Kiriella falls flat on his face


The backfiring of Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella’s carpe diem (make most of the present with little thought for the future) strategy of denying the allegation that he had recruited a Buddhist monk as consultant to a road development project took centre stage in Parliament last week.  The experienced minister who is also the Leader of the House and a seasoned politician could not paper the expose with simple denials; he failed miserably against young Kalutara District JVP MP Dr Nalinda Jayatissa who was armed with all the documents to prove that the minister was either being untruthful or did not know what happens in the Road Development Authority he is responsible for.

The spectacle went on with thrills and frills throughout the week.  It started in the very first hour of the first day of sittings during the question time with Jayatissa raising a seemingly harmless question demanding to know how many consultants were on board the RDA’s Southern Transport Development Project.  The minister reading out an answer supplied by his officials did not seem to know that he was opening a can of worms. The answer claimed there is only one consultant. Asked to reveal the allowances paid per consultant, the minister said a monthly allowance of Rs 25,000 and a monthly transport allowance of Rs 40,000.

Queried whether the approval of the Management Services Department has been obtained to create the posts of consultants and public relations officers for the RDA, the minister said that approval was not relevant as those services were procured for a short period such as one year. The appointments were done in terms of a report submitted by a committee appointed to procure services which are required to achieve the RDA’s performance objectives, he said.

Then came the opportunity for the opposition MP to go for the kill raising supplementary questions. The MP asked the minister how many public relations officers were there in the RDA. The minister said 45. Jayatissa alleged that among the list of consultants was a Buddhist monk – Rev Wattappala Seevali Thera of Hiriyala Purana Viharaya, Kandy Road, Gampola. What services were required from a monk to fulfill the performance objectives of the RDA? What contribution could a Buddhist monk make to road development?

Kiriella said he had not recruited a monk. Jayatissa countered by firing off several names and addresses and job qualifications, all of them regional politicians, party organizers and relatives of the minister’s staffers. Kiriella promised to give a detailed answer to the MP later and added that the government had been compelled to recruit some persons who had helped the UNP win the last presidential and general elections as consultants to various projects under the RDA.

Hearing this, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe knew where this would lead to and looked the other way leaving Kiriella to wade through the swamp himself. "We have won the presidential election with a majority of 81,000 votes and the general election with a majority of 131,000 votes in the Kandy District with the support of such people. We have to do something in return for them," Kiriella said.

The minister appeared to have realized the gravity of the issue he had landed himself in when he read the cold print of the newspapers next morning and came to parliament to continue his denying. He said he had not recruited a bhikkhu to the RDA. The issue had been displayed very prominently in the press and the entire Kandy District had been stirred by the news.

"I have received numerous telephone calls inquiring why a bhikkhu was recruited as an RDA consultant. This is terrible and I have lost peace of mind. Affronts must not be caused to the dignity of bhikkus in this manner. The same statement claims I have recruited two members of the same family to the RDA. I have not given jobs in that manner," he said.

Jayatissa said he had documentary proof and said he would table the papers if the minister needed that. On Friday Jayatissa drove the final nail in the coffin exposing the minister reading out more than half of the names of lists of consultants and public relations officers recruited to the RDA. He said that minister was right to say that he had not given consultants’ jobs to two members of the same family. The actual number was three. The Minister had misled the House by saying that there were only 45 public relations officers in the RDA which actually had 94.  

"This we can expect under the Mahinda Chintana government which had been known for its nepotism, family bandysm and cronyism. How could one expect the same from the Yahapalana regime?" Jayatissa queried. The MP did not read all the names of consultants under Minister Kiriella. One of the names he omitted was that of Kulasiri Udugampola of No 21, Galkanda Road, Aniwatte, Kandy. Yes, he was the former ASP who led a high handed raid on an army safe house at Millennium City, Athurugiriya in 2002, claiming that it had been used to plot attacks on UNP leaders.

It led to the exposure of the army’s secret Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol which had been causing havoc among the LTTE through deadly attacks behind enemy lines. It was Udugampola’s elder brother, former DIG, Premadasa Udugampola, who helped crush the second JVP rebellion against the UNP government in the late 1980s. But for reasons unknown, Dr Jayatissa did not mention Udugampola’s name.

Apart from Minister Kiriella falling flat on his face in all three days of the sitting week, nothing very important took place in Parliament. It saw the passing of several orders and regulations under the Sports Law and Atomic Energy Act on Wednesday, regulations under the Imports and Exports (Control) Act on Thursday and an adjournment motion debate on current economic situation in the country on Friday. Te House will resume sittings on August 09.

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