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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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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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