister's note,
all tsunami funds must go to the official National Disaster Relief
Fund maintained at the Central Bank.
The private account, bearing A/C No.
011 237322 01, was opened by the Prime Minister on January 11 titled
'Helping Hambantota' at the Standard Chartered Bank Rajagiriya and
the signatories to this private account included Prime Minister
Mahinda Rajapakse's brother Chamal Rajapakse, his long time
confidant, Prof. Epasinghe and another close associate, Mahinda
The influence Rajapakse had brought to
bear on the bank was such that the bank, contravening all banking
regulations and usual practice, had on January 12 even issued a
cheque book (01 3951-4000) for the account without a cent being
deposited therein. Bank statements in the possession of The Sunday
Leader show a debit of Rs. 300 on January 12 for the cheque book
with no deposit made on January 11, when the account was opened.
Having opened this private account on
January 11, cash deposits (see full details elsewhere on this page)
were made on the next day for a sum Rs. 1 million. Again on the same
day cheque No. 153592 for a sum of Rs. 3 million from the Bank of
Ceylon parliament complex was deposited. Likewise on January 20 CCEY/KIA
Motors Corporation made another deposit for Rs. 8,777,549. And on
January 27, another cheque (No. 982920) deposit was made for Rs.
5,872, 200. On February 3, Rs. 82,958,247.70 was deposited from the
Prime Minister's Punarjeewana Fund.
In total upto February 4, nine deposits
were made totaling over Rs. 105 million and six withdrawals were
made totalling over Rs. 800,000 which included the issue of a cheque
bearing No. 0000013951 on January 18, for the sum of Rs. 300,000 and
cheque No. 13957 for Rs. 256, 862.50. By February 3, the balance of
the private account was Rs. 101,821,199.90.
On the very day cabinet decided to
reject the contents of Rajapakse's cabinet note regarding the
maintenance of separate accounts for tsunami funds, that is on
February 10, a Bank of Ceylon cheque bearing no. 715722 for a sum of
Rs. 100,000 was deposited. On February 17 when the cabinet decision
was communicated to the Prime Minister's Secretary for necessary
action, a cheque No. 197418 for the sum of Rs. 700,000 was deposited
into the private account. As at the end of March 11 the balance of
this private account was Rs. 106,059,152.59. As at June 14 the
closing balance was Rs. 103,094.966.48.
However, coincidentally, after The
Sunday Leader started making inquiries during the last week of June
regarding the siphoning off of tsunami funds into a private account,
on July 1, a transfer of the Rs. 82,958,250 (just Rs. 2.30 more than
the sum the Prime Minister siphoned off from the PM's Punarjeewana
Fund) was made into a new call deposit account bearing No.
Therefore, after this outward
remittance as at July 1, the balance of the 'Helping Hambantota'
account remained at Rs. 19,125,056.97. (See box for details)
This is vital. Even after the cabinet
gave specific directions that all tsunami monies should be deposited
in the Central Bank National Disaster Fund, the Prime Minister
continued to deposit tsunami money into this account. Mind you, the
President herself by a circular had already banned any separate
accounts being opened for tsunami donations as far back as December
If the Prime Minister was bonafides in
presenting his cabinet note he would have heeded the unanimous
decision of the cabinet of ministers in rejecting it. Why did he
continue to maintain this account in stealth? On the contrary the
Prime Minister of this country, who is supposed to command the
confidence of the people, continues to maintain the illegal account
in a robust and vigorous way. As if in defiance even on March 3, an
international transfer, No. 87200503020159, was made for a sum of Rs.
9,917,520.00 by SCBL/HUAWEI Technology.
Consider. On May 31, the account
received a cheque bearing No. 107292 for
a sum of Rs. 1 million from the Pan Asia Bank, Bambalapitiya.
The account from which this cheque was drawn is maintained by one
Tania Pollonawita of 593, 11/1 Gemunu Mawatha, Subathipura,
Battaramulla. The account is called the Sri Lanka Tsunami Relief
Fund of which Pollonawita is the sole signatory.
