By Yoshitha Perera
Former Minister of Agriculture, Duminda Dissanayake had wanted considerable changes made to his office, at the 9th floor of the D. P. Jayasinghe building in mid 2017, which compelled the Ministry officials to extend the contract period given to companies to furnish and carpet the building by four months, it was revealed at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on Monday.
The Ministry had signed an agreement with D.P. Jayasinghe Company on April 11, 2016 but the ministry officials did not shift to the building for over 16 months. However, the Ministry had paid the company over Rs. 24.6 million per month from April 2016, earlier it was revealed at the Commission.
Referring to a document by former Secretary of the Agriculture Ministry B. Wijeratne, the Accountant attached to the Ministry Niluka Jayasinghe informed that the former Secretary told that although contractors working on furnishing, carpeting, installing IT systems and air conditioning were given a deadline on May 17, 2017, the deadline had to be extended till September, 2017 due to the changes desired by the Minister.
Mr. Wijeratne had also responded to questions raised by an audit query by the AG’s Department on the lease of the building. Auditor General’s Department, after a study, had raised a number of issues about the lease and subsequent events, she informed the Commission.
“One issue raised by the Auditor General’s Department was that contracts to deliver furniture (Rs. 114.6 million) and IT systems (Rs. 61.3 million) were awarded to various companies without proper procedure. Thus they were unable to determine the extent of losses caused to the State, the Auditor General’s Department report stated,” she said.
M/s Jayasinghe also said that the AG’s Department had stated that the contractors working on the building had not finished their work on time and that the Ministry had not penalized them for Rs. 20.6 million for the delays as per the contract. This includes penalties from companies that provided furniture (Rs. 7.4 million,) Partitioning, carpeting and installing ACs (Rs. 6.7 million) and IT systems and maintaining (Rs. 5.8 million.)
The audit query has also found that an additional secretary to the ministry, who was not in the procurement committee, had gone to China to inspect the furniture. Although it was the responsibility of the contractor to find appropriate furniture, this official was sent to inspect furniture and to make a decision on the matter at the ministry level, according to the document by former Secretary B. Wijeratne.
It was revealed in June that Mr. Wijeratne had removed a senior ministry official who objected to paying a monthly rent of Rs. 24.6 million to D. P. Jayasinghe Company, for a building, which was without required facilities for the ministry officials to move in.
Kamani Rasika Abeydeera, who currently serves as the Additional Wildlife Conservation General, said that she approved the rent for the first two months. However, since the officials were unable to move into the new building, she refused to authorise the rent for the third month.
“We were paying a colossal amount for a building that didn’t have the facilities to accommodate us. So, I refused to pay. Then Wijeratne called me to his office and scolded me,” she said.