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Sri Lanka: Ex- Presidents live in clover at taxpayers’ expense

Image: Gotabaya Rajapaksa may be getting two salaries, one of his pension from the defense secretary and the other as a former president.

Mithun Jayawardhana. (CT)

The Supreme Court on 29 February revoked the decision, taken by the Cabinet of Ministers, to allow ex-President Maithripala Sirisena to use his Paget Road residence after leaving office. The Cabinet took this decision on 15 October 2019.

Announcing the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Priyantha Jayawardene determined that the decision taken by the former Cabinet, to grant the residence for the use of the former Leader, as the head of the Cabinet, was illegal and that it was null and void.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu had petitioned the Supreme Court praying for a ruling that Sirisena’s actions had flouted his Fundamental Rights and the rest of the citizens here. The petitioner had stated that as the house in question is valuable and age-old and as it is important to the country, hence setting aside a sizeable sum of money for its upkeep by the former President, was illegal and contrary to the law.

In the wake of this decision, talk has begun to do the rounds regards setting apart of funds for the upkeep of former Presidents.

Following inquiries conducted by Ceylon Today, it has come to light that four former Presidents were residing in houses managed by the State. As per the President’s Privileges Act No. 4 of 1988, the Government is duty bound to supply a house for the former Presidents or their widows to reside sans levying a rent.

The Government also has not done any estimates regarding these houses. When contacted, the Presidential Secretariat said that they were updating further details regarding it. However, the State has incurred a sum of Rs 43,414,200 annually for the upkeep of all retired Presidents or their widows to date. The fuel allowance incurred for them has been tabulated at Rs 33,478,200.

Even when the country had been mired in a deep economic crisis, none of these former Leaders, or their widows decided to reduce their expenses, or costs. All retired Presidents or their widows are entitled to pensions and all fringe benefits.

This writer sought information on this via the RTI Act No. 12 of 2016 from the Presidential Secretariat.

All ex-Presidents are paid a monthly sum of Rs 97,500 and widows are paid a sum of Rs 65,000. The fringe benefits that are accorded to them, include Secretary Allowance, security convoy, Official Vehicle convoy along with an official house.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his wife, who struggled to complete his tenure in office, due to anti-Government riots two years ago, are also entitled to these benefits as well.

Senior Presidential Assistant Secretary S.K. Senadeera said that besides the pension a particular President could also be entitled to additional benefits as per Article 36 (1) of the Constitution. Therefore, if a former President, before assuming the post, had served as a State officer, he would be entitled to his pension and benefits from that post besides the pension given to a former President.

The costs for official vehicles, official security convoys and the official house have not been calculated. The reason adduced for this by the Presidential Secretariat is that the aforementioned expenses are carried out by a different Vote and the pensions and other benefits fall under a yet different Vote.

For the upkeep of former Presidential widow or First Lady Hema Premadasa the Government, during the past year or so, has incurred a sum of Rs 4,056,000 and this includes the monthly sum of Rs 65,000, Rs 23,000 as monthly Secretary Allowance, Rs. 250,000 as monthly fuel allowance.

For the upkeep of Ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the State had incurred a sum of Rs 8,370,000, during the past year. For the maintenance of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa the State had incurred a sum of Rs 9,929,400 during the same period.

Similarly, for the upkeep of both former Leaders Maithripala Sirisena and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, during the previous year, the State had spent a sum of Rs 21,058,800.

As per the details sought by Ceylon Today, it has also come to light that no former President or widow, who resides here, remains without laying claim to each of those aforementioned benefits. But, some of these former Leaders had claimed, in the past ,that they never use any of the benefits, that are given to them upon retirement and that they were always in the habit of depositing such benefits to various funds.

They had stated this to the media on several occasions in the past. But, the probe carried out by Ceylon Today, has revealed that none of these former Leaders had deposited their funds to funds other than to private bank accounts and this has been true of widows of former Leaders. All such benefits and pensions that are given to retired Presidents annually, are taken for discussion at the annual budget under the President’s Vote.

This was the case even during the last budget presentation to the House. The Supreme Court then ruled, on 14 November last year, that former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and a group of persons were responsible for the country’s ongoing economic crisis and that they were guilty of violating the Fundamental Rights of the masses.

The decision delivered by a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, also held former CBSL Governors Ajith Nivard Cabraal, WD Lakshman, former Treasury Secretary SR Atigalla, former President’s Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and the Monetary Board of the CBSL, as being accountable for the country’s economic meltdown.

On social media, most had inquired about this decision of the Supreme Court, whether there was any recourse to impose any penalties on the respondents or whether any recoveries could be made from them. This was also hotly debated in the House.

There was also heated opposition in the House to the allocation of funds for the President’s expenditure. Airing his view NPP Leader MP Anura Dissanayake said “Though a sum of Rs 84 million had been set aside for former Presidents, this time around it had been increased by a further Rs 26 million.

There are already two former Leaders namely Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa in these lists, which have been singled out by the SC to have been responsible for the country’s economic mess. When they have been deemed to be guilty of their conduct this House must not allocate further funds for their upkeep.”

Afterwards, the NPP Leader demanded a vote on the ratification of the expenditure of the President and it received 62 in favour while only three opposed it. Thereafter, the Presidents’ expenditure was ratified with amendments, by a majority of 59 votes.

It has to be probed as to how many security officers and vehicles have been assigned to each of the former Presidents upon their retirement from office. Though details on it were sought from the Presidential Secretariat, as per the Provisions of the RTI Act, Senadeera stated that he was not in possession of such information and to inquire about it from the Defence Ministry.

The details sought from the said Ministry have been rejected by the latter.

Meanwhile, for former President Kumaratunga, a total of 57 Police Officers have been assigned as part of her security convoy and this is besides the supply of a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Mahendra Scorpio Jeep. For ex-President Sirisena, a total of 120 Police Officers have been assigned as part of his official security convoy, while no light has been shed on vehicles that have been assigned to him.

For ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a total of 20 Police Officers have been deployed besides a jeep and a motorcycle as part of his vehicle convoy.

Courtesy of Ceylon Today

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