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BR says only Prez, PM and Cabinet can make him reverse move



Only listed companies targeted to raise Rs 114 bn

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has declared that his proposals to impose 25 percent retrospective tax surcharge on listed persons or companies that earned over Rs 2 bn 2020/2021 and increase VAT (Value Added Tax) to 18 percent from the current 15 percent wouldn’t be abandoned.

Appearing on ‘Salakuna,’ a weekly political programme telecast Monday night live on ‘Hiru’ FM Rajapaksa emphasised that he wouldn’t succumb to pressure from those affected by his proposals. Responding to ‘Hiru’ anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema, the FM said only President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Preme Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Cabinet could intervene.

FM Rajapaksa said that he discussed the issue at hand with the chambers and didn’t object to the imposition of the surcharge for a year or two in view of the devastation caused by the pandemic, though they opposed haphazard changes in taxes.

However, those companies that hadn’t been listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange were left out of the tax net in spite of them, too, being cash rich, much to the surprise of the business sector.

Rajapaksa urged the media not to engage in a campaign to pressure the government to do away with the proposals.

Presenting the Budget for 2022, Minister Rajapaksa proposed (a) one-time tax surcharge of 25 percent on persons or companies with taxable income over Rupees 2,000 million for the year of assessment 2020/2021. The government expected to recover Rs 100 bn through this tax and (b) VAT on banks and financial service providers to be increased to 18 percent from 15 percent. Minister Rajapaksa stressed that this tax should be paid monthly from 01 January 2022 to 31 December 2022 and not passed onto customers. The government expected to raise Rs 14 bn through the tax.

When some Opposition members interrupted Minister Rajapaksa immediately after he announced the 25 percent surcharge on a selected group of companies, the FM said that he would like to see who represented the interests of the targeted companies.

The Inland Revenue Department says the following companies are likely to be levied proposed one-off tax surcharge: LOLC Holdings (Rs.23,075 mn), Commercial Bank (Rs 16,940 mn ), Ceylon Tobacco (Rs. 15,578 mn ), ExpoLanka Holdings (Rs. 14,830 mn), HNB (Rs 14,096 mn), Dialog Axiata (Rs. 12.034 mn), Ceylinco Insurance (Rs.8,880 mn), Sampath Bank (Rs.8,442 mn), Vallibel One (Rs. 8,117 mn), Sri Lanka Telecom (Rs.7,880), Hayleys (Rs.7,637 mn), Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka (Rs. 6,962 mn), LB Finnace (Rs. 6,807 mn), Royal Ceramics Lanka (Rs. 6,135 mn), Central Finance Company (Rs. 5,544 mn), Tokyo Cement Company (Lanka) (Rs.5,425 mn), People’s Leasing and Finance (Rs. 5,295 mn), Dipped Products (Rs.5,140 mn), National Development Bank (Rs. 5,117 mn), John Keells Holdings (Rs.5,026), Carson Cumberbatch (Rs.4,804 mn), Richard Pieris and Company (Rs. 4,680 mn), Melstacorp (Rs. 4,425 mn), LOLC Finnace (Rs.4,365 mn), Nations Trust Bank (Rs. 4,055 mn), Hemas Holdings (Rs. 3,621 mn), Bukit Darah (Rs. 3,541 mn), Cargills (Ceylon) (Rs.3,481 mn), CIC Holdings (Rs.3,132 mn), Haycarb (Rs. 3,047), SeylanBank (Rs. 3,039 mn), Lanka Walltiles (Rs. 2,960 mn), Nestle Lanka ( Rs.2,947 mn), DFCC Bank (Rs. 2,745), Ceylon Guardian Investment Trust (Rs. 2,721 mn), Citizens Development Business Finance (Rs.2,554), Lanka Tiles (Rs. 2,475 mn), Lion Brewery Ceylon (Rs.2,471 mn), Singer Sri Lanka (Rs.2,452 mn), Ceylon Cold Stores (Rs.2,334 mn), CT Holdings (Rs.2,288 mn), Chevron Lubricants Lanka (Rs.2,225 mn), Commercial Leasing and Finance (Rs. 2,216 mn), Access Engineering (Rs. 2,173 mn), Teejay Lanka (Rs.2,139 mn), Pan Asia Banking Corporation (Rs.2,048) and Commercial Credit and Finance (Rs, 2,005).

