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EC: HC judgment won’t bar Premalal from contesting

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… former, present polls monitors differ

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya yesterday (3) said that the recent Ratnapura High Court ruling, in respect of the 2015 January Kahawatte killing, wouldn’t bar SLPP candidate Premalal Jayasekera from contesting the parliamentary polls on August 5.

 Deshapriya said so when The Island asked for comment on the Ratnapura, High Court sentencing the SLPP candidate, along with two others, to death, over the killing of a person backing the then common candidate Maithripala Sirisena.

At the time of the incident, Jayasekera held the post of Deputy Minister in the SLFP-led UPFA government.

Deshapriya said that there had never been a similar case before though there had been cases of elected lawmakers being unseated after being found guilty by courts.

 “We’ll discuss the issue at hand after the election and decide what to do,” Deshapriya said, adding that there was no change in the status quo as a result of the Ratnapura HC ruling.

The EC consists of Mahinda Deshapriya, Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and Nalin Abeysekera, PC.

CMEV (Center for Monitoring Election Violence) spokesman Manjula Gajanayake told The Island that the top SLPP leadership should have considered all aspects before accommodating the former lawmaker on the Ratnapura nomination list. The SLPP could have easily avoided what Gajanayake called unnecessary complication by fielding another in place of Jayasekera, Gajanayake said. The polls monitor pointed out that the SLPP was aware that the Kahawatte case had been heard and the ruling was pending.

Responding to another query, Gajanayake said that the EC as well as political parties, especially those represented in parliament would have to address the issue.

Ratnapura District SLPP list comprises Vasudeva Nanayakkara (leader), Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi, Janaka Wakkumbura, John Seneviratne, Premalal Jayasekera, Dunesh Gankanda, Akila Ellawala, Sanee Rohana Kodituwakku,  Ranjith Bandara, Gamini Waleboda, Muditha Prishanthi, Hettiarachchige Lakshman Premaratne, Athula Kumara Rahubadda and Miyuru Bhashitha Liyanage. SLPP’s 14 candidates, include six former lawmakers. Of them, Dunesh Gankanda was elected from the Ratnapura district on the UNP ticket at the last parliamentary polls in August 2015.

 The SLPP should blame itself for the crisis, Gajanayake said.

 On Feb 26, 2019 four suspects who had been charged with killing of an individual in Kahawatta during the 2015 presidential polls campaign were acquitted and released by the High Court of Ratnapura. However, Jayasekera and two others remained as accused.

 Executive Director of PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Election) Rohana Hettiarachchi told The Island that at the time Jayasekera received nomination he hadn’t been found guilty by High Court of Ratnapura. Therefore, there couldn’t be an issue in voters exercising their franchise for Jayasekera tomorrow, Hettiarachchi said. However, the EC would have to seek legal advice before Jayasekera received oaths as a member of parliament. 

 The police arrested Jayasekera in the Beruwela police area while he was hiding after the high profile Kahawatte killing.

 CaFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Elections) head Ahamed Manas Makeen told The Island that the electorate should exercise their franchise for those who had clean records. Those who abused women and children or encouraged such practices, bribery and corruption and engaged or promoted violence or extremism shouldn’t be encouraged. Makeen said that the CaFFE stand was relevant to all districts not only Ratnapura where a candidate was sentenced to death.

 However Makeen’s predecessor, Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, in a letter dated Aug 2 addressed to the EC, on behalf of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) said that in terms of the Article 89 of the Constitution a convicted murderer is automatically deprived of the right to exercise his franchise. Therefore, Jayasekera couldn’t vote at tomorrow’s general election, Tennakoon said, pointing out that in terms of Article 91 of the Constitution, a person disqualified to vote at the general election couldn’t contest. Tennakoon urged the EC to advice the Returning Officer of Ratnapura accordingly without delay.

 Keerthi functions as the SJB representative at the EC.

 SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris said that they were watching the situation.

 



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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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