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Cancellation of Japanese projects to be probed

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FR petition says govt. deprived itself of USD 8 bn

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairperson of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Anura Priyadarshana Yapa yesterday (08) said that he would initiate an inquiry into the cancellation of several foreign-funded projects, following the last presidential election, in Nov 2019.

Yapa said so responding to The Island query whether he would act on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s request for a parliamentary probe into the cancellation of such projects.

Alleging that the unjustifiable government action deprived the country of much needed foreign investment, therefore contributed to the economic meltdown, Premier Wickremesinghe declared that Tokyo was unhappy. The Prime Minister’s Office quoted the UNP leader as having told Parliament on Tuesday: “Japan is our longtime friend. A nation that has helped our country greatly. But they are now unhappy with us due to the unfortunate events of the past. Our country had failed to formally notify Japan of the suspension of certain projects. Sometimes the reasons for these suspensions were not even stated.”

Lawmaker Yapa said that he, too, felt an inquiry was required into the matter.

On the basis of certain reports received from an unidentified person, Premier Wickremesinghe told the House that some of the projects that had been undertaken and partly implemented by Japan were halted midway.

Premier Wickremesinghe wants COPF to investigate cancellation of the Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) projects, undertaken by India and Japan. The Premier has alleged that the CEB halted both projects without at least giving justifiable reasons.

Lawmaker Yapa said that the allegation pertaining to putting on hold, projects funded by Japan, to the tune of USD 3 bn, by 2019, was quite serious.

MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena served as the Foreign Affairs Minister. Prof. G.L. Peiris succeeded Gunawardena, in August 2021.Former Commander of the Navy Admiral Jayanath Colombage served as Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs till recently.

Legal sources said that cancellation of several high profile foreign funded projects, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) project had been cited in a fundamental rights petition, recently filed against the former Finance Ministers, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa and Ali Sabry, other members of the Cabinet, the Monetary Board of the CBSL, former Governors of the CBSL, Prof. W.D. Lakshaman and Ajith Nivard Cabraal, former Finance Secretary S.R. Attygalle, Monetary Board member S.S.W. Kumarasinghe, former Presidential Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and three Commissioners of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). Premier Wickremesinghe has been made the first respondent as he is the incumbent Premier.

The petition, filed by Dr. Athulasiri Kumara Samarakoon of the Open University of Sri Lanka, Soosaiappu Neavis Morais and Dr. Mahim Mendis, in terms of Articles 17 and 126 of the Constitution, alleged that after the last presidential election several projects, that had been finalized and would have generated substantial revenue in foreign exchange, were stopped. The petition named the cancelled projects as the Light Rail Project, East Container Terminal (ECT) involving India, and Japan, the Central Highway Phase 3 and 4 with Japan and India, and the MCC Agreement with the US.

The MCC had been among three other agreements sought by the US. The yahapalana government entered into the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) in August 2017. Talks on Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) were stalled.

The petitioners stated that the projects had been done away with on the directives of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Asserting had those agreements were implemented the country wouldn’t have been in the current predicament, the petitioners brought to the notice of the Supreme Court that the first respondent before being appointed as the Premier on May 12 declared the country was deprived of USD 4,000,000,000 due to the cancellation of those projects.

The petitioners further stated that the incumbent dispensation caused the current calamity by turning down of USD 400,000,000 IMF facility.

Authoritative sources said that the government antagonized Japan by not even giving prior notice of the utterly reprehensible decision. Sri Lanka violated diplomatic protocol, sources said, Japan’s unenthusiastic response to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s request for USD 3 bn loan should be examined against the backdrop of our irresponsible conduct, sources said. Japan has advised Sri Lanka that they would consider lending after the government reached agreement with the IMF or get close to the finalization of the required facility.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo Sanjiv Gunasekera would leave office on June 15. Gunasekera, a close associate of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, informed the President, on May 09, of his decision to quit on June 09. However, he would continue for a week in view of some official commitments.



