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Artificial toddy manufacturers deprive govt. over Rs 80 billion in revenue annually – Pathirana

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Minister Cabraal thanks MP for constructive criticism, promises action

By Saman Indrajith

The state coffers lost over Rs 80 billion a year owing to tax evasion by artificial toddy manufacturers, Parliament was told yesterday (25).

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana said that the total loss would be much higher if the serious health problems those illicit brewers caused to people’s health was taken into account . “As per the reports, artificial toddy is produced by mixing urea, ammonia, nickel cadmium of old batteries and sugar. This harmful brew is sold at liquor shops and used for manufacturing ‘coconut arrack’ and vinegar.” .

In response to the MP’s query whether the government would bring in new laws to nab tax evaders, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal said that the MP’s concerns were appreciated and the government would certainly put in place a mechanism to do so.

Minister Cabraal said that there were two types of methods to regulate the quality of toddy, which was used to produce vinegar. “The first method should be initiated by the vinegar producers who have doubts about the quality of toddy they used. The producers could send samples of the suspected toddy to the Government Analyst’s Department and ask for a report. Upon receipt of the report, the producers could decide whether they would use the same material. The Excise Department officials could visit the vinegar factories and test the toddy they use. These two methods are employed at present.”

MP Pathirana said that some officials who were in the pay of toddy manufacturers compiled false reports to mislead policymakers. “I want to know whether an independent probe could be arranged with a team of investigators comprising officials from the Ministries of Finance, Health and the Trade Ministry’s Consumer Protection Authority to ascertain the damage inflicted by artificial toddy on our society,” the MP queried.

Minister Cabraal said that he would make arrangements as requested by the Opposition MP.

MP Pathirana:

It has been mentioned in the budget proposals that new mechanisms will be introduced to prevent tax evasions. As per the reports, the toddy producers evade taxes to the tune of Rs 80 billion or even more. But an official recently placed the amount at Rs. 40 billion. It is good that the government is introducing a foolproof sticker on the bottles of liquor for which taxes have been paid. Can the government think of a similar method to solve this problem too? The amount of brew being sold as coconut toddy cannot be produced naturally even if all the coconut palms in the country were tapped. Will the government take steps to adderss this issue?

Minister Cabraal:

We understand that MP Pathirana has made very productive proposals and I assure you that we will take them into consideration.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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