Former banker and Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmaker Eran Wickremaratne strongly opposes the budget proposal. Asked for his stand on FM Basil Rajapaksa’s move and whether the latest proposal is similar to the tax imposed by the UNP but not implemented, MP Wickremaratne told The Island: “The private sector is not averse to paying taxes. They want a predictable tax environment so that they can plan and execute business plans. A one-off tax is arbitrary and unpredictable. It destroys business confidence. It weakens planning as well as foreign investors’ confidence in the country.”

Referring to the doing away with one-off super gains tax declared in 2015 but never implemented, SJB lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva stressed that two wrongs did not make a right.

Sources said that the cash strapped government could have targeted unlisted companies too. However, the decision makers had conveniently restricted the targeted group from among the listed group.

Responding to ‘Salakuna’ queries, Minister Rajapaksha strongly defended sharp tax cuts imposed immediately after the change of government in 2019. The minister said that sharp reduction of taxes saved many private companies, including the one that employed the ‘Salakuna’ team of journalists. The minister said so when Chamuditha Samarawickrema asserted that the government caused unnecessary revenue issues by reducing a range of taxes amounting to well over Rs. 500 bn.


Gymnastics Ireland ‘deeply sorry’ to Black girl ignored at medal ceremony




US seven-time Olympic medallist Simone Biles said the video 'broke my heart' (pic Aljazeera)

Ireland’s gymnastics federation has apologised for the allegedly racist treatment of a young Black gymnast who was skipped by an official handing out medals to a row of girls last year.

Footage posted on social media last week of an event in Dublin in 2022 showed the official appearing to snub the girl, the only Black gymnast in the lineup, who looked bewildered.

“We would like to unreservedly apologise to the gymnast and her family for the upset that has been caused by the incident,”  Gymnastics Ireland (GI) said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.

“What happened on the day should not have happened and for that we are deeply sorry,” said the statement.  “We would like to make it absolutely clear that [GI] condemns any form of racism whatsoever,” it added.

The video posted on Friday soon went viral and drew widespread condemnation of the girl’s treatment, including from star United States gymnast Simone Biles, who said she sent the girl a private video message of support.

“It broke my heart to see the video. There is no room for racism in any sport or at all,” Biles, a seven-time Olympic medalist, said Saturday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Biles’s US teammate Jordan Chiles described the incident as “beyond hurtful on so many levels”.

In an earlier statement, GI defended the official who it said had made an “honest error” but acknowledged it received a complaint from the parents of the girl alleging racist behaviour in March 2022.

GI said an independent mediation had led to a “resolution agreed by both parties in August 2023”, that the official had written an apology and that the girl had received her medal after the ceremony.

However, the Irish Independent on Sunday anonymously quoted the girl’s mother as saying GI had failed to publicly apologise and that she would take the issue to the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation in Switzerland.


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SJB: State audit vindicates no-faith motion against Keheliya, remedial measures urgently required



MP Harshana Rajakaruna

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday (25) said those who had defeated the no-confidence motion (NCM) against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella should peruse the latest State audit report on the Health Ministry.

The Gampaha District SJB MP said the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) at a recent meeting chaired by State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna had strongly criticised the Health Ministry over the continuing waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement exposed by the National Audit Office (NAO). The Parliamentary Watchdog Committee emphasised that Health Ministry explanations/responses to the issues at hand were not acceptable.

Dr. G. Wijesuriya, Deputy Director General (Medical Services 11) at the Health Ministry had cut a pathetic figure by trying to defend politicians and officials responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the health sector, MP Rajakaruna said, adding that Dr. Wijesuriya failed to explain how 97 doctors had been allowed to serve in the Health Ministry though the cadre was only 37.

