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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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Foreign qualified medical students protest



A group of foreign medical degree holders protested opposite the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (23) requesting that tangible measures be taken to conduct the Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine (ERPM) without further delay.

They alleged that over 1,500 students had been deprived of the opportunity to sit the examination due to the fault of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, which is now under investigation by a committee, appointed by Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi.

Photo: A section of the protesting students (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

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SJB insists referendum necessary besides 2/3 majority in Parliament



Supreme Court moved against 20A

By Chitra Weerarathne

General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya Ranjith Madduma Bandara, MP, yesterday (23) filed a petition in the Supreme Court stating that the proposed 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution was inconsistent with the Constitution. It requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approval by people at a referendum for passage, the SJV has argued.

The SJB says 20A violates people’s sovereignty and franchise enshrined in Article (3) and (4) of the Constitution.

The petitioner has argued that the provisions in clause 55 of the Bill are inconsistent with the public trust doctrine and the principle of checks and balances and would prejudicially affect public finance.

 The clause 54 of the Bill seeks to repeal Article 156 A of the Constitution, which provides constitutional recognition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or corruption, the petition says.

 The petition says 20A seeks to repeal the prohibition on dual citizens being elected to Parliament and to the post of President.

The power of the Auditor General to audit the state institutions has been curtailed, the petition says, arguing that it could be detrimental to the economy.

It will be detrimental to the country if the Constitutional Council is replaced by a Parliamentary Council, the SJB General Secretary’s has contended in his petition.

Clause 20 (2) of the proposed 20A has restricted the powers of the Election Commission as regards the conduct of elections, the petitioner has argued.

The 20A states that an omission by the President could no longer be challenged through a fundamental rights violation petitions in the Supreme Court, the petitioner has said, adding that the Bill seeks to further enhance the powers of the President by allowing him to unilaterally remove the Prime Minister. The President would not be accountable to Parliament, the petition says.

The 20A would repeal Article 70/ (1) of the Constitution and enable the President to dissolve Parliament even immediately after a general election, the SJB General Secretary argues.

The respondent to the petition is the Attorney General.

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Lawyer Hijaz’s foundation received funds from banned foreign outfit – CID tells court



By A.J.A.A beynayake and Kasuni Rebecca

The CID yesterday informed the Colombo Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage that Save the Pearls Trust run by lawyer Hijaz Hisbullah, now in custody for allegedly aiding and abetting one of the Easter Sunday bombers, had received Rs.13 million from a banned organisation named the Caliphate of Qatar.

The CID told court that according to the bank accounts of the trust the money had been received by it during the last few years and the police had launched an investigation to ascertain whether the funds had been used for terrorist activities.

The CID told court the investigation had been launched under the Money Laundering Act and a psychologist’s opinion had been sought on the book titled “Navarasam” found in a madrasa (school teaching Islam) run by Save the Pearls Trust in Puttalam.

The Magistrate order the CID to submit to court a Sinhala translation of the book and examine whether the contents of the book promoted terrorism.

The case will be taken up again on October 7.

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