By Rifthi Ali
A Right to Information (RTI) inquiry on the expenses related to Chairmen of dissolved Provincial Councils (PCs) unveiled many interesting facts on the misuse of public funds.
Also, RTI reveals continuous payments of salaries for Chairmen of inactive PCs in addition to the salary payments for their personal staff, vehicles and fuel allowances.
Amidst the present economic crisis that almost crippled the daily life of citizens of this country, about six million rupees of public funds is continuously being spent in relation to Chairmen of inactive PCs who do not discharge any official duties after the dissolvement of such Provincial Councils on a monthly basis.
At the same time, a staggering amount of more than Rs 200 million paid in total after the dissolvement of PCs as salaries for Chairmen and their personal staff for many years by the state.
This article is written based on responses to RTI applications raised to all nine Council Secretariats on this matter. The provision to the section 7 (C) of the PCs Act No. 42 of 1987 stipulates as follows;
“Provided that whenever the Council is dissolved, the Chairman shall not vacate his office until immediately before the first meeting of the Council after the dissolution.”
The above-mentioned legal provision makes Chairmen of the PCs to continuously hold their positions even after the Councils dissolved. However, it is noteworthy that the Speaker of Parliament, vested with more authority than the PCs, loses his position when Parliament is dissolved.
Apart from Eastern and Northern Provincial Councils, all other Chairmen of inactive PCs are the members of Sri Lanka Pothujana Peramuna (SLPP).
Among these dissolved PC Chairmen, D.M. Amarathunga, the Chairman of North Central Provincial Council passed away on 4 May 2019 and all payments related to him and his personal staff ceased subsequently.
However, for a period of 19 months, since the North Central Provincial Council dissolved till his death, the Government spent Rs 8,009,678.00 in public funds to pay salaries and other benefits for the late Amarathunga and his personal staff.
As per the PCs Act, the main duty of a Chairman is to preside over Provincial Council sessions and conduct the meeting in an orderly manner. However, once a PC is dissolved, the Chairman would not be able to discharge this duty.
The PCs Act does not prescribe anything related to the powers and duties of Chairmen of the dissolved local governing bodies. As a result, the Chairmen of dissolved PCs enjoy salaries and other benefits without performing any official duties in a continuous manner.
A secretary of the Council Secretariat of a dissolved Provincial Council, who wished to remain anonymous states, “The Chairmen of dissolved PCs demand monthly salaries and other benefits based on the section 7 of the PCs Act”.
Details of monthly salaries and other benefits provided to a Chairman of a dissolved Provincial Council:
No vehicles were allocated to the Chairman of the dissolved Uva Provincial Council; instead a monthly allowance of Rs 480,000.00 is being paid to cover his vehicle expenses. In addition to this, a fuel allowance of Rs 58,500, Rs 24,000 for postal services and Rs 30,000 as stamp charges provided to him on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Southern Provincial Council receives a monthly housing allowance of Rs 50,000. As per circular No. PS/CSA/00/1/4/2 dated on 12 October 2018 by then Secretary to the President Udaya R. Seneviratna, a total 10 personal staff could be appointed by a Chairman of a Provincial Council.
Details of personal staff allocated to a PCs Chairman as approved by the Secretary to the President
However, it is notable that some Chairmen appointed more personal staff beyond approved limits.
Details of personal staff associated with Chairmen of dissolved PCs on actual basis
The salaries paid to personal staff of Chairmen differ among PCs. In addition to this, vehicles are provided by PCs to Personal Secretaries, Coordinating Secretaries and Public Relation Officers of Chairmen. These three types of officers receive a monthly fuel allowances for 240, 218 and 218 litres respectively.
Some PCs provide monthly vehicle allowances to these three categories of officers instead of vehicles. Apart from that, the Southern and Sabaragamuwa PCs provide a daily wage of Rs 850.00 per driver for these vehicles. These both PCs provide a monthly telephone allowance of Rs 6,000 to officers in these three categories.
Based on the above facts, the Government spent around Rs 200 million of tax payers’ money to provide salaries and other benefits to Chairmen and personal staff of inactive PCs so far. Even though some Provincial Governors made efforts to stop these unnecessary expenditures, their efforts have not been successful.
Breakdowns of payments provided to Chairmen and their personal staff
Details of Payment provided to Chairmen of dissolved PCs and their personal staff by state Chart – 02
Details of Payment provided to Chairmen of dissolved PCs and their personal staff by state Chart – 01
Meanwhile, C.V.K. Sivagnanam, the Chairman of the dissolved Northern Provincial Council said that even though, at the moment, they do not have powers for administration and to convene Councils, steps have been made to solve problems of people in the provinces through the communication they have with provincial officials.
“I still function as the Chairman of the PC as per the Provincial Councils Act. I make steps through this position to solve the problems presented to me by the general public,” He further added.
Meanwhile, Ram Rajakariyar, who functioned as the Chairman of the merged North and East Provincial Council, which was dissolved on 7 June 1990, continuously received his salary and all other benefits for many years. However, this practice was stopped by a cabinet memorandum in the past, a former member of the dissolved North and East Provincial Council said.
Our efforts to contact Rajakariyar, who lives overseas and several other administrative officers including K. Ganesamoorthy who functioned as the Chief Secretary and Council Secretary of the North – Eastern Provincial Council were not successful.
Further, our RTI application to obtain information on the salary details of Chairman of the inactive Western Provincial Council was rejected by the Council Secretariat. We filed an appeal to the RTI Commission against this denial of information.
Meanwhile, media reports mentioned that the Chairman of the dissolved Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council Kanchana Jayaratna functions as the Personal Secretary to Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi.
Based on this media reports, we submitted a RTI by hand to Health Ministry’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – 01 D.C. Wickramasena to obtain the salary details of the personal staff of Pavithra Wanniarachchi when she was functioning as the Minister of Health from November 2019 to August 2021. We didn’t receive any reply from the Ministry so far.
We met the above CFO – 01 in person to inquire on the status of this RTI application. She said that it is not possible to disclose the salary details of personal staff of the former Health Minister without their permission.