Rs. 1 billion building rent for 5-year-period for use by parliament; Speaker denies responsibility, points finger at government

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has rejected newly appointed Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaaweea’s claim that the Agriculture Ministry, situated at Rajamalwatte, was shifted to a building at Rajagiriya on a request by parliament.

Speaker Jayasuriya’s Office said the decision had been taken by the government and certainly not Parliament. Jayasuriya was responding to Minister Amaraweera, who is also the General Secretary of the UPFA. Soon after succeeding Duminda Dissanayake as Agriculture Minister, Amaraweera said that he didn’t require a new office and preferred the old Agriculture Ministry complex at Rajamalwatte.

Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe has frowned on the acquisition of the building belonging to Upali Jayasinghe at No 288, Rajagiriya-Kotte, Jayawardenepura road under controversial circumstances to house the Agriculture Ministry. The original Agriculture Ministry complex was to be used to accommodate newly appointed Sectoral Oversight Committees, it was claimed.

National Freedom Front (NFF) MP Jayantha Samaraweera sometime back lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) in respect of the Agriculture Ministry renting the building for a five-year period at a staggering cost of about Rs. 1 bn.

Kalutara District MP Samaraweera told The Island said that in accordance with an agreement between the Agriculture Ministry and Upali Jayasinghe, the husband of actress Sabitha Perera, the government had paid the businessman rent for two years amounting to approximately Rs. 570 mn.

Jayasuriya’s Office said that they had initially planned to house proposed Sectoral Oversight Committees within the existing parliamentary complex. The garage on the ground floor was to be used for that purpose. The Speaker’s Office revealed that the government had subsequently decided to take over the Agriculture Ministry complex as it felt the requirement to provide office space to all members of parliament in addition to accommodate Sectoral Oversight Committees at one place, hence the takeover of the Rajamalwatte complex.

The Speaker’s Office said that the government believed that accommodating members and Sectoral Oversight Committees at one place was considered practical. The Speaker emphasized that the parliament had nothing to do with the taking over of Rajapalwatte complex or acquisition of Rajagiriya building.

The Speaker’s Office further revealed that the Navy was asked to transform the Rajamalwatte complex to suit the requirement of the parliament.

Emphasizing that Speaker Jayasuriya hadn’t wasted taxpayers money, the Office said that the Speaker used the former Speaker’s official vehicle as part of the overall measures to curb expenditure.

However, former Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake, too, had said that the Parliament wanted to acquire Govijana Mandiraya on Rajamalwatte road, Battaramulla. The SLFP General Secretary said that parliament planned to set up sectoral oversight committees therein.

The 16 Sectoral Oversight Committees empowered to examine all Bills, Resolutions, Treaties, Reports and other matters relating to subjects within their jurisdiction are: Economic Development; International Relations; National Security; Sustainable Development and Environment and Natural Resources; Women and Gender; Education and Human Resources Development; Health and Human Welfare, Social Empowerment; Transport and Communication; Agriculture and Lands; Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) and Media; Youth, Sports, Arts and Heritage; Business and Commerce; Energy; Manufacturing and Services; Internal Administration and Public Management; and Reconciliation and North & East Reconstruction.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)