The Government came in for severe criticism yesterday with Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Seneratne being grilled over the allocation of Rs. 1.17 billion to purchase vehicles for Ministers without an effort to introduce a formula for vehicle purchases.
Dr. Senaratne defended the Government move, even going so far as to claim that some ministers and departments had not been given new vehicles for 20 years.
Responding to a barrage of questions at the weekly Cabinet briefing, the Health Minister insisted the vehicles would not be of luxury variety even though some Ministers had been allocated more than Rs. 40 million per vehicle.
He denied the allocations were excessive and insisted the vehicle need in some ministries was so dire that vehicles had to be rented. When asked why Ministers who are already entitled to duty free permits are given additional tax-free vehicles, Dr. Senaratne was insistent “good vehicles have to be given because of difficult terrain in some areas of Sri Lanka where Ministers have to travel”.
“Just in my Ministry alone there is the need for 150 vehicles for the staff but we have not asked for all these shortages to be filled. I have also requested 250 ambulances because the ones we have now are too old. These are all needed,” he said.
When given examples from countries such as Singapore that have a vehicle formula that determines what kind of vehicles can be given to their Members of Parliament (MPs), Dr. Senaratne claimed not to have knowledge as to why such steps were not being adopted by the Government and after several rounds of questions also admitted that he was unaware of why Cabinet members had not proposed such a system.
Moving a supplementary estimate in Parliament on Tuesday Government sought approval for Rs. 1,175.5 million to purchase 32 cars for 30 Ministers, State Ministers, and Deputy Ministers.
Among the list of Ministers, Rs. 70 million will be allocated to Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to purchase a vehicle. Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s allocation will also be Rs. 70 million to purchase two vehicles.
Minister of Home Affairs Vajira Abyewardena and the Deputy Minister Nimal Lanza will be allocated Rs. 98 million for two cars, Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando and his Deputy Tharanath Basnayake will receive Rs. 91 million for two cars.
Minister of Town Planning and Water Supply Rauff Hakim, Minister of Special Projects Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Management Wijith Vijaumuni Soyza, Minister of Power and Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, and Mnister of Upcountry New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development Minister P. Digambaram will each receive Rs. 35 million to purchase vehicles.
Deputy Minister of Megapolis and Western Province Development Lasantha Alagiyawanna’s vehicle will cost Rs. 56 million while Deputy Minister Tourism and Christian Affairs Arundika Fernando, Deputy Minister of Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara, Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction Indika Bandarnayake, and Deputy Minister of Public Administration and Management Susantha Punchinilame will receive Rs. 28 million each for their vehicles.
The Government also moved a fresh request for Supplementary Allocations for Rs. 8 billion on the same day to shoulder urgent cash requirements.
Some of the monies will be used to construct a building attached to the official residence of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and Rs. 13 million to reimburse the consultation fee of the restructure plan of debt-ridden National Carrier, SriLankan Airlines.
The Regional Development Ministry will be allocated Rs. 327 million for the payment of lease and advances for the new buildings. Purchase of new vehicles for Ministers, State Ministers and the Deputy Ministers are also included in this Supplementary Allocation.
Acceleration of the resettlement program in the north and the east will be allocated Rs. 3 billion and Rs. 3.5 billion will be allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to promote food security.