Army Headquarters bogged in controversy | Sunday Observer

Army Headquarters bogged in controversy

President Maithripala Sirisena at the opening of the newly constructed Army Headquarters. Pic By Rukmal Gamage
President Maithripala Sirisena at the opening of the newly constructed Army Headquarters. Pic By Rukmal Gamage

On Friday, as perhaps one of his final official engagements prior to bidding adieu to his presidency, Maithripala Sirisena opened the newly constructed Army Headquarters in Akuregoda, Battaramulla. The wings belonging to the Army, in the 77 acre complex is now considered to be the largest office complex in Sri Lanka with a capacity to house around 4,000 personnel. But the ten story expansive and modern Army Headquarters consisting of administration offices, helipads, accommodation facilities, restaurants and libraries with an advanced security system has been under construction for a long time.

For nearly eight years, the administration offices of the Army were scattered in the city. This was following the then Government’s decision to sell the land on which the Army Headquarters was located in Colombo to a foreign investor for a real estate development project in 2011.

While a similar Defence complex was initially envisioned in 1979 through the Colombo Master Plan, turmoil in the country prevented the plans from going ahead, only to be resurrected by the Rajapaksa government following the end of Sri Lanka’s long drawn war against terrorism. With demolishing its offices at Galle Face in 2012 to make way for the project, a number of the Army’s branches and Directorates had to be housed in buildings owned by both State and private institutions at a huge cost.

In his speech following the glitzy opening ceremony attended by military, police and government top brass, President Sirisena said that the Government spent Rs. 42 million monthly as rent for buildings obtained for Army offices till the completion of the construction. This was the reason for him to direct speedy construction of the project. The President said that delays had occurred due to lack of funds to continue construction.

“The personnel, who were in temporary offices, conducted their duties facing great difficulties,” Army Commander Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva said. “The government spent a colossal expenditure on this construction in spite of all administrative challenges, for which we are grateful,” he said.

The completion of the construction of the Defence Headquarters Complex will take another two years. The offices of the Ministry of Defence, Office of the Chief of Defence Staff and the Headquarters of the Navy and Air Force will be housed in the complex.

However, the construction of the complex has not been without controversy. At a recent rally in Galle Face, Megalopolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka claimed that the six acres belonging to the Army, where the headquarters were housed at No. 1, Galle Road, were sold outright by the Rajapaksa Government at an undervalued price.

“The Army was dislodged and was sent to a new place where the annual rental cost was over 5 billion rupees,” he said. “By now, the expense on the project has come up to Rs. 64,000 million despite initial estimated cost of Rs 8,000 million,” he said, adding that it is not a cost that the country or the economy can handle.