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Rs. 773 bn arrears: Go after massive tax dodgers before imposing new taxes – GMOA

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=AG alleges Inland Revenue withheld info citing Constitution

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) yesterday (02) asked the government to explain its continuing failure to recover as much as Rs 773 bn in taxes, penalties and interest against the backdrop of unprecedented new tax hikes to bridge the record deficit.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge told The Island that the disclosure made by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) on Nov 28 exposed the overall effect ofthe failure byparliament to meet its obligations pertaining to public finance.

The government should have gone flat out to recover taxes, penalties and interests owed by various entities before new revenue generation measures were proposed, Dr. Aluthge said, demanding that the government to come clean on the issue.Responding to another query, Dr. Aluthge said

that what transpired at COPA meeting chaired bySamagi Jana Balvegaya(SJB) MP Kabir Hashim on Nov 28 exposed how successive governments conveniently allowed the situation to deteriorate. Former Minister Hashim succeeded Prof. Tissa Vitharana in the wake of the re-opening of parliament followingitslast prorogation.

The COPA disclosure was nothing but an indictment on the government, Dr. Aluthge said, urging the Finance Ministry and other relevant institutions to address the issue at hand. Why the entire population should suffer due to utterly corrupt and incompetent lot neglecting their responsibilities?Dr. Aluthge asked.

Referring to the statement issued by the Director Legislative Services on Nov 29 consequent to COPA meeting on the previous day, Dr. Aluthge pointed out that the Inland Revenue Department had been summoned by the parliamentary watchdog committee to examine whether COPA recommendations given on March 24, 2021 were implemented.

The top GMOA official said that he was quite baffled that theburningissue hadn’t been given priority in spite of the financial crisis that caused an unparalleled explosion of public anger.

COPA meeting that had been chaired by MP Hashim were attended by State Ministers Mohan PriyadarshanadeSilva, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Kader Mastan, (Dr.) Suren Raghavan and Diana Gamage as well as MPs Tissa Attanayake, Ashok Abeysinghe, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Major Pradeep Undugoda and Weerasumana Weerasinghe.

Dr. Aluthge said that according to figures released by COPA, the total arrears as at June 30, 2022 amounted to a staggering Rs 773,957,856,618 inunpaidtaxes, penalties and interests. The GMOA official pointed outthatCOPA had acknowledged that out of that amount Rs 201,400,855,198 could be collected as there was no legal impediment whereas the recovery of the remaining Rs 572,557,001,420 was on hold temporarily due to various reasons.

Referring to COPA proceedings, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General had quite clearly asserted that the total amount due to the Inland Revenue was Rs 773,957,856,618 in terms of RAMIS (Revenue Administration Management Information System) and Legacy Systems.How could a bankrupt government be so irresponsible?Dr. Aluthge asked.

The GMOA Secretary also faulted the media for not providing sufficient coverage to the issues dealt by parliamentary watchdog committees. The waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement that had been exposed by these watchdog committees over the years proved over and over again the parliament was responsible for the current unprecedented crisis, Dr. Aluthge said.

The shocking disclosure made by the Auditor General that the RAMIS system installed at a staggering cost of over Rs 10 bn to ensure smooth collection of revenue was yet to be fully and properly operational painted a bleak picture, Dr. Aluthge said.

Referring to COPA proceedings again, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General was on record as having said that though deficiencies of RAMIS system had been brought to the notice of COPA on several occasions remedial measures were not taken.

“The parliament owed the public an explanation. The parliament cannot absolve itself of the pathetic and reckless handling of public finance that finally led to Sri Lanka tagged as a bankrupt country,” Dr. Aluthge said.

Dr. Aluthge said that the GMOA sincerely believed the parliament would at least now hear what the Auditor General told COPA of his efforts to get to the bottom of RAMIS installation.

