Public money down the drain? | Sunday Observer

Public money down the drain?

Artist rendering of the new WPC building at Battaramulla
Artist rendering of the new WPC building at Battaramulla

While the deal to purchase 144 super luxury chairs for the new Western Provincial Council complex was unceremoniously ditched by the Western Province Governor on Thursday, the massive costs incurred on its new building at Battaramulla is slowly coming to light.

It has been revealed that the total estimated cost for the building that began construction in 2014, is Rs. 6.1 billion. With the VAT component this amount is at a staggering amount of around Rs. 7 billion.

The cost for the building could be the least of its concerns though. In spite of the building being opened in July this year, by President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga still there is much to be done to complete the interior of the structure and the office and other spaces located within.

In response to a question raised by the JVP Councillor Lakshman Nipunaarachchi from the Chief Minister at a recent Council meeting, the Chief Secretary revealed that the building construction so far has consumed Rs. 5.8 billion of the total allocated amount.

“It is our belief that the remaining funds are hardly enough to cover the outstanding work,” Nipunaaracchi said adding that the Chief Minster has lavishly spent the money without anyone standing in his way, not even his five member Cabinet.

The outer appearance of the new WPC building makes it seem as if the building construction has come to an end but this is far from the truth, according to the Councillors who are enraged by the acts of extravagance.

“It may have been the plan to cover the balance through supplementary estimates. But with the media expose and the consequent public outrage, their plans will not be realised now,” a Councillor who wished remain anonymous said.

The Western Province Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara announcing his decision to cancel the order for the super luxury chairs said he was still trying to find out as to who took the decision to bring down these chairs from Spain.

He said since there were no agreement between the supplier and the WPC, the country will not incur any loss due to the cancellation of the transaction.

It was earlier revealed that the WPC has placed an order for 144 chairs from one of the top manufacturers in Spain for the Council Hall. The Governor has been told the order was made for 144 chairs, even though there were only 104 Councillors at present, in view of the increase that is anticipated after the Provincial Council election. So , the order had 40 chairs in excess, each expected to cost Rs. 844,000 after the import levies, and not Rs. 644,000 as claimed by the Chief Minister Isura Devapriya.

This is in the backdrop of the Election Commission specifically saying the number of PC Councillors will not be increased after the election, unlike the local government election.

“I will take to task the Committee which was appointed to look into the irregularities of the matter (the import of chairs),” the Governor retorted, adding that the Committee has concluded in their report that the Technical Evaluation Committee has not flouted the accepted norms and state procurement procedures which was highly unbelievable.

“I am told the specimen chair that was brought in to get the approval of the Councillors was not of the same make,” the Governor added.

The other matter to be looked into is, as to how the Road Development Authority (RDA) called for tenders for super luxury chairs. The Chairman of the RDA who is a political appointee is alleged to have approved the advertisement calling for tenders.” It should have been the General Manager of the RDA who should attend to such tasks,” Nipunaarachchi said.

The Chief Secretary has responded to the query from JVP Councillor Nipunaarachchi that with Rs. 5.8 billion already spent, there is only less than Rs. 1.2 billion remaining to complete the building complex.

On inquiry by the Sunday Observer he pointed out, “The electrical system is still incomplete, with exposed wires to be seen everywhere. The VIP canteen still has the old chairs and tables and even the utensils used in the kitchen are not upgraded, which is in stark contrast to the new look of the place. ”

The list of things that are to be completed in the building include, furniture for chambers of the 104 Councillors, wooden chairs and tables for offices, steel cupboards and other equipment, verandah furniture (sofas and coffee tables), wooden furniture for the VIP canteen and the ‘quorum’ alarm system.

In addition, the car park and the building management system, as well as the seating in the Council Hall need to be installed.

The costs for the main door of the Council Hall too stirred a hornet’s nest last week, with rumours that Rs. 15 million has been allocated, a claim the Chief Minister has denied since. The door was to be made to the same specifications of the grand wooden door in Parliament where the Speaker makes his entry.

The JVP Councillor said he will be raising the matter of the ‘Royal Door’ at the Council meeting on Tuesday, September 18.