Cash trapped and debt-ridden government is now pruning funds allocated to foreign missions overseas in the wake of dwindling foreign reserves with limited forex inflows and scarcity of US dollars.
As a cost cutting exercise, Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry has directed all heads of foreign missions to bring down additional expenses with a view of conserving the country’s much needed foreign reserves and minimising expenditure related to maintenance of Sri Lanka’s Missions / Posts overseas.
These measures are necessary to save foreign exchange while ensuring the effective conduct of bilateral relations, in the backdrop of the grave economic challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, foreign secretary Admiral (Prof.) Jayanath Colombage disclosed.
Although the Foreign Ministry budgetary allocation from the budget 2022 has been slightly increased to Rs .12.85 billion for recurrent expenditure from Rs.12.36 billion in 2021, it is compelled to reduce spending in diplomatic missions overseas, he said.
In another communique issued on January 12, foreign secretary Colombage had also informed Heads of Foreign Missions that a decision has been taken to temporarily suspend the reimbursement of the representational allowance given to top officials of diplomatic missions.
A sum of $ 700 -$ 3600 was being paid for heads of missions as representational allowance while other raking officers were used get around $ 200 -$ 400 , provisions estimates revealed.
The representational allowance granted to Diplomatic Missions are used for important activities such as strengthening ties with the authorities of each country, promoting Sri Lanka’s tourism, trade, political, economic and security ties, and presenting official gifts at diplomatic meetings.
This allowance is granted to chiefs of mission, special envoys, permanent delegates or representatives to international bodies, principal officers, and other ranking diplomatic officers, and ranking Foreign Service officers stationed abroad.
The allowance was given to them to enable such officers to uphold the prestige of the Island nation, to represent the country with dignity and distinction, and to carry out their functions more effectively.
Foreign Ministry pointed out that while all related expenses are audited, these expenses incurred by the Missions are only reimbursed after the presentation of bills to the Ministry.
According to the circular issued by the ministry, the same set amount has been dispensed to all Sri Lankan Missions since 2001.
“For example, the maximum representational allowance granted for the Mission in Seoul, South Korea, one of the most expensive cities, is US$ 700 per month but it isn’t sufficient to cover expenses for a week,” informed sources added.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Heads of Foreign Missions had been informed that they are allowed to exceed the limit of the allowance on ‘special occasions’ but many had been turned down despite making requests to exceed the allowance when necessary.