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GL: Govt. not concerned about corruption despite Geneva warning

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Rebel SLPP MP Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (10) said that corruption accusations pertaining to procurement of crude oil and coal should be probed against the backdrop of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) alleging economic crimes in Sri Lanka.

The former External Affairs Minister said that in a resolution passed at the recently concluded 51 sessions of the UNHRC, the global body called on Sri Lanka to get a grip on its economic crisis and prosecute corruption by public officials.

The 19-point resolution was brought by 37 countries, including Britain, Canada and the United States, and was passed with 20 votes in favour and seven against.

On behalf of the government, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, strongly objected to the draft resolution intruding into domestic, economic and financial policy matters.

Prof. Peiris questioned the rationale behind the government declaring its intention to enact an anti-corruption Act without taking tangible measures to curb waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement.

The former law professor flayed the government for not placing the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) under the chairmanship of an Opposition lawmaker. Referring to parliamentary practice in Commonwealth countries, Prof. Peiris said that both the COPE and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) should have been placed under Opposition members. The government, while placing the COPA under SJB MP Kabir Hashim, appointed SLPP National List MP Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Chairman of the COPE.

Prof. Peiris warned the government of dire consequences unless the Parliament was allowed to take charge of public finance. The warning from Geneva shouldn’t be ignored, lawmaker Prof. Peiris said, pointing out the growing controversy over the procurement of crude oil and coal for the Lakvijaya coal-fired power plant.

No less a person than the Auditor General has found fault with procurement of coal, Prof. Peiris said, adding that those who robbed the country, at a time the vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet, would be punished. They would be subjected to no holds barred investigation, the former minister said.

Responding to The Island queries, Prof. Peiris said that the UNHRC wouldn’t accept the usual promise to have domestic actions against corruption, against the backdrop of fresh corruption cases. The MP pointed out that corruption charges, pertaining to procurement of crude oil and coal, emerged close on the heels of the Central Bank declaring Sri Lanka’s status as a bankrupt country.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who won the last presidential election, in 2019 Nov., with an unprecedented 6.9 mn votes, had to give up the presidency and flee the country, as a result of the economic fallout. “The people demanded a change of the system. Now, in place of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the SLPP installed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe,” MP Peiris said.

It would be a grave mistake, on the part of the SLPP, to believe the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government could hoodwink the people, thereby creating an environment conducive for Wickremesinghe to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, Prof. Peiris said.

Referring to SLPP Chairman Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was with the SLPP now, Prof. Peiris said that perhaps as a result of Aragalaya, Wickremesinghe had become part of the ruling party.

Commenting on the postponement of the scheduled debate on the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, last week, Prof. Peiris said that, that piece of law would never be enacted as long as it prohibit dual citizens from contesting parliamentary and presidential polls.

Prof. Peiris said that it was the reality. The SLPP Chairman pointed out that the General Secretary of the Party, Sagara Kariyawasam, declared their opposition to the 22nd Amendment in spite of it being endorsed by the Cabinet-of-Ministers, headed by the President. In an obvious reference to SLPP strongman Basil Rajapaksa, Prof. Peiris alleged that a hidden hand was manipulating the government and was blatantly interfering in parliamentary proceedings.

Prof. Peiris said that the joint Opposition would strongly campaign against the moves to put off Local Governments polls, the way they sabotaged the Provincial Council polls. The former Minister said that the courts would be moved against this move. President Wickremesinghe’s recent declaration that key amendments would be introduced before the next Local Government polls was a clear indication to put polls on the bogus pretext of reforms.



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Trains on northern railway line will end at Mahawa for five months from 15th January 2023

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Minister of Transport and Highways Dr Bandula Gunawardena told Parliament today (28) that trains on the Northern railway line will end at Mahawa for a period of five months commencing 15th January 2023.

The Minister said that repairs to the railway line between Mahawa and Jaffna will commence on 15th January and will be completed within a period of five months.

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SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas

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underscore need to amend Exchange Control Act

By Shamindra Ferdinando

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, who represents the SLPP dissidents, yesterday (27) alleged that the incumbent government was yet to bring enough pressure to bear on those who had parked as much as USD 36 billion overseas to bring the money back.Cumaratunga said the government’s failure to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Budget proposal to draw more loans in 2023.

