Ports and Civil Aviation Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday admitted that he had used government funds to mount an elevator in his double-storey official residence, but said defiantly that he wasn`t planning to take it home with him.
He also denied newspaper reports that it had cost ten million rupees to install. `It was a Korean lift and cost less than three million rupees,` he told the Sunday Island. `It was chosen through a tender process and was the cheapest of three models.`
According to reports, Samaraweera (who has often proved himself very generous with government money) had installed the convienience for the benefit of his ailing mother, who found it difficult to go up one floor via the stairs. Asked whether there wasn`t a ground floor room to be found for his mother, Samaraweera claimed: `It`s wasn`t put there only for mother... it`s for my mother and all other mothers after mine.`
It wasn`t immediately clear whether Samaraweera believed that all other ministers after him would also bring their ailing mothers to this official residence and, therefore, find an elevator to be essential.
Elaborating, Samaraweera said it was his practice to upgrade even the offices he uses. `I have just redone my office,` he said, cheekily. `I`m sure the Ravaya and Sunday Leader newspapers will have a supplement on that.`
Asked whether it was the right time to spend scarce money on installing elevators, Samaraweera said: `Why not? It`s not a huge expense. And since it seems like the government will go on for another forty years, I may use it when I grow old.`
Samaraweera also contended that the lift was not a waste because it had been mounted in the official abode (located at Bauddhaloka Mawatha) and not his personal residence. `It`s not something I will be taking home with me, when I leave,` he said.
Ravaya reports that the elevator had been bought from Access International and that it had cost 3.5 million rupees from the Ports Authority`s petty cash. The steel structure required to mount it had cost around 5 million rupees and had been constructed by the Ports Authority`s engineering division, Ravaya says.
Ports Authority engineers, electricians, vehicles and other resources had been deployed to execute the operation. The newspaper also writes that the lift is suited for use in a building with a minimum of six stories and major modifications have had to be made in order to fix it at Samaraweera`s official residence.
In the early post-independence years, Central Bank Governor N. U. Jayawardena was sacked from his post by Sir John Kotelwala, one of the reasons being that he had used state funds to install a lift in his official residence for the benefit of his wife.