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Cabraal vows to act on SJB MP Pathirana’s revelation of Rs 80 bn revenue loss

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By Saman Indrajith

State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal, on Friday (4) assured Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Buddhika Pathirana that immediate remedial action would be taken in respect of shocking revelation that some unscrupulous businessmen produced a toxic brew in the name of manufacturing artificial toddy, and corrupt Excise Officers exploited the Technical Crime Report to deprive the government Rs. 80 billion in revenue due.

MP Pathirana:

 “The police and the STF commandos raid illicit toddy distilleries amidst hardships, in spite of threats to their lives. Thereafter they hand over their findings to the Excise Officers to take legal action. The Excise Officers do not take the culprits to court, and instead release them filing a Technical Crime Report (TCR). Under the TCR the racketeers only have to pay a skimpy sum by way of a composition fee.”  

Pathirana said that as per Sections 49, 50 and 52 of the antiquated Excise Ordinance, the police and the STF had been barred from producing artificial racketeers and their toxic brew in courts. “After the raid, the police and STF have to hand them over to the Excise Department. Not all Excise officers are corrupt; some of them, in fact, produce the lawbreakers in court. Even in such instances the reward money for the detection and raid are not given to the police and the STF; it goes to the Excise officers who handle only the legal part of the raid.”

MP Pathirana called on State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal to amend Sections 49, 50 and 52 of the Excise Ordinance to enable the police to prosecute those engaged in producing artificial toddy.

The Minister promised that he would get his ministry officials to work on it.

MP Pathirana said that it was the third time he was raising a question on the large-scale racket. “I asked two recent questions from you in this House in the last couple of weeks related to other aspects of this scam. I gathered a lot of facts and details after studying this issue for a considerable time. I also tabled some documents and sent to you copies of them. I also know that your ministry officials are tied up with the budget process, but could you at least appoint a committee to investigate the matters I raised on those two occasions.”

Minister Cabraal:

“I really appreciate the hard work of the MP and I am thankful to him for raising this matter. I have instructed Excise Department officials and the Secretary to the Ministry to commence a thorough study on the matter and report to me. I assure you that I will personally attend to this matter.”

MP Pathirana:

“Since I raised this some of the racketeers have got hold of some Finance Ministry and Excise officials and are working surreptitiously to do away with the mechanisms in place to ascertain information about the toddy industry. Only around one and a half litres of toddy could be extracted from a single coconut palm and it could vary slightly owing to factors such as climate, humidity and season. The amount being sold by the licence holders varies from the actual amount extracted from palms. A difference is in the region of as 60,000-70,000 litres. So, it is obvious that toddy comes from other sources.”

Reading out a document, Minister Cabraal said that it had been mentioned in it that the approved production capacity for each bottled toddy manufacturer would be the total expected toddy yield from the number of trees licensed for tapping.

MP Pathirana:

It is that stipulation that they are trying to do away with. Once it is removed, we may never be able to guess the amount they had illicitly produced. Will you promise to prevent these businessmen and corrupt officials from removing that stipulation?

Minister Cabraal: I apologize for not having a detailed and complete answer today. But I will study this and inform this House of all details in the future date.

Responding to MP Pathirana, the Minister said the toddy industry was found in the districts of Kalutara, Gampaha, Puttalam, Badulla, Moneragala, Hambantota, Anuradhapura and all districts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. As at Dec 31, last year there had been 3,094 licensed toddy tappers in the country but there was no information about the number of employees engaged in the supportive services of the industry. There were 32 licensed toddy producers in the country as at Dec 31, 2019.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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