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A new agenda for ONUR once led by CBK



Suganthie Kadirgamar accommodated in newly-constituted outfit; Mujibur slams govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The SLPP government has reconstituted the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) in the run-up to the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The ONUR, established in line with the prrevious Yahapalana goverment post-war reconciliation strategy, was headed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

The former President quit ONUR immediately after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov 2019 presidential poll.

The Justice Ministry over the weekend announced the appointment of President’s Counsel Kushan de Alwis as the new Chairperson. Former District Secretary Sunil Kannagara received appointment as ONUR’s Director General.

The ONUR formed in terms of an agreement between the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe played a significant role in the post-war reconciliation process in the wake of their decision to co-sponsor an accountability resolution against the country in Geneva on Oct 1, 2015.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, last Friday (5), addressed the newly appointed ONUR members at the Justice Ministry; he explained the pivotal importance of post-war reconciliation process in achieving development. The minister said that achieving growth wouldn’t be possible without reconciliation.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa included senior lawyer Suganthie Kadirgamar, the wife of assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in ONUR. The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar in August 2005 as he was engaged in deliberations with local and foreign parties in a bid to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table.

The other members of the outfit are A.L. Susarith Mendis, Prof. Rizvie Hassen, Prof. M.M.A.D.S.A. Niriella, Samantha Ratwatte PC, attorney-at-law Janaka Ranatunga, Mano Sekaram, attorney-at-law Geethanjali Sumithraarachchi Dissanayake, Apsal Marrikkar and Senthil Thondaman.

Attorney-at-law Thushari Sooriyaarachchi has been named the Additional DG, ONUR. ONUR is expected to meet at its new office at Rajagiriya this week.

Political sources said that the ONUR would have to adopt an agenda suitable to the SLPP government’s policy especially against the backdrop of Sri Lanka quitting an accountability resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the yahapalana government in 2015. The original ONUR was actually meant to ensure the successful implementation of the Geneva resolution. It played a significant role in the process leading to consensus among the Western powers, the then government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as regards a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism. In fact, the proposal for hybrid mechanism was received by Mrs. Kumaratunga, in her capacity as Chairperson, ONUR, on behalf of Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government.

Asked what would be the newly constituted ONUR’s agenda against the backdrop of the government quitting the Geneva process, Justice Minister Sabry said: “Nothing to do with the Geneva process. The new ONUR is meant to promote unity, social cohesion and understanding among communities at the grass-root level. The government is committed for sustainable and long lasting and dignified coexistence among the people.”

Minister Sabry emphasized that the ONUR would carry out the mission not to impress the world but to achieve genuine reconciliation. The minister emphasized urgent need to address the reconciliation issues.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmaker Mujibur Rahman told The Island that the government had caused irreparable damage to overall reconciliation process. Colombo District MP Rahman questioned the rationale in constituting ONUR after having quit the Geneva process. The former UNP MP alleged that the SLPP administration had turned the reconciliation process upside down.

Enactment of the 20th Amendment at the expense of the 19th introduced in 2015 ruined everything, MP Rahman said, urging the government not to cause further trouble. The MP pointed out in addition to wartime accountability issues, the new Rajapaksa administration’s handling of the controversy over cremation of all Covid-19 victims regardless of religious concerns proved it didn’t care about minorities.

Lawmaker Rahman pointed out the Tamils and Muslims launching a protest march from Pottuvil to Jaffna demanding justice for war victims and to highlight other burning issues such as the cremation of Muslims. The MP pointed out that some sections of the international community had taken up the issue at hand with the government.

PIC SAVED AS KUSHAN AND Suganthie Kadirgamar

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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs



Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security



India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port



A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”



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