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Debate on VAT Bill: Parliament session adjourned

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By Saman indrajith

Parliament session allotted for the Second Reading debate on the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill and the Finance Bill were put off yesterday for want of a quorum.

The debate was scheduled to be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm as decided in the Committee on Parliamentary Business, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, on Nov 20.

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya moved the House for the debate on the VAT (Amendment) Bill. He said that VAT would be imposed on 97 out of the 138 goods that had previously been exempt from the tax in a bid to boost state revenue. He said Short Message Service (SMS) in fixed telephone networks would also be subjected to VAT, given the increased number of text messages sent. Medicines, equipment used by disabled persons, rice flour, wheat flour, vegetables, fruits, liquid milk, and the ‘Suwaseriya’ ambulance service would not be subjected to VAT, the State Minister said.

However, as the debate was in progress, Kurunegala District SJB MP Nalin Bandara, pointed out that there was no quorum in the House. He accused the government of trying to hoodwink the due process in passing the VAT bill. The MP said that there weren’t 20 MPs in the 225-member House and as such it was wrong to continue the debate without the quorum.

State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe said that the vote on the bill was scheduled to be taken later in the evening and the government MPs would be there in the House on time for the vote and the debate could be continued.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella said the debate could not be held if documents with the relevant information were not available.

State Minister Semasinghe said two separate lists which included 300 items on which VAT was imposed and the list which included the items which are exempted were available.  “You can find the list for which VAT will be imposed,” he said.

However, the Opposition MPs walked out at that moment.

Owing to protests from the Opposition, the Deputy Speaker decided to suspend the proceedings and ordered that the quorum bell be rung.

However, the number of the MPs who responded to the quorum bell was fewer than 20 when the count was taken after five minutes of the ringing of the quorum bell twice.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa took away his party MPs in protest against the proposal of increasing the VAT to 18 percent.The Deputy Speaker adjourned sittings until 9.30 this morning.

Parliament sources said that some SLPP MPs were opposed to the VAT increase therefore they were absent yesterday. They would continue to be absent this morning too, the sources said.

The last three days of the Committee Stage Debate of the budget will be held from Monday the 11th to Wednesday the 13th and the division on the third reading of the Appropriation Bill (Budget) for the financial year 2024 is scheduled to be held on the 13th at 6.00 pm.



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President orders probe into notification issued by Department of Immigration and Emigration

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It has been reported that President Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation into the notification issued by the Department of Immigration and Emigration requesting all  Russian and Ukrainian tourists to leave the country within 14 days.

According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), the relevant notification was issued without prior approval from the Cabinet of Ministers.

The decision had reportedly been taken as certain foreign tourists are running illegal businesses in the country.

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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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