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Deal on ECT based on Sirisena’s talks with Modi and Abe – Govt.

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DEW warns foreign investments in ports and airports jeopardise national security

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former President Maithripala Sirisena has opposed the proposed Indian investment at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port, but he himself agreed to Indian and Japanese investment during discussions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 11, 2018 in New Delhi, and with the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on March 14, 2018, according to highly placed government sources.

President Sirisena met PM Modi on the sidelines of the First Conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). From New Delhi, President Sirisena flew to Japan on the invitation of Prime Minister Abe. President Sirisena returned to Colombo on March 17.

At the time of the tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, India and Japan, the SLFP was a partner of the UNP-led yahapalana administration. President Sirisena came to an understanding with two allies of the US against the backdrop of humiliating defeat at the local government polls on 10 February 2018.

Current SLPP MP Sirisena, who is the SLFP leader, recently has told the media his party is totally opposed to Indian investment at the ECT.

Dr. Harsha de Silva, MP, on behalf of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) threw his weight behind the project and the UNP remained silent.

Sources pointed out that the tripartite Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) dated May 28, 2019 specifically referred to the geo-political importance for Quad members Japan and India whose intention was to secure 49 per cent of the ECT.

The US-led defence organisation, Quad, also includes Australia, where the US maintains a permanent military presence. Japan is also a base for US forces while US-India defence cooperation is at its zenith now.

A section of the international media referred to Quad as an Asian NATO to counter the growing Chinese threat.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government on Oct 6, 2015 entered into a ‘comprehensive partnership’ that enabled a greater Japanese role in Sri Lanka.

Although the former President claims that he has always opposed the foreign investment at the ECT, the MoC reveals the absence of specific time period for the operation of the tripartite agreement. According to a copy of the agreement seen by , the proposed Terminal Operations Company (TOC) would provide the required equipment and systems and manage the ‘ECT for long periods.’

On behalf of Sri Lanka, India and Japan, Ports and Shipping Minister Sagala Ratnayake, High Commissioner Taranjith Singh Sandhu and Ambassador Akira Sugiyama signed the MoC.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently explained the difficulty in reversing the tripartite agreement Sri Lanka entered into during the previous administration.

Former Minister and General Secretary of the Communist Party Dew Gunasekera yesterday told The Island that the India-Japan move on the ECT should be examined against the backdrop of China securing a terminal on a 35-year lease in the Colombo harbour during the previous Rajapaksa administration (2010-2015) and the strategic Hambantota Port in 2017 from yahapalana regime on a 99-year-lease.

The CP veteran said that he had explained at a public meeting held in Matara on Thursday (28) why foreign investment shouldn’t be allowed at the ECT. He stressed that foreign powers should never be given control of ports and airports under any circumstances.

The former minister also made reference to the ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement) finalised in early August 2017 by Sri Lanka and the US. It paved the way for access for the US military to all Sri Lankan facilities, he added, urging the government to re-consider its policy in respect of foreign investments.

The former Minister said that the investigation into S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike assassination had revealed that the crime had been committed over an alleged bid made by the assassin Ven. Thalduwe Somarama to form a company to manage the Colombo Port under his leadership. The former CP leader said that the country was at a crossroads and the current leadership had the responsibility for ensuring a safer path. Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to take sides in the ongoing battle between the Western powers and China.

Responding to another query, the former minister pointed out that in addition to ACSA, the US sought agreement on MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) in line with its overall geo-political strategy. India was now a powerful US ally therefore Sri Lanka should be cautious in its approach, he said.



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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs

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Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security

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India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port

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A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”

 

 

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