In the absence of a cohesive policy vis-à-vis the acquisition of vehicles for ministers, deputy ministers and their staff, former members, co-ordinating secretaries and consultants of successive governments have continued to brazenly manipulate procedures.
Politicians had rented luxury vehicles on unbelievably high monthly payments, in some instances as high as almost Rs 290,000. During the recent sittings in Parliament, the JVP had repeatedly raised the issue much to the embarrassment of the ruling coalition. The total cost of the politicians` fuel bill too continued an upward trend and is expected to go up further. A minister`s annual fuel bill could be high as Rs. 930,000.00.
JVP MP R. P. A. Ranaweera (Anuradhapura District) had pointed out that ministers and deputies had brazenly contravened a presidential directive in this regard. According to him, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had told the Finance and Planning Consultative Committee that the monthly rental should be around Rs. 30,000 to 34,000. The ruling coalition had dismissed this charge. The government had taken up the position that no restrictions had been imposed on ministers and deputy ministers. The government had maintained that the restrictions were imposed only on officials.
Pointing out the enormous expenditure involved in the hiring of vehicles by the Ministry of Livestock Development, Ranaweera said that the ministry was liable for additional payments had they (vehicles) been used more than the stipulated mileage. In response to an oral question raised by Ranaweera, Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said that the Livestock Development Ministry had been allocated 14 vehicles of which four were on rent. Of the rented vehicles, a Montero and a Pajero had been hired for Rs 200,000 and 120,000 respectively on a monthly basis. The ministry had agreed to pay Rs 45 a km and Rs 50 for the Pajero a km had they been used over the stipulated mileage. According to the government the stipulated mileage is 3,000 kms.
JVP heavyweight Anura Kumara Dissanayake, too, emphasized that President Rajapaksa`s declaration that he had directed that the monthly rental should be between Rs 34,000.00 and Rs. 38,000.00. Livestock Development Minister C.B. Ratnayake had said that the Montero and the Pajero were used for only two months as two new vehicles were bought by the ministry.
The Rural Industries and Self Employment Ministry had hired two cars for a monthly payment of Rs 34,500.00 each.
The newly created Community Development and Social Inequity Eradication Ministry had rented seven vehicles including a Volvo and Montero at a monthly cost of Rs 545,000.00 and monthly fuel bill of Rs 163,960.00
The Water Supply and Drainage Ministry had acquired four vehicles including a Montero on the monthly rental of Rs 139,725.00. The remaining vehicles had been rented at Rs 39,000.00 each on a monthly basis.
Re-settlement and Disaster Relief Services Ministry too had rented four vehicles.
The government had also allocated ten vehicles-one diesel and nine petrol- to ten coordinating secretaries to the President with eight of them receiving a Rs 30,000 monthly payment. Eight of them had been also given mobile phones.
Of the 25 consultants to the President, 12 had been given vehicles. Among the recipients are former ministers Ronnie de Mel, Tyronne Fernando, Lakshman Jayakody, A.H.M. Azwer and former MPs S. Sathasivam, Richard Pathirana. And except eight, all others including Ronnie de Mel (Rs 60,000), Tyronne Fernando (40,000), Lakshman Jayakody (Rs 60,000), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Rs. 60,000) A.H.M.Azwer (Rs 40,000), Richard Pathirana (Rs 30,000) and S. Sathasivam (Rs 40,000) receive a substantial monthly payment. As ex-ministers and MPs, they benefit from the members` pension scheme which unlike no other system automatically entitles them for a pension increase on par with increment given to sitting members.
One of them said that there was absolutely nothing wrong in receiving an allowance by being a consultant. `Don`t mix-up our right to receive a pension with any other payment,` he said. Had any one of us completed a full term as a Governor, he would have been entitled for another pension, he said.
Former IGP Chandra Fernando and former Colombo Mayor Prasanna Gunawardena, too, receive a monthly payment of Rs 40,000 each as consultants to the President.
The Marketing Development, Cooperatives and Consumer Services Ministry had rented three vehicles on monthly basis. Of them, one costs the taxpayer Rs 90,000 a month. Minister Bandula Gunawardena had pointed out that his ministry had taken only two vehicles despite the approval to take five. He had also said that he uses only one vehicle although ministers are entitled to two vehicles.
During the exchange between Gunawardena and the JVP, Fernandopulle had ridiculed the JVP for acquiring double cabs each worth Rs 8 million despite the availability of double cabs at Rs 4 million. He had estimated the current value of JVP MP Nihal Galapatthy`s double cab at Rs 10 million.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake had challenged Fernandopulle to use a double cab if the minister was of the opinion that a cab was a luxury vehicle.
The Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry had rented five vehicles, each Rs 35,000 on monthly basis. A Mercedes Benz belonging to the ministry had been given a Rs 300,000 fuel ration.
Of the eight vehicles allocated to the Construction and Engineering Services Ministry only one had been on monthly rent. It (JH 9238) had been rented from Lanka Traders, Mannar Road, Medawachchiya for Construction and Engineering Services Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne`s public relations officer Nalin Wijeratne at a monthly rental of Rs 35,000. The official who is the Opposition Leader of the Medawachchia Pradeshiya Sabha is also entitled for Rs 17,440 monthly fuel allowance.
During the exchange, Senaratne had reminded UNP MP Sarathchandra Rajakaruna that the practice of hiring vehicles started during the previous UNP administration. Dr. Senaratne had claimed that the scheme was initiated by Ravi Karunanayake. Following the revelation in the House, the UNP initiated a disciplinary inquiry against Wijeratne.
The Agricultural Development and Agrarian Services Minister and his staff had been given ten vehicles but none of them on rent. Among the vehicle fleet is a bullet proof vehicle (petrol) released through the Presidential Secretariat. Interestingly, the Deputy Minister had taken only a Rs 65,000 monthly fuel allowance. But his staff had been given three government maintained vehicles.
Of the eleven vehicles allocated to Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister Karu Jayasuriya and his staff, only one had been taken on rent. Among his staff is former Kegalle District MP R. A. D. Sirisena who had been given a Mitsubishi Pajero with a Rs 9,500 monthly fuel allowance.
The Youth Empowerment and Socio-Economic Development Ministry had been allocated 12 vehicles. Of them, three had been released from the Presidential Secretariat while the rest had been bought. Altogether Rs 62.65 million had been spent on the vehicles and the annual fuel bill had been estimated at Rs 294,000.000. The ministry was created especially to accommodate CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman.