Sick heifers cost taxpayers over $20 million

Sick heifers cost taxpayers over $20 million

Written by Staff Writer

25 Sep, 2019 | 10:14 pm

Colombo (News 1st) – Testifying before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Sagarika Sumanasekara, a veterinary doctor, confirmed that steps were taken to import 3330 heifers, disregarding the risk of the BVD virus being brought into the island.

Dr Sumanasekara, who joined the Divineguma Department in 2014 as a Project Coordinator on a dual basis, in 2016 joined the project launched by the Ministry of Local Economy, to raise the standard of the Liquid Milk Industry in the country; where 20,000 heifers were to be imported, as a Project Director. The Director revealed that while 3330 heifers were imported to the country in the second phase of the project, 23 of the heifers, who were all held in the same compound, were infected with the BVD virus. Dr Sumanasekara revealed that the BVD virus spreads when airborne, and so that given that all the heifers were in the same compound, the importation of the heifers should not have been done. She added that as a veterinary doctor, she takes responsibility in this regard. She added that while 779 of the imported heifers lost their lives as a result of the BVD virus upon being imported, 40% of the calves also faced the same fate.

Her efforts to dispel the fact that the BVD disease isn’t endemic to Sri Lanka also failed before the Presidential Commission. She further had to accept, that as the Project Director, she did not consult with any industry professionals or related Government Departments in making decisions with regard to the project. She further added that while the accountant of the ministry, on 21 separate occasions, requested her to provide details on the money received for the sale of the indicated heifers, she failed to provide the information.

Nonetheless, documentary evidence has shown that she had constant contact with the Australian party and their local representatives, leading the Commission to question whether the Director worked for the Government or for the Australian Company. Renuka Ekanayake, the ministry’s former secretary, testified before the commission on the 20th of September, and tearfully admitted that the questionable project was a failure. Even though the former secretary has now entered retirement, she can be charged and have charges pressed against her under the country’s law, on at least one charge. That is because the secretary overstepped her mark and used financial powers only vested with the Parliament to approve the import of the remaining 15,000 heifers at a cost of Rs.1.31 billion.

It was revealed that it was this director who recommended the payment of the remaining amount for the 15,000 heifers, even though the first phase, comprising 5,000 heifers proving to be an absolute failure. The treasury currently continues to pay interest to a commercial bank in the Netherlands against a backdrop where a single heifer is not contributing to the economy. This project, which bears the tag of contributing to the growth of the local economy, has proven to be detrimental to it.

The project, which has already cost the taxpayer more than US$ 20 million, is still being carried out, and the position of the director concerned, is still secure.

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