Having displayed discipline, consistency and commitment, over the past nine days and nights, the historically unprecedented, surprisingly undaunted and notably non- violent ‘People’s Struggle’ at Colombo’s ‘Galle Face Green’ by the hitherto ‘unknown youths’ of bankrupt Sri Lanka, rallying in their teeming thousands has reverberated worldwide with a clear public outcry calling upon the Rajapaksa government to quit, without sitting over the destiny of 22 million Sri Lankans any longer, former UPFA MP M.M. Zuhair said in a statement issued yesterday (17). But the forsaken trustees of the country have firmly decided to stay put, ignoring the growing cry to quit the much loved island nation that they are accused of bankrupting, the ex-MP said.
The following is the text of the statement issued by Zuhair, one-time Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Tehran under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency: “The time has come for the youths to get ready to field an anti-bankruptcy political front at the earliest forthcoming elections and in particular the next General Elections targeting 150 out of the 225 seats in Parliament, which the suffering people will not grudge, given the history of alleged corruption and mismanagement notoriously known on both sides of the parliamentary floor.
In 1954, at the age of 31, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, a third generation immigrant from China and a law graduate from Cambridge, England, formed in down town Singapore the ‘People’s Action Party’, gloriously won the next general election and in 1959 became struggling ‘self-governing’ Singapore’s Prime Minister at the age of 35! In 1959, Singapore’s per capita GDP was US $ 400 but by 1990, when Lee Kuan Yew stepped down it grew to US $ 12,200 and by 1999 it grew to US $ 22,000! The Singapore story is the leadership given by a committed Singaporean youth in transforming a land of 640 sq km with no natural resources from third world to first!
The time has come for Sri Lanka, with immense natural resources unlike Singapore, to look for its own Lee Kuan Yew primarily at Galle face Green or at any of the sites of the peoples’ struggle in the country or elsewhere.
The greatest regret for the unknown youths would soon unfold when they realize this week that the parliamentary Opposition missed the best opportunity of moving a Vote of No Confidence on the government during the parliamentary week 5th to 8th April, which followed the Mirihana mid-night demonstrations of 31st March when what appeared to be a collapsing government virtually invited the Opposition to show 113 votes on the floor and to immediately take over the government! It was then much easier for the Opposition to cobble together the 113 votes including from the 42 frightened Pohottuwa Members who moved out of the government camp possibly fearing demonstrations outside their homes!
Meanwhile the Court order barring former Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal from leaving the country alerted danger signals. Soon thereafter the Chief Government Whip announced firmly in Parliament that the President will not resign, with ‘resistance’ becoming the better option to ‘abdication’! This was followed by the Prime Minister’s Speech to the Nation that conveyed the message that the government will go on with a newly reconstituted Cabinet. Poorly organized pro-government demonstrations also followed thereafter while Shantha Bandara from the Podujana Peramuna (SLFP) from the Kurunegala district rejoined the government, dealing a blow to the slow moving Opposition.
The new Cabinet is to be sworn in shortly. This, too, would make it more difficult for the Opposition to secure this week the required 113 votes for the Vote of No-Confidence on the government with the 41 MPs feeling more secure now than they did in the aftermath of the post 31st March Mirihana situation.
In the unlikely event of the Opposition pushing through the Vote of No-Confidence in Parliament this week, which is the first constitutional step for ousting an elected government and if they do form the government under a new Prime Minister, the next challenge will be to obtain the signatures of two thirds of the whole number of Members of Parliament, namely 150 signatures to oust the President from office under Article 38(1) (e) read with 38 (2) (b) (i) of the Constitution. Unless the President resigns amidst continuing political uncertainty and his teams’ inability to find urgent solutions to the peoples’ economic woes, the President cannot be constitutionally ousted by Parliament alone but that would require in addition the Supreme Court’s inquiry and report concurring on any of the allegations of violation of Article 38(2) by the President.
The Opposition’s failure to push through the No-Confidence vote during the April 5th to 8th parliamentary sessions , when the “iron was hot” was believed to be due to the Opposition’s lack of confidence in its own ability to solve the crushing economic threats to the country. That would leave the Galle Face youths having to confront higher stress levels over a longer unsustainable period of time.
With schools and offices reopening after the Sinhala and Tamil new year and if the government does not confront the peaceful demonstrators, Galle Face demonstrations can fizzle out within a month’s time. It is in the national interest that the demonstrators do enter into a non-violent political action front and form a new platform sooner than later to sustain the good will they have earned nationally and globally reminding their followers that immediate solutions to the economic bankruptcy will not be forthcoming both from the government as well as from the Opposition.
President to honour senior journalist Edmond Ranasinghe tomorrow
The tribute ceremony for senior journalist Edmund Ranasinghe, the founding editor and editorial director of the ‘Divaina’ newspaper and one of Sri Lanka’s most esteemed journalists, is scheduled for tomorrow (03rd October) at 3:00 pm at the Presidential Secretariat. President Ranil Wickremesinghe will preside over this event, which marks the initiation of a program conceptualized by the President to honour senior journalists who have made significant contributions to journalism in the country.
In appreciation of Mr. Ranasinghe’s seven decades of dedicated work in the media, a book titled ‘Edmond’s Newspaper Revolution,’ compiled by the 93-year-old journalist himself, will be published.
The keynote speech at this tribute ceremony will be delivered by Mr. Upali Tennakoon, the former Editor-In-Chief of the Island and Rivira newspapers, currently residing in the United States of America.