Janakantha Silva, Director Legislative Services and Acting Director Communication in a statement that dealt with COPA meeting chaired by MP Hashim quoted the Auditor General as having said that the Inland Revenue Department declined to release the RAMIS agreement and related payments, the agreement barred the Inland Revenue from releasing the information sought by him. The Auditor General has further alleged that the Inland Revenue Department withheld information pertaining to the RAMIS agreement claiming the release of the agreement violated the Constitution.

How could the Auditor General be deprived of an agreement entered into by the Inland Revenue on behalf of the government? Dr. Aluthge asked.COPA Chairman Hashim has declared that an audit would be conducted on the RAMIS deal if the report sought from the Inland Revenue within a month in respect of the same was not satisfactory.

Dr. Aluthge said that he couldn’t believe that action hadn’t been taken in respect of 4,831 return checks worth Rs 2,488,003,615 (2.4 billion) received by Inland Revenue as at June 30. According to COPA 3,817 of these returned cheques worth Rs. 1,429,356,750 rupees were more than 3 years old. The Inland Revenue has said that the department lacked the authority to take legal action.

Pointing out that COPA Chairman has advised Inland Revenue to inform him of the action in this regard in consultation with the Attorney General , Dr. Aluthge said if the parliament bothered to inquire into what was happening in the revenue collection set up the current crisis could be easily explained.

Dr. Aluthge recalled comprehensive tax proposals submitted by Prof. W.D. Lakshman during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term were never implemented. In fact, the library of the parliament didn’t have a copy of it, Dr. Aluthge alleged, urging the parliament to address the issues at hand without further delay or prepare to face the consequences.

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Record number of students visited parliament on 01 Dec.

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A record number of students had visited Parliament yesterday (02), Serjeant-at Arms Narendra Fernando said, adding that it was the highest since the country gained Independence in 1948.Permission had been given to over 5,000 students from 32 schools representing different areas of the country to visit the Parliament on 01 December, he said.

More than 25,000 students have visited to observe the Parliamentary debates after the Public Gallery reopened for schoolchildtrn from 19 September 2022. For over two years the gallery was closed due to COVID-19.

He also mentions that steps are being taken to provide a free glass of milk to each student who visits the Parliament from January 2023.

He added that it is a decision taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by the Speaker and with the support of all the party leaders including the Leader of the House,Chief Government Whip and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Serjeant-at Arms said that it should be specially highlighted that the President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, has decided to provide the necessary financial support for it.

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TNA MP vows to send China packing

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By Saman Indrajith

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Batticaloa District MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam yesterday vowed to lead ‘China Go Home’ protests if Beijing did not restructure Sri Lanka’s debt expeiditiously.Speaking in parliament yesterday, Rasamanickam said that China was a 20 trillion US dollar economy and the total Sri Lankan debt to China is 7.4 billion dollars.

“We owe three billion US dollars to China Development Bank and 4.4 billion US dollars to EXIM bank. If China, who has

nearly 20,000 billion dollar economy is truly Sri Lanka’s friend it can write off our debt. We are not even asking for that, we are asking China to expedite the debt restructuring. Offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” he said.The TNA MP added that China lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars knowing well that the country’s economy was in shambles.

“China has built a 20 trillion dollar economy. They are smart. They are not stupid. They knew we were in trouble but kept on lending to ensnare Sri Lanka in a Chinese debt trap. So I ask China to do the right thing. Sri Lankans might be divided over ethnicity and religion but when the country is really in trouble, we all come together. Everyone came together under ‘Gota Go Home’ banner to get rid of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If China doesn’t help us restructure our debt, people will come onto the road demanding ‘China Go Home’ and I will lead them,” he said.

Rasamanickam said said debt destructing is Sri lanka’s prime objective and the government’s priority should be to secure the IMF package.

“The main problem is that china is not willing to restructure. I spoke of this in Parliament before and the Chinese embassy Twitter handle has commented on this. They are tagging me on Twitter all the time. I am speaking on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I am not talking on behalf of some embassy. Them tagging me on Twitter and commenting on what happens inside is an attack on our sovereignty. If the Chinese embassy wants a Twitter war, I am ready,” he said.

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