The question is this. Who donated this
money to Tania Pollonawita? Do the donors know how this money is
being used? Where are the checks and balances that necessarily come
with government regulated funds. Where, pray, is the transparency?
It ill becomes the Prime Minister of
this country to play such foul games with monies that could be
better used for the tsunami victims. Victims who still suffer
despite protestations by both the government and by NGOs that relief
and permanent solutions are being found.
Meanwhile, the President herself has
been deafeningly silent on this issue. As the Head of State, it is
her bounden duty to hold a full and fair inquiry into this matter.
and outs of the 'Helping Hambantota' account
Money movements at the private account
'Helping Hambantota' a/c No.01 -237322-01January
An Opening Balance Of Rs. 0; On 12/01/2005
For Chq Bk Chg 013951-4000 A Debit Of Rs. 300; On
A Cash Deposit
Of Rs. 1,000,000; On 12/01/2005 By Cheque No. 153592
Boc Parliamentary Com Another Deposit Of Rs.3,000,000; On
13/01/2005 By Cheque No. 006410 HSBC Pelawatte A Deposit Of
Rs.470,916; On 17/01/2005 By Cheque No. 064104comm Dambulla A
Deposit Of Rs.100,000; On 18/01/2005 By Cheque No: 000013952 A
Withdrawal Of Rs. 50,000; On 18/01/2005 By Cheque No:
000013951 Another Withdrawal Of Rs.300,000; 18/01/2005 A Cash
Deposit Of Rs. 50,000; On 20/01/2005
By Cheque No.855851 Pb Matugama A Deposit Of Rs.
400,000; On 20/01/2005 By It87200501130172 Ccey/Kia Motors
another large Deposit Of Rs. 8,777,549; On 27/01/2005
By Cheque No. 982920 Comm Battaramulla A Deposit Of Rs.
5,872,200; On 31/01/2005 By Cheque No: 0000013955 A Withdrawal
Of Rs. 200,000.
On 01/02/2005 A Debit Tax Of Rs.550.30;
On 02/02/2005 By Cheque No: 000013957 A Withdrawal Of Rs.
256,862.50; On 03/02/2005 By Cheque No. 179128 Pb Union Place
A Deposit Of Rs. 82,958,247.70; As At 03/02/2005 The Closing
Rs.101,821,199.90; On 10/02/2005
by cheque No. 715722 Boc Kollupitiya
a deposit of Rs.100,000; On 11/02/2005 by Inward Cheque
N0.0000013959 Presenting Bank 7056-003 a debit of 129,500; On
11/02/2005 by cheque No. 629350 Boc Parliamentary Com a
Rs.50,000; On 16/02/2005 by Inward Cheque N0.0000013960
Presenting Bank No.7278-001 a debit of Rs.16,200; On
17/02/2005 by cheque No. 629504 Boc Parliamentary Com a
deposit of Rs. 48000; On 17/02/2005 by cheque No. 197418 NDB
Head Office Corp a deposit of Rs. 700,000.
On 01/03/2005 a Debit Tax
of Rs. 5.636 31; On 02/03/2005 by Out Comm 590052 a
debit of Rs.50; On 02/03/2005 by IT87200503020159ITC a debit
of Rs. 500;On 02/03/2005 by cheque No. 590052 PB Walasmulla a
deposit of Rs. 40,000; On 02/03/2005 a Cash Deposit
of Rs. 136,000; On 02/03/2005 by IT87200503020159 Scbl/Huawei
Technologies a large deposit of Rs. 9,917,520; On 07/03/2005
by Cheque No. 0000013963 a debit of Rs. 1,165,000; On
09/03/2005 by Inward Cheque N0 0000013962 Presenting Bank
7287-086 a debit of Rs. 130,500; On 11/03/2005 by Inward
Cheque No 0000013965 Presenting Bank 7056-003 a debit of
Rs.22,981; On 11/03/2005 by Inward Cheque No. 0000013966
Presenting Bank 7287-014 a debit of Rs. 49,450.00; On
11/03/2005 An Inward Cheque N0.0000013964 Presenting Bank
7056-003 a Debit Of Rs. 136,850; On 21/03/2005 By Cheque
N0:0000013968 A Debit Of
Rs. 3,031,433; On 22/03/2005
An Inward Cheque N0.0000013967 Presenting Bank 7135-067
Debit Of Rs.
