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CHOGM cost focus is silly: Keheliya

2013 Jul 19

By Uditha Jayasinghe

Taking guard on costs for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella went on the defensive yesterday when questioned over Government plans and insisted that it was “silly”.

Rambukwella, speaking at the weekly Cabinet briefing, initially responded that the cost would be as high as “Rs. 50 – Rs. 60 billion,” but when cross-questioned downgraded the budget to Rs. 1.94 billion. However, he admitted that the second estimate was without vehicle costs, which are being dealt with separately by the Treasury.

When asked to give specifics on the vehicles earmarked to be imported, an irate Minister charged that the cost factor was used to paint Sri Lanka being the host of CHOGM in a negative light but admitted it would add up to a “big sum”.

“Cost is a thing again that you can look at negatively. Because you cannot expect Prince Charles to get into a Morris minor, which is not available now, but maybe a Toyota Corolla or something. You have certain requirements when you have an event of such magnitude; it is understood and sorry to say sometimes silly to ask whether we are getting a BMW or a Mercedes or a Toyota Corolla because we are looking at 53 Heads of State. So I mean these are very obvious things and nowhere in the world do they have such summits without bringing down some luxury vehicles. You don’t have to emphasise on it,” he told journalists attempting to obtain details on whether the vehicles would have a ministerial connection.

He emphasised that the Government was still evaluating what option to take in importing vehicles, including renting.

“There are several schemes being discussed at present. One is for entrepreneurs to import the vehicles at lower tax rates of about 20-25% and then lend them to the Government as necessary.” He also denied that ministers needed new vehicles.

Rambukwella also admitted that the Government was considering foreign funding to finance CHOGM and would consult “all friendly countries” on possible options.

“We are only looking at the benefit to the country and we are absolutely confident that it will be a great event,” he added, calling on the public to take the same positive view.

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