Spending spree of an extravagant Minister
@ Sunday Leader / 26MAR2006
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The extravagance of Advanced Technology and National Enterprise Development Minister Rohitha Bogollagama is a well-known fact by now, but the streak is currently at a very advanced stage indeed.
By now, it is an established fact that he tends to leave a trail of unsettled bills when overseas, to be picked up by the institutions coming under his purview - the recent most being his mammoth Rs. 850,000 Geneva Hilton bill where he stayed with his family while other members of the government peace delegation stayedat the Chateau De Bossey.
The matter has reachedsuch proportions that angry Sri Lanka Export Development Board (SLEDB) workers have complained to President Mahinda Rajapakse to weed out corruption by removing the Minister himself!
The workers are alleging that Bogollagama is an embarrassment to his portfolio as he continues tomisuse state money and spend whimsically and lavishly - often times on himself.
The two recent incidents they have complained of are the making of an advanced payment of Rs. 1,165,870.00 for the Kandy SLEDB office and purchasing of exportable foliage and flowering plants to be displayed at his official residence valued at Rs. 107,274.00.
Letter to Weerawansa
Angry workers brought the corrupt activities at the SLEDB first and foremost to JVP Spokesman, Wimal Weerawansa hoping that he would take up the matter. On December 7,2005, SLEDB workers sent a lengthy letter to Weerawansa along with invoices, board decisions and details to highlight the raging corruption to no avail.
It was alleged that the Minister had made the SLEDB seek a quotation from R.M. Perera (Pvt) Ltd. to the value of Rs. 4,146,353.75 and instructed SLEDB officials to call for quotations that might invariably place R.M. Perera in a favoured position.
It now transpires that in December, the decision to purchase expensive furniture was made even before the building construction work had been completed.
On February 9, the Ministry tender board decided to award the tender for the supply of office furniture for the proposed Kandy SLEDB office to R.M. Perera. The Ministry tender board had received six expressions of interest from New Interiors (Pvt) Ltd., Alpha Industries Ltd., R M Perera (Pvt) Ltd., Ceylon Business Appliances Ltd., Arpico Interiors (Pvt) Ltd. and Ceylinco Industries (Pvt) Ltd.
R.M. Perera, the selected supplier, was chosen to supply furniture to the value of Rs. 2,331,740. This company offered to supply all quoted items. However, there were two other companies that were able to supply all items and one company offering the same at a slightly lower price.
New Interiors (Pvt) Ltd. quoted Rs. 2,069,252.50 while Arpico Interiors (Pvt) Ltd. quoted Rs. 2,471,541.70 for the same.
However, Chairman, SLEDB, Brian Angunawela, Acting Director General, SLEDB, S.J.A. Chandraguptha and Assistant Secretary, Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Ministry, Indrani Vithanage gave the final stamp of approval on February 9.
On February 22, the supplier company wrote to Deputy Chairman, SLEDB, Dhammika Gamaarachchi seeking a 50% payment as an advance payment for the furniture, amounting to a staggering Rs.1,165,870.
In his letter dated February 22, Managing Director, R.M. Perera (Pvt) Ltd., R M Perera himself requested an advance payment of 50% of the total contract sum in order to commence work. Further, the letter stated that a period of four to five weeks would be required to complete same.
The letter also quoted the contract sum of Rs. 2,027,600 and a VAT component of Rs. 304,140 which totalled to Rs. 2,331,750. Half the payment as requested by the company was a mammoth Rs. 1,165,870 - paid by the SLEDB even before the work commenced.
Following the letter, Gamaarachchi on February 27, made a 'very urgent' note to Director Finance, SLEDB to take prompt action to pay the advance payment and obtain the corporate guarantee.
Plants for official residence
Besides purchasing expensive furniture for the SLEDB Kandy office, Minister Bogollagama has shown extreme interest in horticulture and wished to purchase exportable foliage and flowering plants for his official residence.
Accordingly, a note was prepared on February 13 referring to the directives received by Minister Bogollagama to "establish a permanent display of exportable foliage and flowering plant varieties at the Minister's official residence."
The note, sent by Assistant Director, Export Agriculture Division, M. Baddegamage to the chairman through acting director (export agriculture) also included a list of plants to be so supplied.
She also sought approval of the chairman for the implementation of the programme and to incur Rs. 146,400 as expenses from the Export Agriculture Division budget.
Best Sri Lankan flora
Interestingly enough, the note stated: "The objective of the display is to create awareness and provide required publicity to promote Sri Lankan flora among foreign visitors to the residence for official meetings and other functions."
Some 22 plant varieties including gardenia, ferns, grand orchids, ground orchids, hibiscus red leaved plants and ixora plants in different colours were included. Item 18 in the list was a 'bird nest' quoted for Rs. 1,500 in value.
The very next day, on February 14, instructions were given to the Director Finance, approving the payment and 'to make available the funds as and when necessary.'
On February 22, Baddegamage wrote to the Director Finance reiterating that the chairman's approval had been obtained for the supply of exportable foliage and flowering plants to the Minister's official residence.
As such, her letter stated that considering the urgency of supply and reliability on the quality of the plants, Sunflower Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. was 'appointed' to supply the plants. Further, the letter stated the company has already delivered the plants to the Minister's official residence, on February 20.
The letter added that due to the scarcity of some of these new plant varieties, it was impossible to supply the exact numbers as required within this short duration of time and called upon the Director Finance to make necessary arrangements to pay Rs. 112, 920 to Sunflower (Pvt) Ltd. to meet the incurred costs.
A payment of Rs. 107,274 was made on March 7 to Sunflower Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. with a 5% special reduction amounting to Rs. 5,646.
In this backdrop, SLEDB workers have sent another protest letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse to prevent the continued extravagances of Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.
Weeding out corruption
In a letter dated March 13,2006, a group of SLEDB workers wrote to Rajapakse with attached bills for the furniture purchased for a SLEDB office at great expense and to have the Minister's official residence supplied with exportable foliage and flowering plants.
"It is a daily practice of this Minister to spend state funds on frivolous activities of this nature. The Mahinda Chinthana was not committed to the perpetuation of politicians who violated public trust but to weed out corruption. The best way to do so is to remove the Minister himself who is driving the SLEDB to the brink of a financial catastrophe" they urged.
Helping the family tree grow
Minister Rohitha Bogolla-gama, it now transpires, is not only lavish with state funds but also in aiding the family tree to grow.
The SLEDB workers, angry about an appointment made by the Minister, had lodged their written protest to President Mahinda Rajapakse thatMinister Bogollagama has violated the Establishment Code to provide employment to his kith and kin.
One Dhammika Gama-arachchi was also appointed to the SLEDB board for a period of three years by the Minister under Section 4 (1) (a) of SLEDB Act No. 40 of 1979.
In addition to the above, he has been appointed deputy chairman with effect from December 16, 2005 on the specific instructions of the Minister.
A pertinent point here is the contents of a board paper (No. 2492) issued by Chairman, SLEDB, Brian Angunawala. Under the sub heading 02 (C), the paper states: "The details of the remuneration applicable to a deputy chairman have not been indicated in the Public Enterprises Guidelines for Good Governance issued on June 2003 by the Public Enterprises Department, Finance Ministry" - which is proof in itself of the wrongful decision.
However, the same paper recommended that the board approve the payment of remuneration of Rs. 25,000 per month on the same level of the executive director, SLEDB.
In a letter dated March 8, SLEDB workers of varied ranks have claimed that as per the Establishment Code, there was no vice chairman post for a statutory board like the SLEDB.
However, they have claimed that Bogollagama had violated the regulations and created the post of deputy chairman for kinsman Dhammika Gamaarachchi when there is no provision to do so.
The workers have alleged that Gamaarachchi was paid back wages for two months and the SLEDB had approved the payment in stark violation of the Establishment Code which does not recognise his very position of deputy chairman.
The Sunday Leader reliably learns that Gamaarachchi draws a salary of Rs. 25,000. His telephone, fuel and maintenance of vehicles are taken care of by the institution which amounts to more than Rs. 50,000 as he generally commutes from Kurunegala on a daily basis.
In the meantime, Bogolla-gama has employed his son Dhakshitha as Chief Representative Officer (CRO) of the Ministry.
Dhakshitha was taken to Geneva on state funds to 'familiarise' himself with the peace making process and the CRO post had been created specially him. Needless to say that such a post does not exist inany other industry