Recently the Colombo Telegraph exposed how a Rs 700,000 personal air ticket bonanza was given to Sri Lanka’s current High Commissioner in London, courtesy tax payers by Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha.
Colombo Telegraph can now reveal that the actual financial ‘gifts’ to Saroja Sirisena from Aryasinha is in the range of at least 13 million rupees and were billed to the Lankan tax-payer in 2019.
Colombo Telegraph previously exposed that On 23 August 2019 Foreign Secretary Aryasinha approved a sum of Euro 3150 (Rs 637,680 at the current exchange rate) for then Ambassador to Austria Saroja Sirisena’s alleged “economy class” air travel to the United States for medical treatment.
The Colombo Telegraph now possesses irrefutable evidence that the actual cost of this very medical procedure was USD 66,284.65 which is Rs 12,365,137 (Rs. 12.37 million) and that the money was fronted before the surgery by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka. Together the sums amount to more than Rs 13 million of Government funds.
The details of the obscene expenditure billed to ordinary Sri Lankan citizens follows.
By a fax dated 16th August 2019 Ariyasinha has approved the Sri Lanka Embassy in Vienna to make an advance payment for a medical procedure for Sirisena to the University Hospital at Utah in Salt Lake City in the United States.
Public administration officials informed Colombo Telegraph that the approval and the monies approved were irregular for multiple reasons.
First it is baffling why Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Vienna who had arrived in Austria only a few weeks before had to do this ‘medical procedure’ at a Hospital in the United States. Austria is a first world country with advanced medical technology which is either free of charge or at very low cost due to the universal healthcare system. It is especially the case for vital medical procedures.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs covers the medical costs of its personnel. However accepted procedure is that if the medical requirement is not an emergency the officer must send quotations of the costs from the country where he or she is stationed. The Ministry will then either approve the costs or request the officer to return to Sri Lanka for the medical needs, if it is not an emergency.
Sources at the Foreign Ministry informed Colombo Telegraph that it is widely speculated that Saroja Sirisena’s 13 million rupee medical procedure was elective to fix an irregularity in her eye rather than an emergency medical treatment. Sources also said Sirisena’s husband is a British citizen who has access to free healthcare at the UK NHS.
It’s further baffling that she had left to take up her Vienna post only a matter of weeks before this approval was granted to her to travel to the United States. If this was done in Sri Lanka or even in her home post in Austria, a country with an advanced free healthcare system, the costs to the tax payers would have been much lower.
In the fax from Aryasinha on 16th August 2019 approval is given for an economy class air ticket. The cost of the ticket is not mentioned. However through a fax on 23rd August 2019 Aryasinha approved the cost of Euro 3150 for an ‘economy class’ ticket. This is probably the most expensive economy class ticket available from Vienna to Salt Lake City, since a normal full fare economy class ticket during July-August from Europe to the US costs less than USD 1000. The more probable explanation is that Aryasinha has approved a business class ticket for Sirisena for what is a personal trip in addition to the massive expenditure on her elective surgery while concealing the fact to prevent audit questions.
Another irregularity in this approval is that Aryasinha has approved the payment of US $ 66,000 to be made in advance of Sirisena’s procedure.
Usual procedure is for Sri Lankan diplomats to claim their medical costs as reimbursements. In doing so they produce the actual medical bills proving the actual costs incurred. Usually the Government only reimburses a portion of the medical cost after considering certain deductibles etc. Cosmetic and elective procedures are not entailed for medical coverage by the government.
It is further interesting why the Sri Lanka Embassy in Vienna where Sirisena was the Ambassador was instructed to make this payment to a hospital in the United States. The regular method of such a payment even if all other relevant matters were in order would have been for either the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC to make the payment in that country. This irregular transaction would involve two international wire transfers instead of one. The first from Colombo to Vienna and then from Vienna to the Hospital in the United States. The circuitous routing of the monies indicates Aryasinha and Sirisena did not wish for the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington DC to get wind of the highly odd transaction.
In an unrelated but yet another astonishing revelation Colombo Telegraph can exclusively reveal that Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha had approved a massive expenditure of Euro 11,000 per month as temporary accommodation for Sirisena when she arrived in Vienna in July 2019.
By a fax dated 26 June 2019, a few days before Sirisena’s arrival in Vienna, Aryasinha has instructed the Embassy in Vienna to pay a sum of 33,000 Euros to lease an apartment for three months. Another Euro 1000 has been approved for payment as deposit on this apartment. The total costs of Sirisena’s accommodation for three months therefore is Euro 34,000 or Rs. 6,339, 715 (6.34 million).
Saroja Sirisena’s conduct is contrary to all other previous Sri Lankan Ambassadors to Austria who have resided at the house rented by the Embassy at a cost of approximately 6000 euros. That 6000 euro apartment was still available but the new Ambassador wanted more spacious and modern quarters Colombo Telegraph is reliably informed. Disregarding all procedures such as Government limits for ambassadorial rent for Sirisena once again Secretary Aryasinha approved the extravagant cost for the new ambassador’s quarters.
