Controversy over a decision to deduct Rs 1,800 from soldiers in support of Army Day celebrations has taken a new turn with the army now claiming the money was for a special 1,000 rupee coin, T-shirt and cap.
JVP frontliner Anura Kumara Dissanayake recently attacked the ruling coalition in Parliament for making a compulsory levy on soldiers. Although Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardene strongly defended the government, Dissanayake said that he could produce a pay sheet of a soldier to prove his case.
Gunawardene said that funds had been allocated to the army to meet its expenses and promised to inquire into Dissanayake’s allegation.
The army is at present about 200,000 strong.
The army on Friday confirmed that Rs. 1,800 had been deducted but denied that the money would be utilized to pay for Army Day celebrations. A senior officer said yesterday that soldiers would receive special 1,000 rupee coin issued by the Central Bank which could be used for any transaction in the country as well as a T-shirt and cap each.
Responding to our queries, he said that the money would be deducted in several installments. Soldiers will pay Rs. 1,800 each for the mementoes while officers will pay Rs. 2,000 each.
Knowledgeable sources explained that the coins will have numismatic and collectors’ value much higher than their face value which will be legal tender.
The JVP yesterday said that the government’s present explanation was worse than the original. Pointing out that an army exhibition now being held at the BMICH and the forthcoming Army Tattoo at the Kettarama International Stadium were not open to the public free of charge, the JVP said that money raised should be used for the benefit of officers and men and not to boost the ego of any politician.
He pointed out that tickets for the Army Tattoo had been priced from Rs. 200 at the bottom to a high of Rs. 2,000.
A government spokesman said that the JVP was playing politics with Army Day celebrations as it did with many other issues. That party was rapidly running out of issues and was making a desperate attempt to capture media attention.
Once the JVP had received a heavy beating at the October 10 Southern Provincial Council elections, it would realize that the opposition campaign was not making any impact in the South.