The government has slashed the Foreign Ministry’s budget by as much as one third of the present expenditure, with immediate effect, Acting Foreign Minister Hussain Bhaila confirmed yesterday.
The Treasury has directed that all diplomatic missions abroad should cut down expenses by 30 per cent with immediate effect. The cost-cutting exercise includes expenses incurred by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo.
The austerity measures would include curtailment of expenditure on travel, communication costs and administrative expenses, Mr. Bhaila told The Sunday Times. He explained that foreign missions would be required to group together various tasks they were entrusted with and carry them out during a single assignment. Similarly, they would also be expected to share vehicles instead of using separate ones for different purposes, he said.
The moves, The Sunday Times learns, have been prompted by serious financial difficulties encountered by the Government. One of the main areas where expenditure is to be pruned down is communications where Sri Lankan missions abroad have been told to effect a fifty per cent (50 %) cut.
Mr Bhaila said the austerity measures would also apply to the Foreign Ministry in Colombo. He hinted that further austerity measures for other Government sectors would also come when the Government’s budget was presented in November.
The Acting Foreign Minister said he believed consular services offered by foreign missions abroad would not be affected by the latest directive. However, officials at the Foreign Ministry who spoke on grounds of anonymity said some of the services rendered by the missions to Sri Lankans in particular would be badly affected.
One such area, an official said, would be the allowances the missions were entitled to hold socials to keep in touch with the Sri Lankan Community in the countries where there was diplomatic representation.
The drastic cut in Foreign Ministry expenditure comes amidst mounting criticism of excessive spending on the part of Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama especially on his overseas travels.
He is currently in New York after a visit to Brazil.
In July the government asked Parliament to vote a sum of Rs. 2.8 billion for the SAARC Summit that was held in Sri Lanka.