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Backbencher contradicting PM worse than Wimal’s statement – Rahman



… seeks explanation from SLPP

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Mujibur Rahman yesterday (17) said that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) owed an explanation how a newcomer to Parliament, Kokila Gunawardena, contradicted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration that burial of Covid-19 victims would be allowed.

Colombo District MP Rahman said that they were quite perplexed how Gampaha District backbencher interpreted Premier Rajapaksa’s response to lawmaker S.M. Marikkar in Parliament on Feb. 10.

Pointing out that Premier Rajapaksa gave an assurance as the leader of the government in Parliament, lawmaker Rahman emphasized that MP Gunawardena’s action was far worse than National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa’s call to pave the way for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry into SLPP.

MP Rahman said the SLPP having interpreted Weerawanwa suggestion that he wanted to bring in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the expense of SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa flayed him on several occasions but was strangely silent at the humiliation caused by an MP overruling the PM.

Referring to SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam’s much publicized demand to Weerawansa that he apologize to the nation for making a move against the Premier, MP Rahman challenged the ruling party to set the record straight. Lawmaker Rahman pointed out that twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa never retracted his statement as regards doing away with mandatory cremation of Covid-19 victims.

MP Rahman said that though lawmaker Gunawardena sought to misinterpret the Premier’s statement, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a tweet from Islamabad, soon after the announcement made in the Sri Lanka Parliament, appreciated Sri Lanka ending , thecontroversial policy of mandatory cremations.

SJB MP Rahman asked whether lawmaker Gunawardena had been directed by someone to contradict the PM’s statement. The MP said that they weren’t aware of any previous instance of any MP on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s side disputing a statement issued by him in or outside Parliament.

MP Rahman pointed out that Premier Rajapaksa responded to MP Marikkar amidst an intervention made by the Speaker. The MP asked whether the government was ready to face the consequences of ignoring concerns raised by several governments, in addition to the UN, over discriminatory policy. MP Rahman noted that UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo Hanaa Singer in a letter dated Nov 12, 2020, especially requested for immediate end to mandatory cremations.

Meanwhile, SJB MP Faizal Cassim (SLMC nominee) has told the party high command a group of SLMC lawmakers voted for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution on an assurance received from the SLPP the mandatory cremation policy would be done away with. Cassim said so in the presence of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem at a meeting at the party headquarters a couple of days ago.

Except Hakeem, all his members voted for the 20th Amendment. All Ceylon Makkal Congress member, too, backed the 20th Amendment in addition to SJB National List MP Diana Gamage. The SLMC parliamentary group consists of five members elected on the SJB ticket.

Contrary to assurances that action would be taken against those who voted with the government, the SLMC has requested them to make a public apology. The SLMC indicated that the party did not envisage disciplinary measures against the dissident group.

Colombo District SJM MP S.M. Marikkar early this week flayed the SLMC dissident group for trying to deceive the public by claiming they did so on an assurance received from the government. The former UNPer said that claim was unacceptable under any circumstances. Marikkar said that helping the government to enact the 20th Amendment couldn’t be justified. The group of Opposition lawmakers who voted with the government included members of the SLMC, ACMC and the SJB.



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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query



SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign



The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.



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