On 01/04/2005 A Debit Tax Of Rs.
5,536.76; On 06/04/2005 By Cheque No. 306159 Seyl Negombo a
Deposit Of Rs.100,000; On 06/04/2005 By Cheque
No.350857 Pb Head Quarters Bran Another Deposit Of Rs.
1,212,025.55; On 11/04/2005 By Cheque No. 844499 Seyl Mount
Lavinia A Deposit Of Rs. 250,000; On 27/04/2005 By C0326520 A
Debit Of Rs. 2,000,000; On 29/04/2005 By Inward Cheque
N0.000001397 Presenting Bank 7135-097 A Debit Of Rs.
10,177.50; On 29/04/2005 By Cheque N0:0000013972
Another Debit Of Rs.48,227.
On 03/05/2005 A Debit Tax Of Rs.
2,058.40; On 10/05/2005 By C0326548
Another Withdrawal Of Rs. 1,500,000; On 13/05/2005
Ro872005050500130002 Roc A Debit Of Rs.400; On 13/05/2005 By
OB8720050505001 349753CAD25000.000DNO, a
Deposit of Rs. 1,958,022.50; On 20/05/2005 by
Debit Of Rs. 750; As At 20/05/2005 The Balance Was Rs.
101,843,417.98; On 20/05/2005 A Payment Of Rs. 1.5 Million Has
Been Made By
OT87200505200047 To W.W.Gamage Who Is The Desk Officer
Of The Helping Hambantota Fund; On 20/05/2005
By C/O 326548 A Charges Refund
Of Rs. 350; On 20/05/2005
By C/O 326548 Cancelled A Credit Of
Rs.1,500,000; On 31/05/2005
By Cheque No.773302 Comm Foreign Branch Was Deposited
Rs. 150,000; On 31/05/2005 By Cheque No. 563874 Hnb
Maradagahamula A Deposit Of Rs. 200,000; On 31/05/2005 By
Cheque No. 107292 Pan-Asia Bambalapitiya A Deposit Of Rs.
On 01/06/2005 A Debit Tax Of
Rs. 3001.50 Debited; On 07/06/2005 An Inward Cheque No.
0000013974 Presenting Bank 7287-050 Deposit Of
Rs. 150,000; On 14/06/2005 A Cash Deposit Of
Rs. 54,200; On 30/06/2005 an Inward Cheque No.
0000013976 Presenting Bank 7056-020 30/06/2005 Of
On 01/07/2005 A Debit Tax
350.73; On 01/07/2005 An Inward Cheque No. 0000013975
Presenting Bank 7135-097 Debit of Rs 810,575; On 01/07/2005
A Transfer To A New Call Deposit Account No.
02-1237322-01- New A/C o The Sum Of Rs.82,958,250; As At
01/07/2005 The Total Balance as at 01/07/2005 is Rs.
proves himself foreign
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
It has now transpired that Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar has deliberately concealed
material facts pertaining to his travels abroad and misled
parliament in answering an oral query in the house a fortnight
In doing so, he has even made reference
to a non-existing Ministry circular claiming that the
Minister's spouse's travel expenses were covered by the
provisions of the said circular.
Minister Kadirgamar alone, within 14
months, has spent over Rs. 35 million on his official travels.
What is not known is the money spent on his travelling
companions - generally a group of three to four persons
including his wife Sugandhi Kadirgamar, who does not enjoy
official status though regularly included in official
delegations with her expenses borne by the state.
