The lockdown at Temple Trees, historically one of the main centres of power in the country, continues amidst the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
“The report that the Temple Trees has been closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 situation is false.
“I wish to assure that no officer at the Prime Minister’s office or at the Temple Trees has been infected with COVID-19. There is no truth in the report in a national newspaper that the Temple Trees was temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 situation. The report is baseless and inaccurate.
“The work at the Temple Trees and the Prime Minister’s office is being conducted without any interruption in accordance with the guidelines of the government and health officials under the COVID-19 situation.
“Only selected officers from Ministries and other state institutions are called in for official duties at the Prime Minister’s office. Also, the Task Force office headed by Mr Basil Rajapaksa operating from the Temple Trees continues without any interruption.
“The persons infected with COVID-19 were detected from an external unit linked to the Prime Minister’s security division. The security staff at the Prime Minister’s office and within the Temple Trees continue to operate as they operated previously.
Prime Minister’s Media Secretary”
I asked Basil Rajapaksa, head of the Presidential Task Force on Economic Recovery, who works from the Temple Trees, whether Welivita’s press release was correct. His reply: “It is a complete lie. The Temple Trees is under a lockdown and I cannot use the offices there. If you want to find out, you can send someone there. The whole place is closed. The staff have been told to keep away from work. They have been told to work from home.”
Basil Rajapaksa was very livid when he declared, “The Media Secretary (Welivita) does not know what he is doing. They are bringing in a lot of embarrassment and disrepute to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa by telling untruths. The references to me are also totally false. That should never happen. They do not have the licence to do so. The Premier is not one who wants to cover up these things. He is frank and forthright at all times. We have to be transparent and not keep hiding the truth from the people. What is wrong in saying the real truth?” Even Premier Rajapaksa has not gone to his office at Temple Trees since the lockdown, the main strategist responsible for the presidential and parliamentary elections said.
He said that after the lockdown, which the Sunday Times learnt began on November 18, he also had not been able to work from Temple Trees. He added, “I have been talking to several ministers and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke, Governor of the Western Province, to find temporary office space to conduct meetings. I have no place. For most of the meetings, I cannot use the SLPP headquarters office at Battaramulla. It does not belong to the Government.
Last Friday, I held three of four different meetings at the conference room of the Highways Ministry located at Battaramulla. I had to get all my officials to come there to talk about some important business. These could not be put off.” He said getting his own staff for work had become a serious issue. He would have to find a location where food outlets are available. “Life has to go on. We need to meet almost every day since people’s needs will have to be attended to.” He warned that covering the truth could do more harm.
Excerpt Sunday times political column