Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga, in a seemingly loose statement, attempted to defend the conduct of his Senior Advisor Felix Rodrigo who is currently in hot water over a Chinese wedding fiasco.
“The article begins with the insinuation that the official concerned, Senior Advisor Mr. Felix Rodrigo is in ‘hot water’ as the Prime Minister’s Office has launched a ‘special investigation’ on the alleged attempt to pay Rs. 6 million to his brother’s company for organizing the Chinese mass wedding ceremony in Colombo last year which drew worldwide attention. The truth of the matter is that not a single cent was paid to any company and there is no ‘investigation’ either by the Prime Minister’s office or any other entity for that matter,” the 78 year old Minister said in a statement yesterday.
Colombo Telegraph observes that this is a weak attempt to avoid the core issue we have raised. In a series of articles, we exposed how Felix Rodrigo, Amaratunga’s Senior Advisor, was instrumental in sending a directive to former Sri Lanka Tourism Promotional Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara to pay Rs. 6 million to the private company owned by Rodrigo’s brother Harindra Rodrigo for hosting a mass Chinese wedding in Colombo.
It was Nanayakkara who flatly refused to make the payment as the directive seemed suspicious. It was because Nanayakkara’s bold refusal that money was not paid to the Rodrigo company as directed by Amaratunga. Had Nanayakkara complied with the Amaratunga-Rodrigo directive, it would have allowed the duo to embezzle Rs. 6 million in public money in the guise of conducting a ‘Tourism promotions project’ warranting prosecution under the Public Property Act.
Nanayakkara was summarily dismissed from his position as he refused to make a suspicious payment to Rodrigo’s brother’s company. Surprisingly Amaratunga’s statement is completely silent on this directive to Nanayakkara which ultimately resulted in termination of the latter’s employment.
Amaratunga also says, “Disgruntled elements who occupied high posts at SLTPB and spent millions of dollars of ‘tourism money’ on foreign tamashas but yet could not obtain even one tenth of the exposure this event generated are most probably still fuming and behind these mudslinging attempts. The website seems to have forgotten the most fundamental principle in news reportage where they have failed to obtain the views of the accused parties before publication. Thereby the whole one-sided ‘story’ lacks any semblance of credibility and remains the work of a very fertile imagination.”
We are not entirely sure whom Amaratunga is referring to but we wish to state that it was the Investigations Desk of Colombo Telegraph that was behind the story, not any ‘disgruntled element’. We are in possession of a trove of documents which proves the unholy alliance between Amaratunga and Rodrigo and how they made blatant attempts to misuse public funds and properties.
When our reporter contacted the Ministry before the publication of the first story to get a comment from Rodrigo, a telephone operator strictly refused to share “personal contact details” of the Senior Advisor. However, we have always maintained that Rodrigo could respond to allegations with proof and concrete evidence, not with empty threats and meaningless rhetoric.
The Minister then says. “The private company concerned did an excellent job in conceptualizing, organizing, funding and executing the entire project on their own without any support whatsoever from SLTPB. So much so, that two more such events have now been planned for this year based on demand. This I believe is too much to stomach for the disgruntled individuals who prefer publishing fairytales on websites than actual work on the ground. As in the past the private company has not sought support of SLTPB for their upcoming events but has kept the Ministry of Tourism Development and the Ministry of Megapolis in the loop out of professional courtesy and expected from a company involved in the tourism business. ”
This is also beating around the bush without addressing the core of allegations. It does not matter if the company did an “excellent job without any support whatsoever from the SLTPB” as it is the work of a private party. Amaratunga must understand that he has no right to “reward” the private company with the public money. One does not need rocket science to understand why the Tourism Minister sanctioned a directive to the SLTPB Chairman to pay Rs. 6 million to a company owned by the brother of one of his advisors.
Although Green Leaves Leisure (company owned by Felix Rodrigo’s brother Harindra Rodrigo) and Minister John Amaratunga have responded vaguely to our articles,they are astonishingly silent on the controversial directive on paying Rs. 6 million to the Rodrigo company for the mass Chinese wedding and the subsequent termination of Nanayakkara’s employment.
They also completely avoid referring to the relationship between Felix Rodrigo and Harindra Rodrio, which is intrinsically connected to the story. (By Thilini Karunarathne)