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Customs suffered Rs. 6.1 bn loss due to negligence

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…Rs 220 mn revenue denied due to fraud

By Saman Indrajith

Two leading palm oil companies had caused a loss of Rs. 6,130 million to the Sri Lanka Customs between 2013 and 2016, the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) was informed, on Thursday.

The COPA was informed that an audit conducted by the Auditor General’s Department had revealed that the loss was due to the negligence on the part of Sri Lanka Customs officials, who failed to clear specific goods, under the Harmonized System (HS Code).

Although Secretary to the Treasury and Ministry of Finance, S.R. Attygalle, had already taken measures to investigate and recover the losses incurred by the state, the COPA directed the Sri Lanka Customs also to take immediate action in that regard, and Director General of Sri Lanka Customs Major General Vijitha Ravipriya agreed to do so.

The Director General of the Sri Lanka Customs and its high-ranking officials, officials of the Ministry of Finance and officials of the Auditor General’s Department were present at the Committee on Public Accounts meeting, chaired by Prof Tissa Vitharana.

It was also revealed that since 2013, the government had lost revenue to the tune of Rs. 220 million because importers had registered imported vehicles as dual-purpose vehicles for special purposes. A minimum of Rs.1,300 million could have been levied on 443 specialized vans, from 2010-2019, according to sources.

Another major irregularity revealed through the audit, pertaining to the importation of 10 vans and 414 lorries under special purpose vehicles, from the year 2010, was taken up for discussion by the Committee.

The Committee was informed that a luxury car, fraudulently registered as a special purpose vehicle, valued at nearly Rs. 9 million, had been released by the Sri Lanka Customs with a levy of only Rs. 1.5 million. Had the vehicles been cleared under the relevant category of vehicles, the levy payable to the Government would have been approximately Rs. 56 million. It was proposed to expedite the maintenance of a computer comparison system as previously recommended by the Committee with the concurrence of the Secretary to the Treasury and Ministry of Finance, following talks the Treasury Secretary Attygalle had with the Sri Lanka Customs and the Department of Motor Traffic.

The members of the Committee agreed to assist in the legislative process, if amendments to any Acts were required, for the aforesaid purpose.

Failure to implement an adequate internal control system, within the Sri Lanka Customs, pertaining to the process of imports and exports, following the release of six containers of perfume, worth Rs. 39,335,091, declared as medication, causing the government a loss of Rs. 40,761,600, and lack of punitive action against errant officials involved in the act of fraud, were revealed at the Committee meeting.

Taking into consideration issues such as the officials of Sri Lanka Customs responsible for generating 32.48% of the revenue for the year 2019 opposing a biometric attendance system, weaknesses of internal governance, issues pertaining to the recruitment of an Attorney and a Chief Internal Auditor for the Legal Department, members of the COPA mutually agreed to summon the Sri Lanka Customs again.

State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, Shehan Semasinghe, Prasanna Ranaweera and MPs Tissa Attanayake, Ashoka Abeysinghe, Gunapala Ratnasekera, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Niroshan Perera, Gamini Waleboda, S. Shritharan, Prof. Harini Amarasuriya,  and Upul Galappaththi, were present at the meeting.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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