Mr. Edmond Ranasinghe embarked on his media career as a journalist at the Lake House, ‘Daily News’ newspaper in 1952. In 1973, while serving as the News Editor and holding the title of Deputy Editor, he resigned from his position in protest of the government’s takeover of the Lake House.
In 1977, Mr. Ranasinghe was reappointed as the Editor of ‘Dinamina’ by invitation from Lake House and later he also took on the role of Editor at Silumina.
In 1981, he became the founding Editor of the ‘Divaina’ newspaper, revolutionizing journalism in Sri Lanka and elevating it to unprecedented popularity in a short span of time. In 2016, at the age of 86, Mr. Ranasinghe once again assumed the role of Editor at ‘Silumina,’ further showcasing his enduring commitment to journalism.
Navy deploy flood relief teams in Matara district
The Sri Lanka Navy has deployed relief teams to assist people affected by the flooding in the Akuressa, Athuraliya, Thawalama, and Kamburupitiya areas of Matara district, caused by the overflowing of the Nilwala river and Kiramba-Ara,
Corrupt elements use Parliament, Finance Ministry to evade taxes
Economic Oversight Committee Chief makes shocking allegation
Complicity of official owning Las Vegas house exposed
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Chairman of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Economic and Physical Plans Mahindananda Aluthgamage, MP, yesterday (01), said influential corrupt elements within the state revenue collection apparatus had with the help of the Finance Ministry brought in amendments to relevant laws to stifle the revenue collection process. Their actions had taken a heavy toll on the state coffers.
The government had created a system that allowed four appeals against Inland Revenue Department tax estimates, MP Aluthgamage explained, alleging that interested parties abused the parliamentary process.
The former Minister said so in response to the queries raised by The Island about his recent declaration at the Presidential Media Centre (PMC) that a special unit was required to monitor Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise Departments.
Asked whether he had sought to highlight the failure on the part of parliamentary watchdog committees, the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), the COPF (Committee on Public Finance) and the COPA (Committee on Public Accounts), relevant ministerial consultative committees as well as the Auditor General to carry out their duties and functions properly, Aluthgamage said the fact that as much as Rs. 904 bn had not been collected as taxes over the past 15 years proved that the existing systems were flawed.
MP Aluthgamage said: “In fact, the government, at the expense of the national economy created a system for the benefit of tax dodgers. Parliament is responsible for this situation. Four appeals are not allowed in any part of the world. But the Finance Ministry and Parliament created systems that can be manipulated because the corrupt elements receive the backing of the powers that be.”
Responding to another question, MP Aluthgamage said those who had been tasked with revenue collection seemed to have been hand in glove with tax dodgers.
Aluthgamage said his committee had recently requested President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who also holds the Finance portfolio, to reduce the number of tax appeals from four to two.
MP Aluthgamage said that he had realised the urgent need for a fresh and thorough inquiry into state finance following the declaration of bankruptcy in May 2022 and the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa two months later.
The former Minister said that he wouldn’t hesitate to admit that corrupt systems remained in place regardless of the change of government in July last year. “A few months ago, a person known to me was asked to pay Rs 100 mn as tax. He got in touch with a senior revenue official, paid him Rs 10 mn and got the matter settled. When I brought this to the notice of the relevant department head, the official concerned simply said that particular officer often did so.
“Obviously regardless of the change of government and the fact that the country is begging for IMF assistance, corruption is rampant,” MP Aluthgamage said, noting that though the country was bankrupt and experienced continuing turmoil the vast majority of those who were tasked with revenue collection lived cushy lives. The Oversight Committee Chairman disclosed that one of the key Inland Revenue officials owned properties in Las Vegas, whereas another top official had walked free after being caught with heroin.
Alleging that some of those holding key positions in the revenue collection set-up collaborated with tax dodgers, the MP said that similarly the Excise Department and liquor manufacturers perpetrated massive tax frauds. Responding to another query, MP Aluthgamage emphasised that actually the increase in the price of liquor had helped certain liquor manufacturers.
Appreciating the interventions made by MP Patali Champika Ranawaka to pressure the Excise Department to do its job, MP Aluthgamage said that routine checks had revealed the widespread use of fake security tax stamps affixed to bottles of liquor countrywide. The Excise Department bosses should be held accountable for this situation as liquor manufacturers could not engage in such massive frauds without the blessings of the department.
Referring to a delay in agreement with the IMF over the releasing of the second tranche of USD 2.9 bn Extended Fund Facility (EFF), MP Aluthgamage said that the flaws in the revenue collection process, too, had contributed to the situation. The MP alleged the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise Departments continued to undermine the revenue collection. “They always come up with lame excuses to thwart efforts to streamline tax collection,” he said.
Alleging that frauds involving the Excise Department and liquor manufacturers caused 40 percent loss in revenue, MP Aluthgamage alleged that a significant amount of that money ended up with Excise Department personnel at all levels. “This is the sad truth,” the ex-Minister said.
According to him, the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise were required to collect Rs. 1,667 bn, Rs 1,217 bn and Rs 217 bn, respectively, this year. But so far this year, they had collected only Rs 956 bn, Rs 578 bn and Rs 109 bn, respectively, MP Aluthgamage said.
MP Aluthgamage said that he had been targeted by Inland Revenue after he raised the issues at hand publicly. “I was investigated,” the MP said, adding his efforts couldn’t be derailed by such efforts.
MP Aluthgamage said that he had urged President Wickremesinghe to take remedial measures as soon as possible. “Our continuous failure to act even after the declaration of bankruptcy is unacceptable.”
President to honour senior journalist Edmond Ranasinghe tomorrow
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