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Excise Department grapples with billions of rupees in lost tax revenue

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Due to ban on liquor sales during travel restrictions

by Suresh Perera

The continued prohibition on liquor sales due to existing travel restrictions in the country has dealt a crippling blow to the Excise Department with the loss of tax revenue exceeding a whopping Rs. 10 billion (Rs. 10,000 million) so far.

“We have been deprived of around Rs. 600 million per day in excise duties”, says M. J. Gunasiri, Commissioner-General of Excise.

Since the sale of alcohol was banned with the indefinite closure of all licensed liquor sales outlets (commonly called ‘wine stores), taverns, clubs and hotels on May 21, 2021, the loss in terms of tax income to the Excise Department for the past 18 days (up to June 8) has shot up to more than Rs. 10 billion, he said.

Excise tax on alcoholic beverages is a key source of government income, accounting for around 7% of tax revenue. The Treasury reported tax revenues of 944.4 billion for the seven months in 2019 up from Rs. 670.4 billion in the corresponding period the previous year, according to latest figures available.

Asked about the loss of tax revenue from tobacco sales, Gunasiri said the income earned by the Excise Department from this segment is marginal as the Finance Ministry absorbs the bulk of it.

“We have garnered only Rs. 35 million from tobacco sales so far this year”, he said.

With legal alcoholic beverages shut out, the illicit hooch business is thriving, the Excise Department chief remarked. “Some people have even resorted to distilling spirits at home”.

This is a dangerous trend as the illegal brew can even poison tipplers due to lack of standardization, he cautioned. “People should not jeopardize their lives by drinking such unsafe concoctions”.

Asked whether legal booze cannot be allowed to be ordered online for home delivery on a restricted basis to overcome the problem of risky ‘home-made alcohol’ to some extent, Gunasiri opined that sales cannot be done selectively.

“Such a move will also come under heavy flak though it’s fact that the illicit moonshine trade is cashing in on the situation in a big way”, he pointed out.

With legally produced products no longer available, ‘kasippu’ (illicit hooch) distillers are having a field day, trade sources asserted. “With the police tied down to implementing Covid-19 related measures and enforcing travel restrictions, there’s hardly the time and space for raids to round them up”.

Local liquor was also available in the blackmarket at exorbitant prices – a 750ml bottle of Extra Special Arrack (commonly called ‘gal’), usually sold at Rs. 1,600, had spiked to Rs. 5,000 over the past few days. The pricing started at around Rs. 2,500 per bottle, but shot up as legal products remained out of bounds with the extension of the travel restrictions, the sources said.

The Excise Department subsequently sealed all liquor outlets in a bid to prevent the ‘leak’ of available stocks.

“It’s true that many people have turned to rotgut as there is no option”, Gunasiri said.

On Tuesday, the Excise Department granted permission to facilitate the sale of liquor in “Safe and Secure Level 1 Hotels” during the travel restrictions.

Asked what “Level 1 Hotels” meant, the Excise Department boss explained that they represented Tourist Board approved star class properties which accommodate foreign visitors.

There are foreigners arriving in Sri Lanka under air transport bubbles and they can be served liquor if they are in-house guests of a star class hotel, he elaborated.

“This does not mean that anybody can walk into the bar of a hotel coming under the specified category and consume liquor”, he clarified.

This facility was granted to give foreigners access to liquor during their stay in Sri Lanka, Gunasiri further said.

Asked for a clarification on the legally specified quantum of alcohol an individual can have in his possession in terms of the amended regulations, he outlined that its 7.5 litres of any brand of local liquor (ten 750ml bottles) and 80 litres of foreign liquor, irrespective of whether its whisky, gin, brandy, rum, vodka, beer etc. as long as they are imported products.

The specified quantities are strictly for personal use and cannot be sold to a third party, he stressed.

Gunasiri served as the Deputy Commissioner General of the Inland Revenue Department prior to his appointment to head the Excise Department.

 

 



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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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