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Cabinet decision on duty-free vehicle facility for lawmakers awaited



… SLPP biggest beneficiary, followed by SJB

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Co-cabinet spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanpila said that the Cabinet hadn’t so far discussed whether to continue or do away with duty free permits issued to members of parliament.

Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Energy Minister said so in response to a query raised by The Island.

Pointing out SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his election manifesto promised not to import vehicles for the government for a period of three years, The Island asked the co-cabinet spokesman whether the cabinet decided to continue the practice of issuing duty free vehicle permits or discontinue the facility especially in the wake of the unprecedented economic crisis caused by corona epidemic. The minister said that the issue hadn’t been discussed at the last two cabinet meetings.

In a section titled ‘An efficient governance mechanism,’ the SLPP in Oct 2019, assured in the run-up to the presidential poll that the procurement of vehicles for the public sector (including Ministers) and purchase of multi-faceted office facilities would be suspended for a period of 3 years. In addition, the renting of such facilities would also be stopped for a period of three years.

In terms of the permits, lawmakers are entitled to tax exemption to the tune of over Rs 33 mn.

A case filed against the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) in late 2015 over its failure to initiate action in respect of lawmakers for selling vehicles imported under special facility exclusively provided to them is pending in courts.

In the 9th parliament, the SLPP is entitled for a staggering 145 duty free permits (128 for those elected and 17 for National List nominees) whereas the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) would receive 54 permits (47 elected and seven on the National List). The remaining permits are shared among the Tamil National Alliance (10/one NL), JVP-led Jathika Jana Balavegaya (3/one NL), Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (3/one NL), EPDP (1), UNP (1 NL), SLFP (1), Our Power of People Party (1 NL), Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (1), Muslim National Alliance (1), Tamil Makkal Theshiya Kutani (1), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (1), National Congress (1) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

In spite of repeated efforts, The Island couldn’t get in touch with Dr. Harsha de Silva to obtain views on the issuance of duty free facility at a time the government slapped an unprecedented ban on imports as a solution to deteriorating foreign reserves. Co-cabinet spokesman Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, too, couldn’t be contacted for his comments.

Sri Lanka is negotiating with India to re-schedule repayment of loans and an additional facility of USD 1.1 bn, having recently secured USD 400 mn loan facility. Of the 225 elected and appointed to the 9th parliament, there were 81 newcomers, parliamentary sources said, adding that of them, 16 were National List nominees. The rest had received multiple duty free permits with some of them entitled to the facility since 1989, the first election conducted under the Proportional Representation (PR) system.

Secretary to the Public Administration Ministry outspoken official J.J. Ratnasiri last week told a two-day orientation programme conducted at the parliamentary premises for new lawmakers that a decision hadn’t been taken as regards the duty-free vehicle permit. Speaking on facilities and various entitlements, Ratnasiri said that the ministry was yet to receive instructions in that regard.

Sources said that those lawmakers present refrained from raising any questions in that regard.



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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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