When a reply was insisted upon by MPs
Ravi Karunanayake and T. Maheswaran, Government Chief Whip,
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle intervened and declared that a detailed
answer has been provided and if unsatisfied, to raise another
question on a future date.
The Minister's explanation to
parliament was that his spouse was covered by some circular
issued by the Ministry, a matter that is being hotly contested
at present. When questioned, Karunanayake told The Sunday
Leader he contacted Ministry Secretary, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara
to verify whether such a circular is in existence, only to be
informed that there was none according to his knowledge.
"Palihakkara specifically told me
he was unaware of the existence of such a circular. If that is
so, then we have all been misled by the Minister,"
Karunanayake alleged. The Sunday Leader's several attempts to
speak to the Secretary proved futile.
Meanwhile, sources from the Hansard
Department confirmed that following the heated debate generated by
the Minister and his wife's travels, Sugandhi Kadirgamar has been
urgently requesting the complete tabled answer provided by the
Minister from the department
The final draft of the July 7
parliamentary proceedings have gone to the Government Printer and is
expected to be available in Hansard form, the official record of
parliament by tomorrow (18).
According to the tabled reply, the
Minister has undertaken only 22 trips, though if the countries
visited are taken into account, he has been to 26 foreign
Silent on vital issue
The tabled answer, though explanatory
with regard to the reasons for travelling, the dignitaries met and
the benefits achieved, was strangely silent when it came to the
issue of the Minister's companions on all those trips despite
section (b) (i) of the question requesting specific details (see
box). And Kadirgamar was extremely silent on the question of
expenditure incurred by each of his travelling companions though
borne by the Sri Lankan state.
What is stunning about the entire
episode is that a minister of such senior rank has wilfully misled
the House by providing economical information. The Standing Orders
of parliament are also clear on the virtue of not misleading the
House by providing false information.
"It was a very evasive answer. I
have specifically asked for the total cost for the Minister and the
others who participated in the aforesaid trips individually, and
that section of the question went largely unanswered," alleged
Minister Kadirgamar within 14 months
has travelled abroad 22 times, though if trips are strictly
accounted for, they amount to 26 visits overseas. The cost incurred
has been a thumping Rs. 35,386,346 by him alone.
His regular travelling companions
include wife Sugandhi Kadirgamar, two security guards named
Manatunga and Wickremeratne, a diplomatic officer and a
stenographer, the latter does not always accompany him. It is this
group's expenses that were withheld from the House.
Meanwhile, Karunanayake alleged that
Sugandhi Kadirgamar had no official status to be included in any of
the delegations though she has appeared by his side during all
Meanwhile, highly placed Foreign
Ministry sources confirmed that the Minister's wife nevertheless
travelled with him always, on First Class and also obtained the
allowance of daily paid for those who travel on an official
The source added that the Minister's
private secretary never travelled with him and there was a gross
abuse committed by the Minister's wife. His private secretary is one
Suvineetha V. Perera.
What is worse is that there are no
circulars whatsoever issued to cover the personal expenses of a
spouse who is accompanying a husband of ministerial rank. " One
must hold official status as private secretary or some similar
position. There are no documents covering unassigned travel of
minister's Spouses," explained a high ranking official from the
Ministry of Public Administration.
" Not only has the Minister misled
the House, the officials too have provided the House with false
information. The matter will be raised in parliament by me shortly,
specially because there has been an overt attempt to conceal
facts" Karunanayake said.
parliament meeting this Tuesday (19), the matter is to be raised as
one of concealment of material facts as well as misleading the
Questions raised by Ravi K.
ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Will he state to this House-:
the number of overseas trips made by the Minister of Foreign
Affairs from 15 April, 2004 to date, and
the countries and the purpose of the mentioned afore trips?
Will he reveal to this House-:
the total cost for the Minister and the others who participated
in the aforesaid trips separately, and
the benefits achieved by the Ministry from the above trips?
If not why?