FM’s Seva Vanitha hijacks tsunami aid

A prominent non-profit organisation working for the welfare of children has been forced to look for fresh sources of funding for a tsunami project in the eastern province after the Foreign Ministry’s Seva Vanitha unit headed by Foreign Minister’s wife Deepthi Bogollagama recalled the funds collected in 2005 for the project.

Though no official confirmation was available, The Sunday Times learns that these funds are to be used for a project in the Nikaweratiya area, in the Kurunegala district – the constituent district of Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. The project was originally implemented by the SOS Children’s Villages with funds of the Seva Vanitha unit for the welfare of those affected by the tsunami in the Komari area. Komari is a small town south of Batticaloa.

The three-storied social centre at Komari

The Sunday Times learns that a balance Rs. 7.8 million allocated as running costs for the project, was returned to the Foreign Ministry’s Seva Vanitha unit by the SOS last week.

The Foreign Ministry gave no proper explanation for the recall of the funds, but The Sunday Times learned the funds are to be used for a project in a non-tsunami affected area.

Under the project, a social center was put in the middle of the Komari village, which had been completely destroyed by the tsunami. The three-storey building includes a kindergarten, a training center and also provides a place to hold social gatherings such as weddings or village meetings.
Currently 42 children attend the kindergarten, 35 children attend evening classes, 25 attend scholarship classes and 37 people including widows, young women and young girls attend sewing classes conducted at the center. The Seva Vanitha Unit of the Foreign Ministry, then headed by Ms. Sugandi Ranasinghe, wife of the late Foreign Minister Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, collected funds to be utilized for the benefit of the tsunami affected people.

Mrs. Kadiragamar approached SOS Children’s Villages of Sri Lanka, who suggested the construction of a social center in Komari for tsunami-affected people in the area.

A proposal was submitted by SOS and work on the construction commenced in 2005. SOS was to establish and run the center with the funds provided by the Seva Vanitha Unit. The amount donated by the Seva Vanitha Unit for the project was Rs. 22.3 million.

Work on the project was completed in August last year and a plaque fixed stating the centre was gifted by the Seva Vanitha Unit of the Foreign Ministry. According to SOS, construction costs including site clearance, electricity, furniture and running costs up to 2007 was Rs 11.9 million, while running cost for 2008 was Rs. 3.9 million. “The balance, of Rs. 7.8 million had been allocated as future running costs”, an SOS official said, adding that these funds were to be used to pay bills, salaries of teachers, maintenance of building and furniture and other costs involved in running the center.

However ‘The Sunday Times’ learns, in July this year the Foreign Ministry’s Seva Vanitha unit requested the balance be returned so it could be used on another project. SOS was also requested to provide accounts pertaining to the project. The balance money have been handed over by SOS to the Foreign Ministry as requested. As a result, the SOS is facing difficulties in running the project, The Sunday Times learns. “We are currently looking for new sources of funding to ensure continuity of the project”, an SOS official said. He added running costs would amount to approximately Rs 3 million per year. “As such gathering funds via new sponsors to run this project would be a major challenge”, he said.

Other difficulties include the security situation, recruiting qualified staff and regular visits undertaken by SOS directors due to the volatile situation prevailing in the area.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson, confirmed the return of the balance of Rs. 7 million and stated the money would be used on another tsunami-related project. “However, the project is yet to be identified”, he said.

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