Badulla District Secretary Abeysiri confirmed with the Dailymirror that he had received Rs.600 million to be distributed among the victims
Although there are more than 2400 damaged houses which need repair only 23% of these houses had received compensation. The compensation
It’s also learned that although compensation has to be provided regarding 2467 houses, payments had only been paid regarding 106 houses
Officials of the Badulla District Secretariat have made the lives of Uma Oya victims more vulnerable than ever. Despite of the present regime’s efforts to provide these victims with comfort, a harsh move initiated by the Badulla District Secretary has sent these helpless people sliding from the frying pan into the fire. All this is the result of an unorthodox move initiated by the secretary not to fully implement the promised relief scheme proposed for these victims. This development also spells bad news for the victims given that monsoon rains are around the corner.
Allegations are levelled against the Badulla District Secretary largely for failing to provide the victims, the ones to be relocated immediately, with the cabinet approved Rs.25, 000 house rent. He is also blamed for not constructing temporary shelters for these people and not providing the infrastructure facilities to the selected schools where the people are to be sheltered in the event of a catastrophe.
Badulla District Secretary Abeysiri confirmed with the Daily Mirror that he had received Rs.600 million to be distributed among the victims, out of which
Rs.55.5 million had been spent as at October 16.
Badulla District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri had also allegedly obtained further funds from the Mahaweli Development Ministry in September and October through subject Minister President Maithripala Sirisena to the tune of Rs.200 million. He has obtained these monies after claiming that the compensation programme had come to a standstill due to lack of funds.
“Although more than Rs100 million was lying with the coffers of the District Secretariat, the District Secretary, by a letter dated September 11, had informed the Mahaweli Development Ministry that the compensation programme had to be stopped due to lack of funds. The Ministry Secretary responded to this letter on September 13 by releasing Rs.100 million. There are further allegations that another request had been made through a fax on October 9 requesting for more funds to which the Ministry Secretary had responded by releasing another Rs.100 million the following day,” a Senior Official of the Badulla District Secretariat alleged.
Badulla District Secretary Abeysiri confirmed with the Dailymirror that he had received Rs.600 million to be distributed among the victims, out of which Rs.55.5 million had been spent as at October 16.
Although the decision taken by President Sirisena was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on the recommendations made by the three member ministerial subcommittee, comprising Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and State Minister of Mahaweli Development Mahinda Amaraweera, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resource Management Vijith Wijayamuni Soysa and Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, to provide relief measures to these affected people, the District Secretary’s alleged attempts to retain the funds without them being properly dispatched have raised eyebrows in the Mahaweli Development Ministry, it is learned.
Mahaweli Development Ministry Secretary Anura Dissanayake told the Dailymirror that as and when a request is made by the District Secretary, a letter of advice is sent to the national treasury to release funds.
“We have to respond promptly once a request is received and on my advice the treasury releases the necessary funds. To my knowledge we have released Rs.600 million to provide compensation and fund other infrastructure facilities for people in the affected areas,” Dissanayake said.
When told that there are allegations against the District Secretary for not carrying out Government directives, Dissanayake said that he was unaware of it and added that he wanted to obtain the information from the Deputy Director of the Uma Oya Relief Centre.
It’s also learned that although compensation has to be provided regarding 2467 houses, considering a period between July 20 to October 15, payments had only been paid regarding 106 houses.
“Out of 1175 damaged houses in Bandarawela, house rentals not exceeding Rs.15, 000 (each) had been paid regarding 46 houses while 59 families in Haputale had received only Rs.15, 000 each. Since the house rentals in these areas had risen rapidly due to the huge demand, those who were living in high risk areas have moved into rented out houses. The rent for these houses cost between Rs.15, 000 to Rs.25, 000,” sources said.
These sources further said that although there are more than 2400 damaged houses which need repair only 23% of these houses had received compensation. The compensation paid to each of these houses is less than Rs.10, 000.
“Rs 10,000 each was paid in connection with the 565 houses. An amount between Rs 10,000- 50,000 each was paid regarding 1120 houses while another payment between Rs 50,000-100,000 each was made regarding 416 houses. On an average, 85% of the damaged houses have received less than Rs.100, 000 while the compensation paid to 250 families was between Rs.100, 000 to Rs.500, 000, but these families too are living in rented houses as the money paid to them isn’t sufficient even to buy the necessary building materials,” the sources claimed.
Executive Director Human Rights and Research Centre (Sri Lanka) Keerthi Tennakoon too criticized District Secretary Abeysiri for not addressing the grievances of the Uma Oya victims. His criticism comes in the wake of the ground situation in the Grama Niladhari Division in the area which is expected to worsen further with the expected north eastern monsoon rains. “Unless these people are relocated by paying them the cabinet approved housing rentals without delay, there is an impending tragedy which will be far more disastrous than the Meetotamulla debacle. It is questionable as to why the District Secretary is blatantly ignoring Presidential directives,” Tennakoon queried.
