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Election monitors keen on PC polls



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Provincial Council polls could be held safely under strict health guidelines, election monitors yesterday told The Island.

National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election violence (CMEV), Manjula Gajanayake said that practices like physical distancing and wearing masks had become a part of people’s lives and the manner in which the general election was held was a good template to follow in the coming election.

“We have experience in holding an election under COVID-19 before and we did it successfully. If proper systems are in place, we should be able to hold Provincial Council elections, in a few months, in a safe manner.”

Executive Director of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), Manas Makeen said that educating the people on how to behave during the election was the key to holding a safe election.

“In the August 2020 general election, the polling centres adhered to proper guidelines on the election day. However, during the campaign there were many instances where there was no physical distancing. But since COVID-19 guidelines have now been gazetted, PHIs should be able to enforce these laws.”

Last week Election Commission Chief Attorney-at-law Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that the government could easily prepare the ground for the Provincial Council polls by effecting a simple amendment to the Provincial Councils Election Act.

Asked whether the EC was making preparations for the PC polls in following its meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Punchihewa said that as a new Act in respect of PCs had been ratified by Parliament during the previous administration and the polls couldn’t be held in the absence of a delimitation process.

Therefore, the polls couldn’t be conducted in terms of the new Act in the foreseeable future, the EC Chairman said. The only way to hold the much-delayed PC polls was to introduce an amendment to suspend the new Act pending the conclusion of polls in terms of the previous Act, he said.

Asked how fast the EC could move in case they secured the parliamentary approval as suggested by him, a confident Punchihewa said that arrangements could be finalized within 10 to 12 weeks.

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Govt. under pressure to tackle corruption in revenue inflow



Amendments to Exchange Control Act contemplated

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya yesterday (07) said the government would introduce some amendments to the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 as part of its response to the continuing financial crisis.

The SLFPer mentioned that amendments were necessary to restore the authority exercised by the Central Bank in respect of regulation of foreign exchange before the enactment of the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, adding that the government has received several proposals in this regard.

The State Finance Minister said so when The Island sought a clarification as regards rebel SLPP accusations that the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, enacted during the Yahapalana administration, allowed exporters to ‘park’ funds overseas. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Gevindu Cumaratunga had estimated the stashed amount at over USD 35 bn.

Siyambalapitiya acknowledged that the amendments that had been introduced in 2017 deprived the Central Bank of certain regulatory powers.

The Island

raised the issue at hand with Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, yesterday (07) consequent to his declaration that as much as USD 53.5 bn had been ‘parked’ overseas. This claim was made during the committee stage of the ongoing debate on the Appropriation Bill.

Minister Rajapakse said that Nanayakkara, Weerawansa and Cumaratunga, too, had referred to the same funds though he was able to obtain the latest figures.

Responding to another query, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka emphasised that the situation had further deteriorated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, etc. According to him, the figures available with him dealt with the past 12 years.

The Justice Minister said that he discussed this with the Central Bank. Lawmaker Rajapakse said that in the absence of regulatory powers, the Central Bank hadn’t been able to make necessary interventions.

The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, told The Island that the urgent need for amendments to the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 had been taken up with the relevant authorities. Dr. Weerasinghe said that the ongoing controversy, over funds ‘parked’ overseas, gathered momentum against the backdrop of his recent speech, at the AGM of the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association, where the inordinate delay, on the part of the exporters to convert export earnings to rupees, was highlighted.

In terms of current foreign exchange regulations, the exporters are required to convert 25 percent of their export proceeds, within a month, and all export proceeds within 180 days.

Having found fault with apparel, tea and rubber for the unsatisfactory conversion rate of forex earnings, Dr. Weerasinghe said that they were in the process of examining a selected group of exporters but realized the majority weren’t forthcoming with the required data.

The Justice Minister said that the entire revenue collection system was utterly corrupt, influenced and manipulated by interested parties. “The people are suffering because of continuing corruption at every level. Those responsible for revenue collection are part of the growing racket. They seem to be unstoppable,” he said.

Dr. Rajapakse said that there couldn’t be a better example than continuing the racket in security stickers on bottles of liquor to highlight the pathetic situation here. The Minister alleged that the racket, involving liquor manufacturers and some excise officials, deprived the Treasury a massive amount in revenue. In spite of frequent media exposure, the racket continued unabated, Dr. Rajapakse said, adding that those who defended the manufacturer of the security sticker were all part of the scam.

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Criminal waste at State Hospital revealed



Chairman, Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital, Professor Shanthilal Devapriya Jayaratne responds to probing questions from COPE members (Pic courtesy parliament)

Surgical items thrown away amidst shortages

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has called for a comprehensive report from Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital regarding hiring of a private surveyor, way back in 2015 although the Surveyor General’s Department had completed the task.

The COPE, chaired by Prof. Ranjith Bandara, on 06 Dec, asked the Legal Officer of the hospital to provide a list of persons responsible for hiring the private surveyor.

During the inquiry, several irregularities were exposed, according to parliamentary sources. The COPE raised the issue of 80% of surgical items being discarded due to the expiration of shelf life. The hospital management said that they had received a report compiled, following an inquiry. Those items had been procured at a cost of Rs 4.2 mn for the neurosurgical unit of the hospital.

Health Secretary Dr. Asela Gunawardena was to submit a comprehensive report in this regard within two weeks.

The COPE also called for reports on spending Rs 1.8 mn on a software package and spending Rs 19.7 for scanning and uploading documents in 2019.

Lawmakers also discussed how payments had been made for unfinished work undertaken by various parties. (SF)

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Prez keen to speed up implementation of SLSFTA – State Minister



Tharaka shaking hands with Ann

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement issued yesterday (06), quoted State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya as having informed Singapore’s Senior Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, Sim Ann, of President Ranil Wickremesinghe desire to implement the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA).

State Minister Balasuriya was on a short transit visit to Singapore on Dec. 07.

The Foreign Ministry said that they held wide-ranging discussions on augmenting bilateral relations with a specific focus on trade and investment cooperation between the two countries.

The Minister also met with the Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore, Dr. Janil Puthucheary, and discussed additional employment opportunities for Sri Lankans, in the healthcare sector there, and cooperation between the two sides on the information technology sphere.

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