By Nirmala Kannangara-
When thousands of peasants struggle to find a proper meal to their children due to the high cost of living, millions of rupees of public money had allegedly been ‘wasted’ monthly by the former regime on 38 Presidential Advisers.
The Sunday Leader learns that out of the 38 Presidential Advisers, 20 were not assigned for any specific task although each were paid a salary of Rs.75, 000 and an allowance of one third of their salary.
Presidential Secretariat records also shows that each adviser was given a mobile phone, a laptop and a fully maintained vehicle as well as 200 liters of fuel which was increased based on their outstation travel. A certain percentage of their mobile phone and residential phone bills were also paid by the Presidential Secretariat.
Highly reliable sources from the Presidential Secretariat who wished to remain anonymous said that President J. R. Jayewardene did not have Presidential Advisers but his successor President Ranasinghe Premadasa appointed reputed Civil Servant Bradman Weerakoon as his adviser.
“During former President Chandrika Kumaratunge’s tenure, there were a few advisers appointed by her but President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a record number of advisers. President Maithripala Sirisena has only five Presidential Advisers,” sources said.
According to the records, the Presidential Secretariat had paid Rs. 2.85 million for the 38 advisers every month as the monthly salary and an additional Rs. 9.5 lakhs per month as allowances. The government has spent Rs.3.8 million a month altogether as salaries for these 38 advisers.
Meanwhile it has been revealed that the Ven. Walpola Piyananda Thera of the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles and Chief Sanghanayake of America was one of the advisers to the former President. This monk is living in the USA but came to Sri Lanka only to help the former regime in its election campaign.
“This Buddhist monk lives in Los Angeles, in USA and was paid the adviser’s salary. We are yet to know as to what sort of advice the former President obtained from him,” sources claimed.
Meanwhile, records further revealed that the Post and Telecommunications Minister in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet in 2009, Mahinda Wijesekera, was a Presidential Adviser from 2010 to 2015.
Wijesekera suffered serious injuries from a suicide bomb attack at Akuressa in March 2009 has been bed ridden.
“When people were removed from the posts they were holding during the previous regime, including some who were holding tops posts at state electronic media institutions, they were appointed as Presidential Advisers simply to be in the good books with them. This has brought down the status of the post of a Presidential Adviser. Earlier only reputed and highly qualified officials were appointed to these important positions in order to obtain their advice for the President. But by appointing friends and relatives without considering the educational background, the prestige of the Presidential Adviser post has deteriorated,” sources said.
When contacted former Additional Secretary (Administration) to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, B. S. Gunaratna who is still holding office under new President Maithipala Sirisena, said he was not aware as to why 20 Presidential Advisers were not assigned any duty but were merely appointed for the name sake.
“It is President Rajapaksa who appointed his advisers and I do not know whether they were assigned any work or not. Why don’t you ask this from President Mahinda Rajapaksa,” Gunaratne said.
When asked who prepared the letters of appointment of these advisers and why he claims that he is not aware of the subjects assigned to each of them, as he was the Additional Secretary in charge of Presidential Secretariat administration work, Gunaratne said that although it was he who prepared the letters of appointment, he was not aware on their assigned subjects.
“Yes it is I who prepared the letters but how do I know to what the subjects they were assigned. In their letters of appointment, no such details were given. I don’t know what the perks these advisers received as they too were not mentioned in the letter of appointment,” Gunaratne added.
According to the Presidential Secretariat records, Asoka Milinda Moragoda was a Senior Advisor to President Rajapaksa and Dhammika Amarasinghe was the Advisor on State Affairs. Sunimal Fernando was the Advisor on Social Infrastructure and Dr Daya Upai Hewapathirana on Finance Management.
The Presidential Adviser on Legal Affairs was D. S. Wijesinghe PC and Dr Rani Jayamaha was the Adviser on Banking Affairs. Rohana Weerasinghe on Aesthetic and Cultural Affairs, Chandra Fernando on Infrastructure Development in the North and the East, Ravindra Randeniya on Cinema, Ven. Matale Amarawansa Thera on Buddhist Affairs, Ven. Bandagiriye Somavansa Thera on Early Childhood Development and Primary Education, Sivanesathurai Santhirakanthan on Tamil Community in the Eastern Province, Anura Solomon on Conflict Resolution, Air Chief Marshal (Rtd) W. D. R. M. J. Gunathilake and Admiral (Rtd) Jayanath Colombage both on Aviation, Justice P. A. Ratnayake and A. H. M. Azwar on Parliamentary Affairs and Media.
Prof. P. W. Epasinghe, S. B. Divaratne, Mahinda Wijesekera, Pandith W. D. Amaradeva, Ven. Walpola Piyananda Thera, Ven. Bodagama Chandima Thera, Rohan Abeygunasekera, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) M. D. Fernando, Vasantha Obeysekera, Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera, Dr S. K. R. Weerasinghe, Mrs. S. Chandrasekeran, H. G. S. Jayasekera, Former Navy Commander Admiral D. W. A. S. Dissanayake, G. L. W. Samarasinghe, Dr S. S. L. Perera, Sunil G. Wijesinghe, Rosmand Senaratne, Asoka Serasinghe and Newton Gunaratne were the other Presidential Advisers that specific subjects were not assigned, according to the Presidential Secretariat records.
Meanwhile, when questioned from the Presidential Secretariat whether these advisers reported to work and had their own offices at the Secretariat, sources said that neither are there records of their attendance nor did they have separate offices.
“Other than for functions where the former President attended, these advisers did not come to the Secretariat but ‘may’ have worked from home. People were astonished at the number of advisers President Rajapaksa had,” sources claimed.
Former Secretary to President Ranasinghe Premadasa, K. H. J. Wijedasa, when contacted by The Sunday Leader, said that under the Constitution, the President can appoint any number of advisers or Coordinating Secretaries and decide on their salaries.
“That is the privilege of a President. He had around 88 Coordinating Secretaries to work for him,” Wijeydasa said.
All attempts to contact former Chief of Staff to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gamini Senarath on his residential landline for a comment were not successful as there was no response.
– Sunday Leader