MPs’ houses burnt on 9 May: Houses for MPs on FOC basis for a year?
- 750 sq.ft. houses valued between Rs. 15-22 million
- Treasury has turned down buying houses for affected MPs
By Maheesha Mudugamuwa
Parliamentarians who lost their houses in the 9 May mayhem, following the attack on peaceful ‘GotaGoGama’ protesters by a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led mob at Galle Face, are likely to get houses from a housing complex in Thalawathugoda owned by the Urban Development Authority (UDA), The Sunday Morning learns.
It is learnt that the eligible Members of Parliament (MPs) will be given houses worth between Rs. 15 to 22 million on a ‘Free of Charge’ (FOC) basis for a period of one year.
It is also learnt that the programme of providing houses for these MPs has been handled by the President’s Office and it has thus far not been declared under what conditions the houses will be provided to these MPs.
Earlier it had been discussed that MPs who lost their houses and other properties should be compensated, but there was a serious public discussion that houses should only be provided for those who did not have extra houses or those who could provide reliable asset declarations.
The burning of houses took place on the night of 9 May amid the violence that erupted, which began with the attacks on the peaceful protesters. The fallout also led to former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announcing his resignation.
Police reports indicated that houses of nearly 80 MPs, with more than 70 allied with the Government, had been attacked, while SLPP Parliamentarian Amarakeerthi Athukorala was found dead amidst violent clashes.
The list released by the Chief Government Whip’s Office on the affected properties of Government MPs included those belonging to the following: Mahinda Rajapaksa, Dinesh Gunawardena, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga, Wimalaweera Dissanayake, Mohan Priyadarshana de Silva, Vidura Wickramanayaka, Shehan Semasinghe, Kanaka Herath, Kanchana Wijesekera, Thenuka Vidanagamage, Nalaka Godahewa, Channa Jayasumana, Naseer Ahamed, Arundika Fernando, Sanath Nishantha, Tharaka Balasuriya, Indika Anuruddha, Siripala Gamalath, Anuradha Jayaratne, D.V. Chanaka, Sisira Jayakody, Prasanna Ranaweera, D.B. Herath, Seetha Arambepola, Rohana Dissanayake, Shantha Bandara, Piyal Nishantha de Silva, Ashoka Priyantha, Sumith Udukumbura, Akila Saliya Ellawala, Lalith Ellawala, Jagath Kumara Sumithraarachchi, Nalaka Kottegoda, Kokila Gunawardena, Milan Jayatilleke, Isuru Dodangoda, Premnath Dolawatte, and S.M. Chandrasena.
The houses of the following were also attacked: Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Namal Rajapaksa, Roshan Ranasinghe, Shasheendra Rajapaksa, Jayantha Ketagoda, Amarakeerthi Athukorala, Sampath Athukorala, Janaka Thissakuttiarachchi, Piyum Anupa Pasqual, Chinthaka Amal Mayadunne, Nipuna Ranawaka, Ali Sabri Raheem, Ajith Rajapakse, Gunathilaka Rajapaksha, Upul Mahendra Rajapaksha, Rajika Wickramasinghe, Sahan Pradeep Withana, D. Weerasingha, Kapila Athukorala, Geetha Kumarasinghe, Gunapala Rathnasekara, Chamal Rajapaksa, Johnston Fernando, Gamini Lokuge, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, C.B. Rathnayake, Keheliya Rambukwella, Samanpriya Herath, Lalith Warna Kumara, Chandima Weerakkody, Nimal Lanza, and Piyankara Jayaratne.
On 18 May, then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that houses would be provided to the MPs as a temporary measure, but their ownership would not be transferred to MPs and they would remain with the State.
Similarly, Prasanna Ranatunga, in his former capacity as Minister of Urban Development and Housing, was reported as having said that the the old MPs’ quarters situated in Madiwela were scheduled to be given over to a UDA investment project and the Thalawathugoda housing scheme had over 100 units that would be given to MPs who currently had quarters in Madiwela.
