Opposition Lawmakers pitched into the Government over its decision to move the Justice Ministry to the World Trade Centre in Colombo at an astronomical cost of Rs 400 million in Parliament on Wednesday (9), saying the decision was a crime when the country was in grave economic peril.
JVP Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath accused the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of double standards, reminding the ruling SLPP that they criticized a similar decision by the previous Government to rent a building for the Ministry of Agriculture at a whopping Rs 24 million per month.
The JVP legislator said the cost to the Treasury per month to move the Ministry of Justice would be over Rs. 10.1 million.
It will cost them Rs 2 million to transport the material from each floor of the Ministry of Justice. So that amounts to Rs 10 million for all five floors – just for transportation, Herath revealed. “Was there really no other building to move the Ministry of Justice to?” he demanded.
“Our people are going hungry. A coconut is selling at Rs 120, a kilo of rice is Rs 140. The Government itself is admitting that the country is in a precarious financial position and this has worsened because of COVID-19. So how can they justify this cost?” MP Herath charged.
Interrupting Herath’s speech to respond, Justice Minister Ali Sabry said all the Ministry had done was ask permission to move which had been granted.
Ali Sabry PC said that the rent for two years of Rs 400 million would include utilities.
“All we did was ask permission. That permission has been granted. One of two things have to happen, either we have to move or the courts have to move,” he tried to explain.
The JVP Lawmaker shot back that the decision had been made by cabinet, without tender procedures or other government procurement regulations being followed.
“Stop wasting the people’s money this way,” Vijitha Herath charged. “This is a crime.”
The JVP Member reminded the House that many citizens in the country were struggling to get Rs 5000 just to survive. Migrant workers come back home and have to pay Rs 16,000 for PCR tests and Rs 7500 per day for hotel costs during quarantine, he said.
“These are our workers. When so much money is being fleeced from them, how is it justifiable to spend this kind of money to move the ministry? This is a huge waste,” Herath said.
He also recalled that when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa first assumed office he made a proclamation that ministries would only be housed in state buildings. The President had also claimed that family members would not be appointed, Herath recalled. “All those are forgotten and broken promises,” he charged.
The JVP Legislator also revealed that the Health Ministry would also soon be moved out from its current premises. There were several ministries in the pipeline to move, he warned.
Herath also referenced another office at the World Trade Centre in Colombo that the Justice Ministry had constructed to house the International Arbitration Centre. “Interior Décor alone for this centre cost Rs 100 million and each chair was purchased at Rs 50,000. That Centre is yet to hear a single case,” he said.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the International Arbitration Centre was proposed in the 2010 budget under the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and construction work began at the World Trade Centre in Colombo in 2011. The Centre was opened in May 2015. The Centre heard its first arbitration case in 2020.
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