National Library: Dispute over budget allocation recorded | print output



  • Library patrons and staff face great difficulties; Houses build millions of rupees worth of books, Newspapers and valuable documents

General Manager W. Sunil

By Yoshitha Perera

Despite spending millions on renovations, the National Library in Colombo, overseen by the National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDSB), has remained unfinished for several years. Renovation work began in 2018 with the goal of completing the task within eight months.

At a recent meeting with the Ministry of Education, the line ministry of the National Library, the Board of Directors of the National Library was informed that the former Yahapalana government has allocated Rs. 252 million for the renovations of the National Library building.

However, the government has failed to complete the renovations and the premises have been in a state of disrepair with unfinished work for three years.

The National Library building plaque mentions another amount spent on the project. It says Rs. 350 million has been spent on the renovation project.

“The former Yahapalana government wanted to reopen the building in 2019 before the renovations were complete. The plaque mentioned that Rs. 350 million had been allocated. However, the actual amount spent on the project at that time was Rs. 211 million. It was only at the most recent meeting that officials announced the actual amount allocated for the renovation work,” said National Library Director General W. Sunil.

The renovation project was part of the development program under the “Nearest school is the best school” policy introduced by former Minister of Education Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

Despite renovation work from 2018 still in good condition

According to Mr. Sunil, the renovation work was halted after the change of government in 2019, leaving the project without officials or funds.

“It was a design and build project with open tenders in 2018. The tender was awarded to a private company, SMA Construction, and several design flaws were discovered during the process. We pointed this out during the construction process. However, no action was taken at that time,” he said.

After Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President in 2019, the office that implemented the “Nearest school is the best school” policy was closed and the project ended. SMA Construction also announced that it would no longer be able to carry out the project. The National Library was half built but open to the people.

The plaque says Rs 350 million has been spent on refurbishments. Image by Eshan Fernando

“At that time, when the problem was explained to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he advised the Sri Lanka Navy to take over the project and complete the construction. However, due to certain document issues, they did not take on the project,” said Mr. Sunil.

However, according to a recent update, the current government was willing to restart the project and complete the renovations.

Sri Lanka’s State Engineering Corporation recently completed a report on the remaining works for the proposed renovation works. On November 9, the report was turned over to the Department of Education, and the State Engineering Corporation prepared a cost estimate for the remaining work.

“After the estimate is completed, the Ministry of Education will issue a cabinet paper to obtain funding for the remaining work,” Mr Sunil said.

Previously, several committee meetings of the National Library were held, and National Library staff members complained that due to flaws in the renovation project, both staff members and library users faced serious difficulties, said former National Library director-general Upali Amarasiri. He also said that the library’s collections are under serious threat.

“The committee members were taken on an inspection tour of the building and it was quite a depressing situation. A report prepared by the head of the National Library’s Conservation Department was presented to the committee members, highlighting the threats posed by the renovation project to the library collections containing rare materials,” he said. He also served on the National Library Committee.

According to the information provided to the Committee on November 5, 2021, the National Budget Department informed in its letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Education dated January 13, 2017 that it will spend Rs. 500 million for renovations of the National Library building.

Accordingly, the Committee had asked the State Budget Department to provide the details of the total value of the bid to SMA Construction for the design-and-build renovation works.

The library houses a collection of more than a million books, valuable and rare government documents, newspapers and literature.

In response, the department said the total value of the bid was Rs. 297 million and the contractor had not provided a main breakdown of the various expected tasks and the budget allocation for those main tasks.

When asked, the Department of Education said the department’s internal sources said there was an ongoing internal review of the assignments.

The National Library houses a collection of more than a million books, valuable and rare government documents, newspapers and literature.

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