A controversial decision by the Cabinet of ministers to establish 500 container gymnasiums around the country at a whopping cost of Rs 625 million has come in for serious criticism as Sri Lanka grapples with the third wave of the deadly coronavirus.
The proposal submitted by the Ministry of Sports was line item number 8 in the list of cabinet decisions published following the ministerial meeting on May 3, 2021.
The list of cabinet decisions is a study in the Government’s priorities as nearly 2000 infections are recorded daily and the country recorded 745 deaths from Covid-19, observers said. The only item on the list of cabinet decisions on May 3 that pertain to Government plans to curb the spread of the disease, is the 13th and final item, regarding approval granted to purchase more Covid-19 PCR test kits.
Social media has been inundated with posts linking the controversial and grossly untimely proposal to a sports and gym equipment store unveiled on May 2, 2021 by George Steuarts Health.
Presidential confidant and media mogul Dilith Jayaweera is the proprietor of George Steuarts Health and its parent company. Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa attended the launch of the showroom as chief guest.
The next day, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the Sports Minister’s proposal for 500 contained gymnasiums at a cost to the taxpayer of Rs 625 million.
Sure enough, documents seen by Colombo Telegraph revealed that George Steuart Health was the No 1 bidder for the proposal to construct container gyms, and ultimately made it to the two shortlisted bids for the pilot project.
GS Health and High Octane Fitness Centre were shortlisted from among seven bids, called as far back as November 10, 2020. Bidding opened on December 1, 2020. Based on documents seen by Colombo Telegraph, the bids appear to be for procurement linked to a pilot project by the Ministry of Sports for an initial 25 gyms. High Octane Fitness submitted the lowest cost bid, at Rs 983,810 per container gym, and a total cost of Rs 25.4 million for all 25 units.
However, based on the decision by the cabinet of ministers, 250 container gyms will be established in various parts of the country by the end of 2021. Two hundred and fifty more will be added by the end of 2022 based on Minister Rajapaksa’s proposal.
It remains unclear when bids will be called for the remaining 225 container gymnasium units necessary to implement Minister Namal Rajapaksa’s project by the end of this year. However, sources close to the Government told Colombo Telegraph that while High Octane – also owned by a politically connected family – had won the initial pilot project bid, it was possible that GS Health will be the main contender for the bulk of the supply in the end.
The proposal comes amid the soaring prices of consumer goods and food items, stifling import restrictions and a mounting debt and balance of payments crisis that experts believe will have the Sri Lankan economy in freefall by the end of this year.
Defending his proposal in Parliament on Wednesday (5), Minister Namal Rajapaksa assured the House that funds would not be diverted from the Covid-19 fund for his gymnasium project but will be drawn from funds allocated from the Treasury. (By Janakie Mediwake)