Western Provincial Council (WPC) and Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), unlike our ‘cash strapped’ treasury are inundated with extra cash, as proudly claimed by Chief Minister Isuru Devapriya and the Mayoress Rosy Senanayake. They, as reported, are on a shopping spree for chairs, toilet accessories and aspiring for extravagant Thamashas and enhanced compensation for councilors. Both these politicians who are close allies of the President and the Prime Minister have made somewhat surprising and similar explanations saying ‘we are spending our money, our coffers are overflowing with funds’.
The luxurious extravagant new office and Chamber at the Western Provincial Council, another ‘white elephant’ needs chairs for the hundred odd elected members to conduct the affairs of the three districts. In CMC the top ranked officials of the funding agents and IMF ‘who frequent the place’ for making Colombo the golden city of Asia had no proper place to sit and discuss important projects. Hence the first citizen who holds the key to the city chose her official residence as the meeting place, but found the toilets in a dilapidated condition. For the modernization of the toilets at the Colombo Mayoress’ official residence, it was rumoured, had allocated Rs 5.7 million. When public conveniences within the city were in such a unhygienic condition as revealed by CMC member Sumith Passaperuma at the CMC meeting, a waste of taxpayer’s money for such purposes is a crime as every right-thinking person would agree. This was her second act after taking over the reins, the first being a 1.5 million lunch at the inaugural meeting. However, as reported in Daily Mirror, Rosy enlightened the rate payers on the truth behind such wild allegations. She said,
“There is no move to spend Rs.5.7 million to renovate the toilets at the Mayor’s official residence but some Rs.5.2 million is to be spent on preserving the entire bungalow as a place of archaeologically value, Colombo” she continued, “I have sought the advice of an expert from the Department of Archaeology on renovating the official bungalow and preserving it as a place of archaeological value. It was this expert who advised me on purchasing fittings and other material for the renovation. The method followed earlier was a fully fledged contract which included providing material and labour but this time the CMC will purchase the material and deploy its own workers to carry out the work,” the Mayoress told a media briefing, as the paper carried the news.”Undoubtedly, her idea is very genuine and praiseworthy.
The Rs. 640,000/- Chair
Then came the news that shocked the nation. Western Provincial Councillor Mahinda Jayasinghe revealed the price of a chair andcommented on the purchase approved by the House for 104 members of the Council, which convenes just twice a month. The 125 chairs each costing the WPC Rs. 650,000/! And have already been ordered. He stated that they are planning to buy these chairs for the newly-opened Provincial Council building. He emphasized the fact that though there are only 104 members, someone is planning to import 125 chairs. More appalling was the cold-hearted contempt; when inquired by a scribe at a media briefing, Chief Minister Isuaru Devapriya confidently responded rejecting the claim of 650,000/ per chair; in fact he quickly denied JVP’s Nipuna Arachchi’s claim, price per chair as Rs 650,000, with an emphatic NO! Instead, he said, it was [only] Rs 640,000/-! The diminutive CM continued, that all the logistical procedures, including tenders have been followed in the process, therefore no one can talk about the matter, and also there is plenty money left inside ‘safe’.
The CM is planning to spend Rs. 80 million for the councilors to sit twice a month for a couple of hours placing their two round fleshy parts of the body that form the buttock on a Rs 640,000/ worth chair! Only consolation for the tax payer is that the chair they sit on is worth more than the person [their representative] they voted in. However, Western Province Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara had temporarily halted the purchase and aspiring to hold an investigation too. As reported in print media, addressing the electoral organization meeting of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in Chilaw, the CM reiterated that the decision to import these chairs at such a cost as rational and it was not his alone. “Ours is a Provincial Council that is housed in a modern 15-storey building. It has modern facilities. If you ascend to the top floor of the building, you will be able to see just how affluent our province is,” he pompously claimed.
Both these politicians who are close allies of the President and the Prime Minister have made somewhat surprising and similar explanations saying ‘we are spending our money, our coffers are overflowing with funds’
In the past K. C. Logeswaran, former Governor Western Province had allegedly endorsed allocations for payments made in violation of the Constitution. It is learnt that the JVP members are planning to take special privileges matter up with Independent Audit Service Commission and Attorney General for withholding such payments to the Chief Government Whips, Leaders of the House, the Opposition Leaders in Provincial Councils. They have pointed out that neither the Provincial Councils Act of 1987, nor the Constitution had provisions for such grants in such positions for the council to pay for them. If that is so, the allocation of funds on vehicles, office space and staff to the members occupying the above positions in the Provincial Councils becomes illegal. Will the JVP move the Supreme Court, it appears that they have a point on their side. If the SC upholds, what would happen to the establishments entrusted with the task of making such payments over the three decades?
Coming back to CMC, explaining matters Mayoress Rosy Senanayake said “I have my own private residence with seven bedrooms and eight toilets thanks to my husband. What we want to do is to make sure that the place where the City’s first citizen meets foreign dignitaries is suitable for such meetings.” Rosy has proposed an enhanced compensation package for her hundred council members; Rs 45,000/ instead of the present 20,000/- fixed some years ago. This is a welcome move, but she must not keep on adding to it like in the case of Government MPs in the Parliament. In local government, good financial management is of immense help to transform their areas into improved localities for the rate-payer to live in and work, and prevent them from becoming good hunting grounds for the councillors nefarious activities. It is the councillor who knows what municipal services the people in their wards would prefer to have in their locality.
When public conveniences within the city were in such a unhygienic condition, a waste of taxpayer’s money for such purposes is a crime as every right-thinking person would agree
One of the councillor’s duties is the authorization and monitoring of the budgetary allocations in disbursing funds to execute the proposed projects. The people should be involved in choosing the priorities for the area they live in. Councillors and citizen’s committees should meet regularly about plans and projects that affect them. Local government authorities are responsible for organising and managing large amounts of funds and offering services that influence the citizen’s daily needs. Managing capital budgets with planned payouts on, especially, the long-term investments such as buildings, vehicles, furniture and equipment that remain municipal assets for many years to come will need expert knowledge and skills is usually beyond the depths of elected councilors, but need the Commissioner’s intervention. If all the ruling party councilors plus fair-minded opposition members co-operate Rosy would certainly do an excellent job.
The CM has to take a cue from the Mayor, but there is hardly any time left for him, unless his Minister makes some manipulation or trickery to achieve a desired end and delay the Provincial Council polls like he did with the local government.
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