By Nirmala Kannangara
A gem studded gold bust, a replica of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is believed to have been gifted to the President by the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) at the inauguration ceremony of ‘Jewels Sri Lanka 2010’ exhibition on Friday an employee said.
Chairman NGJA, Anil Koswatte vehemently denied that such a gift had indeed been given to the President insisting to The Sunday Leader that while a “special gift” was given to Rajapaksa and “nine other VVIPs” when the exhibition commenced Friday, it was not that of a gold bust replica of President Rajapaksa. He however refused to say what exactly the gift was which was handed to the President gift-wrapped, chiding us for asking what the wrapped “gift” was, saying, “as journalists you should be ashamed to even ask such a question.”
Koswatte is clearly unaware that whatever the “gift” given to the President the monies utilized for such are public funds and he is answerable to Parliament and the general public on how he decides to dispose of those funds. The National Gem and Jewellery Authority is not the private fiefdom of Anil Koswatte.
As far as the President is concerned there are laws in this country which demand that all gifts given to him and his family from state institutions having used public funds must be listed and not removed from office upon his relinquishing that post. In this context, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been known to be transparent when accepting state sponsored gifts and heard telling journalists that all such gifts given to him are duly listed not to be removed when he leaves office.
In fact, State Leaders universally are known to follow protocol and not accept gifts beyond a certain value. In the event that they do, such gifts are preserved in a ‘gift unit’ or museam.
The Sunday Leader was meanwhile told by informed sources that although the National Gem and Jewellery Authority earlier decided to gift a small gem studded gold statue of the President at a cost of Rs. 20 million, the idea had to be dropped following media exposure of the colossal expenditure.
“The estimated cost for the statue was Rs. 20 million but since it was leaked to the media the idea had to be dropped. Since the Authority has already made an advance payment of Rs. 2 million to Nithyakalyani Jewelers Wellawatta, the management decided to give a replica of a gem studded gold bust of the President as a souvenir. In addition a diamond studded gold necklace worth Rs.1.3 million has been purchased on December 7 to be gifted to the First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa when she visited the exhibition yesterday, Saturday December 11,” sources said.
In relation to the “gift” to the First Lady, Koswatte admitted, “Yes, we will be presenting her with a special gift.” He however again refused to say what exactly the “gift” would be. According to sources, Chairman Anil Koswattehad gone to the extent of transferring high officials whom he distrusted within the authority to keep secret the making of and presenting of the gold bust of President Rajapaksa. “The Chief Accountant was transferred and the Chief Internal Auditor was appointed in as the Chief Accountant while most of those who were in charge of purchasing and finances too were transferred to various departments,” Sources who requested anonymity said, adding that only those trusted were appointed to the relevant positions.
The newly appointed Chief Accountant Dimuthu Dharmashri was in charge of the entire finances of the ‘golden gifts’ and had made the final payment to Nithyakalyani Jewelers on December 7th.
Sources told The Sunday Leader “on December 7th, Dharmashri had gone to the Industries Ministry then to the Bank of Ceylon Colombo 3 and later to the Peoples Bank Liberty Plaza before going to the jewelers in his official car WP JN 8026. To place the order, the Chief Accountant went to the jeweler three weeks before in an office vehiicle bearing registration number WP VE 8451,” sources said.
When The Sunday Leader contacted the Chief Accountant to find out how much exactly these two valuable gifts cost, Dharmashri said that it was not a ‘big deal’ but was part of NGJA custom. He then contradicted himself saying “We never wanted to give away such gifts to the President and the First Lady. If you could reveal your sources I will give you all the details if not don’t expect any information from me. You have been misled by some destructive elements.”
Mr. Raja, Manager of Nithyakalyani Jewellers while admitting that they had indeed made a gift comprising of both gems and gold for both the President and Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapaksa told The Sunday Leader, “we were ordered by the NGJA not to reveal any details of the gift we made for the President and the First Lady. Therefore, I am sorry I can’t do so.”