Ministers make merry at public expense
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The budget, presented with a flourish by
President Mahinda Rajapakse, visibly glowing
given the war hype that prevailed, did not
conceal some hard facts. A budget that
focused much on import substitution and
controls, many an area of sheer need for a
developing nation went missing, housing
falling into the areas of such neglect.
This despite housing being a huge concern in
a country with increasing slum dwellers
numbering over 65,000 within the Colombo
city limits alone whilst being subject to
This story is not about sustainable
development issues of a developing state. It
is about the development of a handful of
individuals sustained at the expense of
already overburdened taxpayers.
The contrast to the above-mentioned need for
general housing is the housing benefits of
the top heavy UPFA government.
And here are the statistics presented to
parliament from time to time, often due to
the persistent questioning of JVP
Parliamentarian Ranaweera Pathirana. When
combined, the statistics form a devastating
truth about how the other half lives.
When cumulatively taken, at least 25 Colombo
house-holding ministers claim the monthly
housing allowance of Rs. 100,000 paid for by
the government for ministers who do not
possess private homes in Colombo.
A few do not stop at obtaining the special
allowance while having their own private
residence in Colombo but are also
maintaining a Madiwela MP's flat, specially
constructed to facilitate parliamentarians
without Colombo homes. Minister of
Co-operatives Najeeb Abdul Majeed and V.
Putrasigamoney, according to parliamentary
documents qualify for this dubious honour.
Accordingly, the revised directory of
parliamentarians for 2007 compiled by the
Office of the Chief Government Whip lists
the above two names as holding two flats at
the Madiwela MPs Housing Complex.
Then there are those who get their high
electricity and water bills also paid by the
As per provisions of a May circular, cabinet
ministers, non-cabinet ministers and deputy
ministers who are not provided with official
quarters in Colombo are entitled to an
allowance of Rs. 100,000 from the monies
allocated to respective ministries. Besides
the above allocation, their monthly water
and electricity bills too are paid for by
According to MP Ranaweera Pathirana, a
parliamentarian habitually raking
information about ministerial expenditure,
the statistics when gathered amply
demonstrates the reason for
legislature weighing upon the public's
According to The Sunday Leader
investigations, the Public Administration
Ministry has spent over Rs. 1.3 million to
renovate the official residence of Transport
Minister Dulles Alahapperuma including some
special fittings, in the year 2006.
According to answers submitted to parliament
during oral question time, Alahapperuma's
monthly electricity bills between September
and December 2007 have been in the range of
Rs.13, 000 to 36,000.
In another instance, we find Minister of
Constitutional Affairs and National
Integration, D.E. W. Gunasekara who receives
a monthly house rent of Rs. 100,000
receiving Rs. 2.4 million collectively as
house rent between June 2004 to December
Besides, Minister Gunasekara also had his
comforts increased and a power generator was
installed at his house at the cost of Rs.
1.75 million, all paid for by the state.
Then there is more on renovations.
Fisheries Minister Felix Perera is another
UPFA Cabinet Minister who has incurred huge
expenditure to have his official residence
renovated to suit his sense of style and
He has first renovated the residence in 2006
at a cost of Rs. 1.6 million. But those
improvements, as it now becomes apparent,
were obviously not sufficient which made the
Minister lavishly spend public money on a
second occasion to renovate his house.
This time around, in 2007, another Rs. 2.4
million was allocated on official house
renovations, according to information
submitted to parliament.
Not only does he prove himself a lavish
spender with regard to renovating his
official home, but also he has run up bills
that give shock treatment to the public.
Minister Felix Perera's total electricity
bill in 2007 has been a staggering Rs. 1.39
million, making opposition legislators
question whether it was a house or some sort
of factory, hotel or business premises for
the consumption of power in commercial
quantities to run up such a massive bill.
Likewise, in the same year, Rs. 88,000 had
been spent by the Perera household on water
supply - leading once again to the question
whether the Minister runs a home or a water
sports complex to end up with bills that
drown the taxpayer.
Then there are others who are equally lavish
with their energy and water consumption, as
revealed to parliament during oral question
Minister of Water Supply and Drainage A.L.M.
Athaulla has run electricity bills during
the period of September to December 2007
ranging from Rs. 13,000 to Rs. 36,000, no
Then there is fair Minister of Housing and
Common Amenities, Ferial Ashraff who is
indeed provided with an official residence
and tops it with monthly water bills ranging
from Rs. 11,000 to 22,000 during the three
months under review, namely September to
That's what finally leads to the original
argument of ministers being paid high rents
and receiving many other perks while the
average citizen does not even have the
benefit of basic housing.
While stating that, let's also not lose
sight of the fact that the government,
though not making extra allocations for
housing construction had lavishly allocated
a plum sum of Rs. 6,000 million no less, to
revive the defunct Mihin Lanka - and that's
while allocating a mere Rs. 300 million for
water supply for the entire nation!
As MP Ranaweera Pathirana notes, this meager
allocation might be just enough to settle
some of the water bills of the top-heavy
cabinet with nothing left for the people!
From ministerial housing and other perks to
projects we come now. During the votes on
the Ministry of Environment and Natural
Resources, SLMC Leader and Opposition
Parliamentarian Rauf Hakeem was heard asking
some pertinent questions about Asian
Development Bank (ADB) funded projects.
According to what was revealed to the House,
some interesting facts about the Ministry's
spending sprees came to light.
According to Hakeem, the ADB funds for a
special project on forestry management had
been largely spent on three areas - foreign
trips, seminars and to provide 'foreign
training' to Forest Department officials.
The breakdown of expenses is a bit
Some US $ 33 million was allocated,
according to Hakeem for Protected Area
Management, and needless to say it is a lot
of money. The said project had been in
operation since year 2000.
Out of the allocation made, some Rs. 251
million had been so far spent on
demarcations, another Rs. 118 million on
forest management activities and Rs. 15
million on capacity building of the Forest
What transpires now is that there had not
been proper evaluation of the project
progress that commenced eight years ago,
though under a different administration.
And this comes with a contrast to the
Ministry's Progress Report 2008 and Action
Plan 2009 that sported the most picturesque
of covers, reflecting Sri Lankan heritage in
which Arhath Mahinda Thero's famous quote
was included - and this was about rulers
being mere guardians and that their being to
protect and hold the area and being safe!
Among the ministries that hardly come under
proper scrutiny is the Ministry of Mass
Media and Information.
Tender procedure overlooked
According to JVP Parliamentarian Sunil
Handunnetti, the Ministry has overlooked the
tender procedure to purchase a Rs. 100
million worth special switch for the Sri
Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).
There was no bank guarantee, certificate of
origin or the required certificate of
insurance and the machine has arrived and is
stalled at the Colombo Harbour for
clearance, the MP claimed.
Minister Anura Yapa's response to the House
was that the special switch/machine had not
been cleared and accepted by the Ministry so
far. There was no explanation about
overlooking tender procedure or about
waiting to verify documentation without
ensuring that the papers are indeed in
order, by the time it reaches one's own
Rs. 100,000 house rent
Prof. Tissa Vitharana
Dr. Wiswa Warnapala
Dr. Rajitha Senaratne
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene
Najeeb Abdul Majeed
Sarath Kumara Gunaratne