Dear Sri Lanka
By Dilshani Palugaswewa
After months of waiting to finally touchdown in Tokyo for the muchanticipated event of this year (at last), the nine-man squad of Olympians set off to their destination. Amidst them in the contingent of officials accompanying Team Sri Lanka was a ministerial delegation. Apart from the Minister of Sports, were another three State Ministers who are said to have been privately sponsored to witness the spectacle.
How they went no one seems to know – but they’ve made it to the games. When eyebrows were raised on home ground, the Sports Ministry claimed to be unaware of who bore the expenditures of the rest of the State representatives, but they also don’t know who spent for the Sports Minister who went in his official capacity. Anomaly much? What do they know then? Do they know that our squad had official kits? Oh wait, those were for the officials who went to support the team from their special seats as spectators.
However, a Minister claims that all funds came from a few separate private organisations. To top it off, the State Ministers seems to have violated the MP’s Code of Ethics by not informing Parliament that they received private funding for their trip overseas! (I’m no psychic but I see an imminent probe, summons, two inquiries sessions and a big white who-cares ticket issued as penalty.) Pushing back from Tokyo, the State Minister of Land Management, State Enterprises Land and Property Development has spoken out with clarifications, vehemently denying travelling on a private sector sponsorship.
Well, now we have more questions! If he was travelling on his own expense, firstly, why did he travel alongside State representatives as part of the entourage for the Sports Minister? And secondly, if he is indeed there on his own expense, why is he attending bilateral meetings with the Sports Minister? To think that he took part in diplomatic discussions on a self-sponsored trip as a State servant without securing a sponsored trip by a private party like the others! Oh my, the dedication! Do we even deserve people like him serving our country? True, we don’t deserve these people, we really don’t! While we are still confused as to if the other two State Ministers went in their official capacity or not and how easily they felt comfortable having their trip sponsored – the same questions stand. If they went as spectators, how did they join in on official meetings/photo ops and if they did go as State officials, how did the Parliament not know that they had procured private funding? Meanwhile, concerns have been raised over the failure of athletes participating at the Olympic Games to have the national flag on some of their competing gear, when we see multiple images of our officials sporting t-shirts with our flag on it. So did the State/ private sponsors just have money to send our officials with appropriate apparel but ran out of both money and material when it came to the actual participants.
And then they expect these sportspeople to be our pride and joy without first ensuring that they feel proud to represent their country. All this while the pandemic is ranging through the country with the worst variant yet and medical needs are still the need of the hour. Did the Minister on tour forget he urged NGOs and private funders to come forward a few months ago to donate money to the Government for the purpose of medical emergencies? Yet, he had no problem jetting off and accommodating his two or three (depending on if anyone is telling the truth) other friends to join him with money that could have been channelled to the COVID-19 relief fund and medical needs? I’m sure there is a logical explanation somewhere in there.
Or, is there a possibility that he thought he should treat his friends to a good vacation and drew out what he thought were from personal funds but mistakenly drained Government funds because he got confused with the number of familiar faces and names. And forgot that it wasn’t his uncle who warned him of spending money carelessly but it was indeed the newly-appointed Finance Minister who has asked Government to minimise its expenses as much as possible. No way, that could never happen. There is probably a better explanation for the mismanagement of so many things on so many levels. Let’s not jump in to conclusions.