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17th July, 2005  Volume 12, Issue  1

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Spotlight

Tsunami victims - not moved by  buffer zone

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......

More....


 More Spotlight

> PM's waterloo

> Kadirgamar proves himself foreign


Tsunami victims - not moved by  buffer zone

The litany of complaints at Peraliya and  Children at the Walahanduwa camp

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 tent. 

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?

Loop-holes

"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 pregnant wife.

"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 famous beach.

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."

Payments overdue

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 - giving  'favourite' 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.

Unrealistic

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 mean?"

They might as well pose these questions to Ann Currie  -  she might know.

Transitional 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 July 15.

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 other facilities.

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  environment.


Drawbacks 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 Architects.

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 victims.

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 more.

"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 said.

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 funding  road 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.


PM's waterloo

By Sonali Samarasinghe

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.

Cabinet decision

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 a company.

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.

Precautions

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 courtesan.

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 Gunawardena.

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.

Deposits

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. 02-1237322-01.

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 29, 2004.

In defiance

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.

Ins and outs of the 'Helping Hambantota' account

Money movements at the private account 'Helping Hambantota' a/c No.01 -237322-01January

On 12/01/2005  An Opening Balance Of Rs. 0; On 12/01/2005  For Chq Bk Chg 013951-4000 A Debit Of Rs. 300; On 12/01/2005   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 Corporation  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.

February

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 Balance  Was 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 deposit of  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.

March

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. 1,000,000.

April

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.

May

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  OT87200505200047OTC a  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. 1,000,000.

June

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  Rs. 200,733,78

July

On 01/07/2005 A Debit Tax  Of  Rs. 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. 19,125,056.97.


Kadirgamar proves himself foreign

Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar

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 ago.

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 destinations.

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 Karunanayake.

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 foreign tours. 

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 capacity.

Gross abuse

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.

With parliament meeting this Tuesday (19), the matter is to be raised as one of concealment of material facts as well as misleading the legislature. 

Questions raised by Ravi K.

To ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs

(a) Will he state to this House-:

(i) the number of overseas trips made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 15 April, 2004 to date, and

(ii) the countries and the purpose of the mentioned afore trips?

(b) Will he reveal to this House-:

(i) the total cost for the Minister and the others who participated in the aforesaid trips separately, and

(ii) the benefits achieved by the Ministry from the above trips?

(c) If not why?



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