Several hundred millions of rupees which the government had given to the Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital (NFTH) could be considered illegal transactions, Chairman of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) to investigate the corruption of the current government, Upali Aberathne said yesterday.
He made this statement after the Director-General Finance and Accounting of the Health Ministry, Hemantha Swarnathilake, accepted that the ownership of the hospital does not lie with the government. "The basis of this is illegal.
The witness admits that the assets have not been taken over. So saying things like the controlling body have been appointed by the government does not matter,” Mr Abeyrathne said. Mr Swarnathilake, who had been appointed to the post recently, said that he has to continue what his predecessor had started and that he cannot do anything about it.
The government has not given a single cent to pay the Rs 2.5 billion loan which the NFTH had taken from the Bank of Ceylon, he added. In the first five months of 2019, the government had spent around Rs. 182 million out of Rs. 360 million allocated for NFTH for this year.
This may indicate that there is not adequate financial control at the institution, the PCoI observed. Mr Swarnathilake responded by saying that the Treasury had told them verbally that the Rs. 360 million was only for the first seven months of the year. "However nothing is in writing," he said.
In 2018, the government had spent Rs. 496. 3 million for operational expenses of NFTH. The institute had provided vouchers on how the money was spent. "But the problem is that this money given as an advance is given to a private entity. The government does not own the hospital. It does not own the land and the building," Upali Abeyrathne, chairperson of the commission emphasised.
Mr Abeyrathne also said that the cabinet of ministers does not have the power to acquire a property and that after taking a decision for the acquisition, they must inform the relevant minister to take the next steps. This was said in response to Mr Swarnathilake's statement that they were making payments to NFTH based on Cabinet decisions. (Yoshitha Perera)