Saroja Sirisena was nominated by President Maithripala Sirisena as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Vienna after the October 2018 crisis on the recommendation of Ravinatha Aryasinha. He too was appointed as secretary Foreign Affairs by President Sirisena during the coup. Saroja Sirisena was earlier married to Minister Dilan Perera. She was appointed as Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to London after the recent presidential election after being in Vienna for less than 6 months.
Manisha Gunasekera who was serving as High Commissioner in London was summarily recalled by Foreign Secretary Aryasinha to make way for Sirisena’s appointment. No reasons have been given for the recall of Ambassador Gunasekara.
On 29th May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rushed to Sirisena’s defense issuing an unprecedented media release about so called allegations on websites and newspapers.
According to the Ministry the payment for Sirisena’s procedure and related expenses was “in accordance with Ministry Circulars, established procedures and based on precedents, including with respect to such treatment received in third countries”. The Ministry response claimed that “all Government officials contribute to a medical scheme ‘Agrahara’ which they can avail of in Sri Lanka. Similarly, a medical scheme is extended to all home-based officers appointed by the Government of Sri Lanka to Missions abroad, within which the case under reference was granted approval to proceed with an essential medical procedure.”
It is learnt that there is no proof of the ministry paid advances for medical procedures for any other officers at this value. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs there are serious questions are being asked about whether the conduct of these senior officials amounted to misappropriation of the public money. Other officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also questioning the reasons for the special treatment for this one ambassador.
According to the Ministry it was regrettable that public officials who cannot engage with media on personal matters, are maligned and subject to violations of their privacy, including attacks on critical medical issues, as in this case.
The Ministry press release on behalf of Sirisena was “unprecedented” sources informed. When most officers are maligned in the media with no basis they are not usually defended by the institution the sources said. Colombo Telegraph believes the response of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Saroja Sirisena Affair was a transparent attempt by the Aryasinha-Sirisena pair to prevent the second expose on this website about their irregular transactions.
For the benefit of Colombo Telegraph readers we publish questions emailed to both officials regarding this article seven days ago. At the time this report was published no reply was received from them.
In recent times Ambassador Sirisena loudly declared her patriotic credentials with a angry reply to a UK newspaper over publishing of the Tamil word “eelam” in a travel quiz. But senior public officers are privately asking where Sirisena’s patriotism was when it came to fleecing the Lankan tax payer money for personal gain.
On May 9th the Colombo Telegraph published the expose about the air ticket purchased for Sirisena at a cost of nearly 700,000 to the Government of Sri Lanka. The expose was published and substantiated with documentation yet to be contested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Up to date no news organization in Sri Lanka has reported about this extravagance by public officials despite the proof and documents being public.
On 23rd May the Colombo Telegraph emailed both Aryasinha and Sirisena with a fresh set of questions after accessing more documentary evidence about their transactions. Neither the Foreign Secretary nor Sirisena have seen fit to respond to the allegations or the questions from Colombo Telegraph.
Questions emailed from Colombo Telegraph to Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ravinatha Aryasinha on May 23rd:
We emailed you previously about the reimbursement of an air-ticket for Ms Saroja Sirisena at cost of 3150 euros. To which communication we received no response. The report was published on Colombo Telegraph and you are yet to deny or clarify contents therein.
We now have the following follow-up clarifications and would be grateful for response.
1) On what grounds did you approve the medical expenses for Ms. Saroja Sirisena in August 2019?
2) Why was this medical procedure done in the US and not Austria or Sri Lanka?
3) Did you receive quotations for the estimates for this procedure from different hospitals before approval?
4) Why did you approve an advance payment rather than a reimbursement?
5) Why did you instruct the Sri Lanka Embassy in Vienna to make the payment for an expense in the US. Why was the money not transferred to the Mission in DC?
6) Why did you approve a cost of govt money over 3000 euros for an economy class ticket at the rate for a first or business class airfare?
7) Are there any other instances where you have approved such personal medical expenses for other officers or their families, outside of their capital of posting. if so give details?
8) What were the reasons for the recall of Ms. Manisha Gunasekara from London?
9) Has she been informed of the reasons why she had been recalled?
10) Are you aware that the husband of High commissioner Sirisena is a British citizen?
Questions emailed from Colombo Telegraph to Saroja Sirisena on May 23rd:
Dear Ms Sirisena,
We write to clarify a few matters with you regarding your personal visit to the United States in 2019.
Documents we have seen indicate that you undertook a visit to Salt Lake City, Oregon in 2019 for medical treatment. With regard to that procedure and the costs incurred by the Sri Lankan taxpayer we have the following questions:-
1) Was this procedure unavailable at hospitals in Austria or Sri Lanka?
2) Were three quotations for the procedure submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to Government regulations for approval?
3) Do you feel your medical treatment of more than US dollars 66,000 was justifiably expensed to the Sri Lankan tax payer?
4) On what basis did you expense your air ticket to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for reimbursement when you were travelling for personal medical reasons?
5) Are you aware of the government regulations and circulars regarding the reimbursement of medical expenses? Could you point us to the circular that permits the public officials to claim reimbursements on medical expenses to the tune of Rs 12-13 million?
6) Could you clarify on which airline and which class of travel you used on your visit to the US for which the cost incurred by the Government was nearly 700,000 rupees?
7) Do you wish to make any further comments on the matter?
(By Chinthika de Silva)