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FSP sees something sinister in President attempting to simplify rules and regulations



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The commission appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa purportedly to simplify existing laws and regulations was his latest attempt to neutralise institutions that acted as a countervailing force against the state and private actors, Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda told The Island yesterday.

Jayagoda said such action will have a devastating impact on the general public.

“This commission headed by Adviser to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Chairman of John Keells Group Krishan Balendra has a lot of private sector people as members. The government is determined to allow the private sector to maximise profit at the expense of the people and the environment.”

The FSP Education Secretary said that this commission should not be taken in isolation. The vision of President Rajapaksa is one of deregulation and weakening of social contracts and ethics that prevent individuals from doing things that are harmful to the society.

“Former British Prime Minister and arch neoliberal Margaret Thatcher said that there was no such thing as society and that there were only individual men and women. The current President seems to have been cut from the same cloth.

“At the Cabinet meeting on 21 December 2020, there was a discussion on the role of various regulatory institutions, from the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). The President was reportedly of the view that these institutions stalled development. No one said a word against it.”

A few days later the PUCSL was scrapped by a letter signed by Secretary to the President, P.B. Jayasundera.”

The FSP Education Secretary said that the PUCSL had been established by an act of Parliament, which alone could dissolve it. To overcome that obstacle the government later asked the Commission members to resign.

“Soon, there will be no one to regulate the power sector, etc., and the sky will be the limit for crooked companies hell bent on profit maximisations.

Soon after the President came into power, and a new Cabinet was appointed, they said there was no need to get permits to transport granite, soil and sand. When many objected, the government said permits would be issued, but Police won’t check. How absurd! Later, the government backtracked due to pressure but in the 2021 budget proposals, it came up with a proposal to hand over the power of issuing extracting permits to an entity appointed by the President.”

Jayagoda said that currently, before allowing anyone to extract granite, sand, soil, etc., the GSMB first had to examine the site and approve it. Then the Central Environment Authority (CEA) examines the environmental aspect and the Divisional Secretary and the Grama Niladari look at social and administration issues of allowing the project.

“Now, all powers will be given an entity appointed by the President. This is not the end of this. At the Cabinet meeting I mentioned earlier, they spoke about scrapping or weakening all regulatory bodies, including the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA.) Yes, there are complaints that commissions that are there to protect people and their rights are inefficient. Successive governments have also promoted this idea that there is no point in even complaining. If these institutions are inefficient, they should be made better. They must not be done away with under any circumstances.

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Massive revenue loss: Eyebrows raised over delay in responding to House query



SLPP members say sugar deal black mark on govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the delay on the part of the Finance Ministry to respond to a Finance Committee (FC) request for a comprehensive report on an alleged fraud in the controversial sugar tax revision.

Chairman of the Finance Commission Anura Priyadarshana Yapa on January 5 issued instructions to the Finance Ministry in this regard when the FC considered several special gazette notifications pertaining to the Ministry of Finance issued since October 2020.

According to the Communication Department of Parliament, MP Yapa on Feb 25 told the FC that the report called by him hadn’t been received yet. Yapa said so when State Minister Vidura Wickramanayaka and SLPP MP Nalin Fernando alleged the revision of taxes pertaining to the import of sugar hadn’t benefitted the consumers at all and only caused loss of revenue to the State. Severe criticism of the revision of sugar taxes was nothing but a black mark on the government.

Asked whether the report had been received since the issue at hand was taken up on Feb 25, the former Minister said that the FC answered in the negative.

Yapa told the last FC meeting that the Department of Import Control should be able to submit analytical comments with data on the relevant gazette amendments. Having approved the regulations issued on that day in respect of the issuance of licenses for the import of brown sugar, the FC recommended that a full explanation be given on March 09 with the participation of all relevant Ministries and Institutions.

Parliament is scheduled to meet on March 9.

Yapa is on record as having told the FC on January 5 though the tax on imported sugar was revised downwards to 25 cents from Rs. 50.00 per kilogram through the Gazette Notification No. 2197/12 issued by the Ministry of Finance on 13th October 2020, the move did not benefit the consumers at all.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake lambasted the government over what he called a massive sugar scam that caused losses amounting to Rs 10 bn. In addition to the JVP, the SJB and UNP flayed the government over the corrupt deal. Dissanayake questioned the rationale in increasing the tax on sugar from Rs 33 to Rs 50 on May 23, 2020 and then bringing it down steeply to 25 cents on Oct 13, 2020. Dissanayake said that at that time the tax was brought down to 25 cents, there had been 90,000 metric tonnes of imported sugar in the country. Having reduced the sugar tax to 25 cents, the government directed that a kilo of sugar be sold at Rs 85, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer alleged that subsequently, when the government wanted to increase the sugar tax by Rs 40, Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that once imposed tax couldn’t be altered for a month, hence the decision to continue with 25 cents tax till Nov 13, 2020.

MP Dissanayake on Dec 12, 2020 named all those involved in the sugar scam.

Lawmaker Dissanayake said that the country suffered massive losses due to corrupt sugar deals. Those who suspended imports claiming the country faced severe foreign exchange crisis allowed massive corruption at the expense of the national economy.

Dissanayake said that last year alone at least 73,000 metric tonnes were imported at 25 cents tax.

He pointed out that the Treasury was responsible for facilitating sweet deals at the expense of the national economy. The revenue which should have been received by the government ended up with racketeers, Dissanayake lambasted the government for allowing its cronies to flourish.

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JVP expresses solidarity with Black Sunday campaign



The JVP-led NPP yesterday expressed solidarity with the Black Sunday campaign seeking justice for the Easter Sunday carnage victims.

A statement issued by the party said that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage had released its report but the general consensus was that the inquiry had failed to bring justice. The PCoI report had only made the matter complex by creating some more puzzles instead of identifying the masterminds of the terror strikes.

The JVP has said Sri Lankans will never forget the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 2019 where nearly 300 perished and more than 500 others were wounded and became disabled for the rest of their lives. It is no secret that it was the failure on the part of the previous government to prevent the attacks that led to the destruction of lives and properties. The appointment of the commissions to investigate the incident was the only response of the former and incumbent governments. It is now clear that the commission has failed to identify the masterminds, owing to political reasons. Demanding justice is a human right. The Catholic Church has called on people to mark the coming Sunday as a day of agitation, demanding justice. We, of the NPP, extend our fullest support for the campaign and urge the law enforcing agencies to take action without further delay to bring about the masterminds and offenders of the crime, the statement has said.

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Iranaitivu islanders protest against burying of coronavirus victims there



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Residents of Iranaitivu Island yesterday forcibly filled up the burial sites prepared for those who had died from COVID-19 and held a demonstration against burying coronavirus victims on the island.

The protesters claimed that the media had reported those who died from COVID-19 would be buried on the island and that some group had already prepared a burial site. However, the residents of the island had not been consulted, they said.

They claimed that even during the war they had fought for the right to live on the island and they were opposed to the decision taken by the government to bury COVID-19 victims on the island.

 The protesters claimed that it was a cunning plan by the government to drive in a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the area. The government should have earmarked a deserted island for that purpose, they said. The protest was led by Christian religious leaders and local politicians. 

Iranaitivu is situated 10 km from Mannar and can only be accessed by boat. Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle said that it was not a political decision and that health experts had taken it after careful consideration. He added that a vehicle especially made for this would be used to transport bodies to the island. This vehicle would include a freezer and the driver would be isolated from the bodies. Two family members would also be allowed to attend the funeral.



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