By Gagani Weerakoon and Skandha Gunasekara
Rs 1,177,434,333 was spent, by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, on publicity and media coverage, in relation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013. This was revealed in Parliament yesterday.
It was also revealed that a colossal sum of Rs 10 million was spent on a dinner for journalists.
Accordingly, the funds, allocated through Treasury grants, were spent under nine categories, which were; for the construction and maintenance of the Media Centre, publicity programmes in electronic media, public awareness programmes, purchase of office equipment, creation of the official logo and newspaper advertisements, entertainment of local and foreign journalists, including dinners, allowances for the officers of the CHOGM Project Office, allowances for officers and other expenses.
Parliament was made privy to this information when Minister of Mass Media and Information, Gayantha Karunatilaka responded to a question posed by Democratic National Alliance Parliamentarian, Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
Subsequently, a breakdown of the expenditures incurred by the ministry shows that Rs 828,327,661 was spent on the construction and maintenance of the media centre while Rs 180,547,649 was spent on public awareness programmes.
MP Dissanayake asked why Sri Lanka, a country that was so small had to spend over a billion rupees for the event.
“Why did the government spend so much money when we are just a tiny island? Can such a staggering expenditure, on a single event, be justified? The former government has spent over Rs 180 million on publicity through electronic media for CHOGM. Did they think Sri Lanka was as big as Europe?”
Minister Karunatilaka responded saying that such expenditures could in no way be justified.
The breakdown of monies spent further describes that Rs 10,022,905 was spent on entertainment of local and foreign journalists including dinners while only Rs 4,551,707 was spent on the purchase of office equipment.
MP Dissanayake, at this point, demanded to know what the menu was for a dinner that cost over Rs 10 million in a single night.
“Did they serve Rs 5,000 notes for that dinner? How can Rs 10 million be spent on a dinner for one single night? I would like to know what was on the menu for this dinner that cost the people so much.”
Minister Karunatilaka responded saying that he was not aware of the menu, but that it was evident that even a child could understand that such an expense was not justifiable.
“The people decided that the actions of the former regime could not be accepted, that’s why they voted against Mahinda Rajapaksa and his regime on 8 January and brought in a government of good governance,” Karunatilake said.
During this exchange of words, Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine, Rajitha Senaratne rose to his feet and said that every citizen of Sri Lanka had paid Rs 550 to cover the costs incurred.