Madiwela housing complex
When The Sunday Morning asked UDA Deputy Director General (Real Estate and Land Management) E.A.C. Priyashantha about the matter, he stressed that even before the incidents had occurred, it had been suggested that the present MP quarters in Madiwela should be demolished and new quarters from the Thalawathugoda housing scheme be provided to MPs.
“Initially it was discussed to allocate 100 houses from the Thalawathugoda housing scheme for MPs, but the Treasury did not provide funds due to the economic situation of the country. So, following the incidents, it was discussed to provide 100 houses on a temporary basis for the MPs,” he said.
According to him, the MPs could use the premises for a year free of charge and following the expiration of the one year period they could either purchase the house or hand it back to the State.
When asked about the value of the property, Priyashantha said a house of 750 sq.ft. would cost around Rs. 15 million and prices of the houses ranged between Rs. 15 million and 22 million.
The Madiwela housing complex consists of 120 housing units. Each house has a floor area of 900 sq.ft. and consists of three bedrooms, a pantry, living/dining area, servant’s toilet, and a parking space and is available for occupation for eligible members on rent basis.
“The maintenance of such housing units becomes an important duty of this office. The complex will consist of 500 houses and 100 of these houses will be allocated for MPs on a temporary basis,” he said.
He also said the complex was currently being built and part of the construction had already been completed.
When asked about the present shortages and high cost of construction materials, Priyashantha said that the construction of four housing complexes had already begun and the superstructure, for which the iron and cement requirements were mostly consumed, had been completed.
In addition to the Thalawathugoda housing complex, three other complexes, including in Kottawa, Malambe, and Makumbura, are currently under construction.
Priyashantha however said that most of the construction work had now been stalled due to the lack of funds and materials as well as high cost of construction. According to him, the construction of houses for low-income families too has now come to a standstill.
Responding to a query by The Sunday Morning as to whether the MPs who owned more than one house would also be eligible for a house in the luxury complex in Thalawathugoda, he stressed that the suggested housing programme for MPs on temporary basis was being coordinated by the President’s Office and therefore they were not informed of who would be eligible.
The discussions for compensating the MPs and providing houses for them is going on in the backdrop of an urgent need for 42,000 middle income housing units (source: Housing Needs Assessment and Data Survey – 2016). Forecasts show that the demand for housing is increasing rapidly as per the survey conducted by the Housing Development Authority focusing on the city of Colombo.
Also, according to the Housing Needs Assessment Survey, out of the six million families living in Sri Lanka, only 5.2 million have some form of housing. Even though steps have been taken to develop the housing sector in the country, such as the formulation of the National Housing Policy, there are issues that warrant attention.
Amenities for MPs
Other than the house entitlement for respective MPs, the MPs are entitled to receive certain essential amenities such as telephones, postal facilities, and stationery, along with accommodation facilities and medical facilities among other benefits, for the efficient discharge/performance of their duties as legislators. The Members’ Services Office is geared to attend to these aspects.
In addition, this office maintains a 19-room holiday bungalow – the General’s House – in Nuwara Eliya exclusively for MPs and their families. The Members’ Services Office attends provisioning of certain services to the official residence of the Speaker as well.
Members are also provided with official residential telephones, stationery on a monthly basis, postal facilities, security lamps, hospital facilities, allocation of houses for MPs from the Madiwela Housing Scheme, reservation of rooms for MPs from the General’s House in Nuwara Eliya, settlement of official telephone bills of MPs, settlement of telephone, water, and electricity bills of Madiwela housing units, official residence of the Speaker, the General’s House, Nuwara Eliya, coordination of repairs/maintenance work in respect of the Madiwela housing units and the General’s House with the Coordinating Engineers’ Department, coordination of medical insurance coverage for MPs with the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, and coordination of supply of office equipment to MPs through the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
However, when The Sunday Morning made inquiries in this regard from Parliamentary Secretary General Dhammika Dasanayake, he said the Parliament did not handle any of the matters related to the houses and compensation for MPs for the damaged houses and properties and that it was the Ministry and the UDA that were handling the matter. Attempts to contact Secretary to the President Saman Ekanayake were futile.