According to the Finance Progress Report of the Badulla District Secretariat, Rs.399.98 million had been utilized as at October 9, 2017 to pay compensation and purchase of water tanks for Bandarawela, Ella, Haputale, Welimada, Hali Ela, and Uva Paranagama Divisional Secretariats.
According to the District Secretary, he was in receipt of Rs.500 million by October 9, since the relief programme’s inception. However according to the Finance Progress Report, the total amount he had received as at October 9 was Rs.400 million which contradicts the statement made to this paper by the District Secretary. Critics query why this official, after spending Rs 399.987 million out of the Rs.500 million in the fund, by October 9, made him request for another Rs. 100 million from the Mahaweli Development Ministry on October 9 to which the Treasury had complied, the following day.
According to the Finance Progress Report, Rs.180.882 million had been spent as compensation in Bandarawela between July 20 to September 6, 2017, Rs.172.542 million in Ella between July 18 to September 13, Rs.5.081 million in Haputale between August 24 to September 6, Rs.18.631 million in Welimada between August 22 and September 13, Rs.2.397 million in Hali Ela between August 25 to September 13, and Rs.513,500 in Uva Paranagama between August 30 to September 6 which makes the total amount paid as compensation added up to Rs.380.048 million. In addition another Rs.19.939 million had been spent on purchasing 4, 045 water tanks and the total expenditure incurred as at October 9, 2017, according to the report, was Rs.399.987 million.
Janaka Nilanpriya, a resident in Kinigama, Bandarawela, told this newspaper how he was denied of the housing rental he is entitled to by the Divisional Secretary Bandarawela over the past few months. This was after he had received notice to evacuate his house.
“By letter (Ref:UMO/PRCO/GE) dated September 6, Deputy Director Uma Oya Relief Centre P.B. Amarasekera had written to the Divisional Secretary Bandarawela, to evacuate my family immediately on the recommendation of the Chief Engineer Uma Oya Relief Centre. He had recommended the District Secretary Badulla a payment of Rs.90,000 as house rentals for six months, but to date I haven’t been paid they claim there is a lack of funds. Even the people in the area don’t have faith in the Government when it comes to valuing the damage caused to our houses. Although deep cracks are visible on the ground floor as well as in the upper floor in my residence, the valuation team that came didn’t check all the damages that had been caused to my entire house. They took note of only 22 cracks on the walls. After that I made a complaint with the Bandarawela Police who found out that there were 34 deep cracks in the entire house. Although the compensation recommended to my house was Rs.150, 000 later the figure was brought down to Rs.75, 000 since I had lodged a complaint against them with the police, which I didn’t accept. Since I wasn’t paid the housing rental I wanted the Divisional Secretary to provide me with temporary shelter so that I could move, but that request too was turned down,” Nilanpriya said.
Meanwhile Divisional Secretary Bandarawela Nihal Gunaratne said that he is awaiting allocations to be made by the Badulla District Secretariat so that compensation can be paid to the victims. “There is a delay in obtaining the funds and once they are received we will be distributing them among the victims based on the recommendation reports submitted by the relevant departments,” Gunaratne added.
Meanwhile Water Resources Board Chairman A.C.M. Zulficar said that the Government had granted Rs.89 million to install six large scale tube wells and to carry out a hydro geological survey to obtain the water levels in the ground. “Later the tube well project was stopped due to various reasons and now there is a plan to provide water from Demodara. The lack of water bowsers and drivers had affected the distribution of water,” Zulficar said.
It is alleged that a certain high ranking officer of the Government, in the district, is behind the move to stop the tube well project because he hopes to receive commission from owners of private water bowsers who sell water to the people. When asked how true the allegation is, the Water Resources Board Chairman said that although he knows that water is now sold to the people by a few private bowser owners, he is unaware of any Government official’s involvement in the water business.
“I’ve carried out my duties to the expectations of the Govt.”
Nimal Abeysiri - District Secretary Badulla
Refuting allegations, District Secretary Badulla Nimal Abeysiri said that he hasn’t retained unutilized funds in the District Secretariat account and added that he had dispatched the funds among all Divisional Secretariats, amounting to Rs.555 million, which he had done since July this year.
“I was vested with powers to handle this project by the Cabinet and received the first installment which amounted to Rs.300 million by June 17, 2017 and another Rs.100 million later regarding which I can’t recall the date without checking documents. Then again I was sent another Rs.100 million on September 13 and once again a similar amount on October 10 by the Mahaweli Development Ministry Secretary,” Abeysiri said.
When asked as to why the tube well project was halted, a move which has adversely affected the people who have no other options but to ‘buy’ water from private suppliers, the District Secretary said that it had been stopped after taking into consideration the recommendation of the environmental reports.
“People protested against the drilling that was required to install the tube wells. At a recent meeting, headed by the State Minister of Mahaweli Development Mahinda Amaraweera, this decision was taken although parties with a vested interest are pointing fingers at me. I have carried out my duties to the expectations of the Government and the victims,” Abeysiri added.