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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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