One of the best cases in point in respect of arrogant attitude of politicians’ towards public funds is the attempt by the authorities of Western Provincial Council to purchase 125 chairs each worth Rs. 640,000 for the new chamber of the council at the new building complex of the council in Battaramulla. Upon a request by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’s Western Provincial Council member Lakshman Nipunaarachchi, Provincial Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara has suspended the purchase on Saturday.
The council has 104 members including the Chairman but reports said the governor suspended the purchase of 125 chairs. These additional chairs may be to accommodate the additional members who would be elected/appointed under the new mixed electoral system after the next election for the council. The authorities at the provincial and the national level who are always clever in justifying any waste or national crime might justify the price of these chairs as well, but it does not seem to correspond with the lifestyle of the ordinary people of the province. That is why it causes one to raise his/her eyebrows.
Before this incident, the leaders of the Western Provincial Council created another controversy over another expenditure of Rs. 20 million the council had made for the painting of the portraits of six former Western Provincial Council Chief Ministers and the sitting Chief Minister to be installed at the new building with plaques and structural arrangements. Incumbent Chief Minister Isura Devapriya had said at a recent council meeting, the amount spent over the portraits was not as high as being reported by the media but they could not just hang the framed pictures of former chief ministers, as done in ordinary houses.
And there are moves to provide duty free vehicles for the provincial council members too.
The Western Provincial Council is going to spend such a huge amount of money from the public coffers on chairs at a time when there are hundreds of schools without drinking water facilities in the province. Education ministry says around 3000 schools lack toilets and around 2000 do not have drinking water facilities. According to UNICEF reports, 19% of schools in Sri Lanka lack adequate clean water and sanitation facilities and 1299 schools do not have any functional sanitation facilities. In spite of more popular and international schools being in the Western Province, the province has its share of schools without water and toilet facilities.
The squander of public funds is not limited to the Western Provincial Council. It has been the norm of the public sector, especially the bodies with elected representatives. Sometime back JVP Uva Provincial Councilor Samantha Vidyarathna had made a startling comparison during an interview with a newspaper between the monies spent on a “study tour” by his council members and the allocation of money on the basic facilities of the people of the province. Vidyarathna had been quoted as saying that the Council had allocated Rs. One million for youth affairs, Rs.15 million for sports, Rs. Five million for housing, Rs. Five million for water supply and Rs. 9.7 million for estate infrastructure to be spent during the year 2016, whereas the amount allocated for foreign tours by the councilors alone had been Rs. 30 million.
Members of many provincial councils go on such “study tours.” But we have never heard about any report prepared by any group of the Provincial Council members, who had gone on so-called study tours having presented in the Provincial Councils or to the Governors concerned, explaining the nature of the knowledge they had gained and how they would be going to utilise it locally.
Last week it was revealed 55 parliamentarians -- mostly belonging to the ruling party -- assigned to monitor the development projects, are given Rs. 200,000 each a month as transport allowances. The story of the Agriculture Ministry acquiring a building on rent is well known. The Ministry has been paying a staggering Rs.23 million as monthly rent for the building several months before the ministry occupied it. It is very clear that President Maithripala Sirisena cannot eliminate this attitude of politicians and public officials by travelling in ordinary flights during his foreign tours.