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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Shocking sky-high Extravagance: Rajapaksas’ Billion-rupee Travel Bills

Eye-watering amounts of public money have been splurged on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visits abroad, documents obtained by the Sunday Times show.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Presidential Secretariat spent Rs. 2,344,228,641.68 (more than Rs. 2 billion) on expenses incurred by Mr. Rajapaksa and his various delegations. The money was routed through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to foreign missions for settlement of bills.

We analysed a breakdown of the 2014 figures. That year alone, Rs. 643,250,689.84 was exhausted on Mr. Rajapaksa, former First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and their delegations. The bulk of this went towards foreign travel. But it includes items such as “Contribution Student Event at North Dakota University” (Rs. 264,000) and “Payment of Consultancy 2013″ (Rs. 46,732,602.00).

Additionally, SriLankan Airlines has billed the former President’s office Rs. 305,004,031 in 2014. That is a grand total of Rs. 948,254,720.84 or nearly Rs. 1000 million in 2014 alone.

The figure would rise considerably if the cost of chartering a SriLankan Airlines A340 aircraft for Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit to the 2014 UN General Assembly is included. However, that information was not immediately available.

Curiously, official expense accounts show that money also went towards the purchase of camera equipment on two occasions. Equipment to the amount of Rs 5,280,000.00 was bought in 2014 in New York. Another Rs. 9,119,141.39 was spent on camera equipment in Singapore. It is not known whether these were acquired for official or personal use.

In October 2014, Rs 67,722,245.34 was spent on a visit to the Vatican, Rome and Milan in Italy. Separately, the President’s office has been billed Rs. 44,195,550 for his A340 ride to Rome and Malpensa. This fee has not yet been settled with the airline. The grand total of that junket was Rs 111,917,795.34 or more than Rs. 100 million from State coffers for a mere three-day journey.

The amount spent in September 2014 for Mr. Rajapaksa’s visit to New York for the UN General Assembly is stated as Rs. 127,052,113.52 (excluding the fee for the aircraft). Costs of Rs. 5,724,005.61 were incurred even on a flying visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2014.

Time spent by Mr. Rajapaksa and his delegations in transit also cost the Ministry a pretty penny. For instance, Rs. 5,076,427.90 is mentioned as “Allocation for H.E. the President visit to Bolivia-transit”. Another Rs. 5,687,789.58 is mentioned under “Additional Allocation for H.E. the President and delegation transit in Dubai”.

A trip by Mr. Rajapaksa’s youngest son, Rohitha, to Japan in 2014 has cost Rs. 2,086,000.00. He did not hold official position in the administration. The former President even used public funds (and a chartered SriLankan Airlines A340 Airbus) for his private visit to Tirupati, India, in December 2014. Not long after calling a snap presidential election, he flew there to offer prayers at the famous Lord Venkateswara Temple.

The cost for the flight was Rs. 3,916,836. The bill remains unsettled. He also used up Rs. 4,457,625.00 from State coffers — a total of Rs. 12,291,297. He lost his reelection bid not long afterwards.
Sunday Times


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