Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa flew to India using a private jet allegedly procured by the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Uganda and Kenya, Velupillai Kananathan, costing millions of Sri Lankan rupees.
Rajapaksa used the private jet to travel to the temple city of Tirupati located in Andhra Pradesh, India. Rajapaksa was welcomed by the joint executive officer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) and chief vigilance and security officer Gopinath Jatti as he arrived at the temple, where Hindu priests performed associated with seeking the blessings of Lord Shiva.
The visit has been criticised as reckless and a needless expense by opposing parties, especially during a period of crisis in which Sri Lanka faces dwindling foreign reserves and increasing debt. JVP's Wasanatha Samarasinghe criticised the Primeminister for undertaking a visit costing millions whilst "the people in the country [are] struggling to survive". He questioned the government's position as they say "it is not in possession of US Dollars to procure fertiliser and other essentials [but] is easily locating dollars for private trips to Tirupati". Following on from this Newsfirst reports that Samarasinghe stated that "These incidents make it clear that the missing LTTE gold, as well as the money stowed away in foreign accounts, are surfacing through these events".
In response to the former MP's remarks, MP Milan Jayathilake of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party, claimed that a "powerful businessman" in India had sent his private jet to Sri Lanka for Prime ministers trip to India and the costs covered by a friend of the Rajapaksa family according to a quote by the Prime minister's son Yoshita Rajapaksa. However Pubudu Jagoda an activist of the Frontline Socialist Party said that Rs. 32 million was spent on the private jet and questioned why the Prime Minister would use a private jet when he could have easily used a passenger plane. Jagoda also alleged the Jet had been organised by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner of Uganda and Kenya, noting the flight schedule of the jet which had stopped off at airports in Kenya and Tanzania days before arriving in Sri Lanka.
The expensive flight comes as Sri Lanka faces a deepening financial crisis led by the Rajapaksa regime. In the next 12 months, in the government and private sector, Sri Lanka will be required to repay an estimated USD $7.3 billion in domestic and foreign loans, including a USD $500 million international sovereign bond repayment in January. However foreign currency reserves were just $1.6 billion. The World Bank estimates 500,000 people have fallen below the poverty line since the beginning of the pandemic, which was equivalent to five years of progress in fighting poverty. Rajapaksa declared Sri Lanka to be in an economic emergency, the military was given overarching power to ensure essential items, including rice and sugar, were sold at set government prices, though prices still continue to soar as inflation rises.
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