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government acted as if the defeat of the NCM by a majority of 40 votes had been an endorsement of Health Minister Rambukwella’s actions, MP Rajakaruna said.

A total of 113 MPs voted against the NCM while 73 MPs voted in favour. Thirty-eight lawmakers skipped the vote taken on 08 September.

The NAO report should be examined against the backdrop of the dismissal of Opposition concerns over the continuing deterioration of the public health sector, the former UNPer said. That report was nothing but an indictment of a vital ministry, lawmaker Rajakaruna said, pointing out massive waste particularly at a time of unprecedented financial crisis was an unpardonable crime.

Minister Rambukwella, Health Secretary Janaka Sri Chandragupta and Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Asela Gunawardena owed an explanation how they allowed such waste and corruption as the government struggled to maintain basic and essential services. Referring to the damning NAO report, MP Rajakaruna said that Rs 349,025,664 worth medicine, equipment and other items had been discarded during 2022 due to low quality while all state hospitals experienced severe shortage of drugs. According to the report, the use of medicine, equipment and other items worth Rs 31,751,024 had been temporarily stopped due to concerns over quality but by the time the Health Ministry took a decision in this regard, such medicines were already issued to patients.

During COPA proceedings, SJB MP Hector Appuhamy questioned the Health Ministry top management why the State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) continued to make emergency purchases thereby wasting precious public funds.

COPA Chairman Alagiyawanna and Attorney General W.P.C. Wickremaratne, who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Audit Service Commission (ASC), appointed after the change of government, censured the top management of the Health Ministry for its failures at all levels, MP Rajakaruna said.

The Opposition lawmaker said that the ACS should vigorously pursue this investigation. The ASC consists of W.P.C. Wickramaratne, retired Justice Nihal Sunil Rajapaksa, Mrs. Nandaseeli Godakanda, Gnananantharajah Thevagnanan and A M Dharmajith Nayanakantha.

MP Rajakaruna said that the Health Ministry also admitted before COPA that 957 doctors had left the country between the period of August 2022 and August 2023. Of them, 526 had taken long leave, 163 resigned and 197 vacated their posts, the lawmaker said, adding that instead of addressing the issues at hand taking tangible measures to reassure medical professionals, the government played politics with the developing crisis.

The SJB spokesperson recalled how Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, during the three-day debate on the NCM, stressed that the Opposition accusations directed at Minister Rambukwella were unsubstantiated. The Premier had no qualms in declaring that there was no basis for the NCM and the Opposition was making an effort to deceive the public, MP Rajakaruna said, urging MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena to examine the NAO report. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Gunawardena should deal with the crisis in the health sector without further delay, the MP said, warning the failure to do so would result in a catastrophe.

MP Rajakaruna asked Premier Gunawardena to read his declarations during the debate. The NAO report has endorsed the NCM regardless of the outcome of the vote, MP Rajakaruna said.

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Bishop Valence Mendis accuses govt. of playing games



Bishop Valence Mendis

By Norman Paliahawadane

Kandy Diocese Bishop and Chilaw Apostolic Administrator Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis says it is ludicrous that the government has chosen to appoint more committees to probe the Easter Sunday terror attacks instead of implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which probed the carnage. Delivering his sermon at the Holy Mass offered at the Holy Cross, National Shrine, Marawila last week, Bishop Valence Mendis said the government authorities for the past four and half years had engaged in futile exercises wasting time and public funds in the name of probing the Easter Sunday attacks. Now, it was very clear that the government had no genuine desire to find the truth or deliver justice to the victims and their family members. Just another committee was the latest joke of a series of such gags. “If they are genuinely concerned about delivering justice then they should implement the recommendations of the PCoI. We are sure that authorities did nothing about more than 80 percent of recommendations of the PCoI to ensure justice,” the Bishop said.

Treasurer of the Kandy Diocese Rev. Fr. Nelson Samantha, Rev. Fr. Peter Charles, and Administrator of the Shrine Rev. Fr. Niranjan Dayalal were present.

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