Information handed over by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to Sri Lanka’s RTI Commission on 26th July 2022 has revealed that approximately 26.6 million of public funds had been spent by the Government for the travel, accommodation, food and other expenses of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, his wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa, his son, Yoshitha Rajapaksa who was also his Chief of Staff, his Secretary Gamini Senerath, his Chief Coordinating Officer Malaka Chandradasa and other officials to travel to Italy in September 2021.
The information was released on the RTI Commission directing the PMO to respond, on June 15th 2022, dismissing its objection that national security/security of the Prime Minister prevented the release of the information. The appeal to the Commission had been filed in February 2022 by K Dileepamuthan, a journalist based in the country’s Northern Province
Media reports at the time were to the effect that the former Prime Minister’s travel to Italy for a period of several days had been for a ‘diplomatic’ visit though no exact details were given except attendance at a conference organised by a non-governmental organisation. His travel had incurred expenditure to the tune of approx 1.3 million for food and other expenses, 8.6 million for airfare expenses and 16.6 million for other expenses. Several controversies occurred during this trip including reports that Rajapaksa had been booed by Sri Lankans living in Italy
The wastage of taxpayers’ money on foreign jaunts of Sri Lankan politicians had been a major focus of the peoples’ struggle against corruption and squandering of public money during the past several months in the country, drawing thousands of ordinary Sri Lankans to the streets. Presently, a sizable segment of the population has catapulted into poverty, unable to afford a single square meal for the day.
Reports abound of desperate mothers and fathers committing suicide as they are unable to feed their children with skyrocketing inflation and the lack of steady income. The nation’s once admired free public health care system is also in dire straits with patients unable to be given free medication from hospitals and unable to pay for that themselves.
Notably the request for information in this instance had been filed by a journalist of minority Tamil ethnicity in Jaffna who had asked for the information based on the public interest under the RTI Act and upon being refused, had appealed to the Colombo based RTI Commission which had ordered the release of the information.