The leader of the civil society group Yuthukama, Cumaratunga, who represents the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, one of the breakaway factions of the ruling SLPP, said that two of his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, had, during the ongoing Budget debate, had raised the issue of forex stashed away overseas.

Cumaratunga said that he couldn’t comprehend why the government delayed making it mandatory for exporters to bring back much required foreign exchange.Responding to The Island queries, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasised that though the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget was approved on Nov. 22, with a majority of 37 votes, it failed to address even the basic issues. Cumaratunga was among 84 MPs who voted against the Budget whereas it received the backing of 121 lawmakers.

The other Yuthukama MP in Parliament Anupa Pasqual, now a State Minister, voted for the Budget.The parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for taking immediate measures to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, the MP said, pointing out in terms of Article 148 that dealt with public finance this issue should have been addressed long ago.

Cumaratunga was not an MP at the time the Yahapalana administration introduced that controversial legislation.The first-time entrant to Parliament said that the government was on its knees before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for USD 2.9 bn spread over a period of four years, whereas exporters deliberately denied the country more than 10 times that amount in much needed forex.

Addressing the Parliament during the debate on the Budget, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the role played by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in introducing the questionable piece of legislation.  Cumaratunga slammed Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, who previously held the Finance portfolio for ignoring the contentious issue of massive amount of money ‘parked’ overseas by exporters.

Declaring that Sabry hadn’t been involved with the then Joint Opposition following the 2015 change of government, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the circumstances under which the prominent President’s Counsel entered politics. The activist asked whether it was fair to accommodate Sabry on the SLPP National List in return for his role as leading lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his current role.

During two speeches in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga dealt with several contentious issues, including an alleged move to deprive farmers of their land. The outspoken MP warned the government of dire consequences of a decision regarding state land that was to be taken soon, while appealing for Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s intervention.

Referring to a steep increase in the allocation made to the President at the 2023 Budget, MP Cumaratunga said that the President received Rs 2,467 bn last year, Rs 3,044 bn this year and a staggering Rs 7,888 bn next year.

Appreciating a significant drop in the allocation made for the Premier, MP Cumaratunga said that the ministerial staff received Rs 132 bn last year, Rs 217 bn this year and Rs 263 bn next year. Such allocations should be studied taking into consideration the state of the national economy, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, alleging that the Budget didn’t reflect the actual situation.

The MP said that having received the executive presidency, through a vote in Parliament on July 20, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the UNP leader was pursuing an agenda contrary to what he preached as Premier (May 12-July 13, 2022).

Referring to statements made by Wickremesinghe during that period pertaining to the then proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in the President holding onto the Finance portfolio. The MP said as Premier Wickremesinghe continuously expressed the view that the President shouldn’t hold any Cabinet portfolio. The MP said that they were of the view that the President should hold the Defence portfolio. Having vowed to strengthen Parliament, President Wickremesinghe could justify his role as the Finance Minister. The President holds several other ministerial portfolios for want of an agreement with the SLPP pertaining to sharing of portfolios.

Referring to the Budget declaration that the government intended to procure Rs 1,000 bn in loans and settle loans amounting to Rs 440 bn, MP Cumaratunga said that the bottom line is the increase in debt. “Aren’t we getting further embroiled in a debt trap?” he asked.

MP Cumaratunga strongly criticized the government for planning to open Mahaweli lands to outsiders. The declaration that profit-making Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance would be privatized, on the pretext of restructuring, came under fire by the MP, who also expressed serious concerns over the proposed privatization of Hilton as well as profit-making sections of SriLankan Airlines.

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Security stickers on bottles of liquor: The corrupt make a killing – Buddhika

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More than 100,000 bottles of liquor with fake security stickers are currently in the market, says SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana. Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, recently, Pathirana said the security sticker racket has deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees in taxes.

“Leading liquor manufacturers are carrying out this racket with the help of some corrupt Excise officials. The business of counterfeit security stickers is far more lucrative than producing dud notes.  The QR codes printed on the so-called security stickers cannot be read by QR reader apps in mobile phones. Now, a lot of people know how to use mobile phones to scan QR codes to access information contained therein. Many software companies as well as open sources offer QR reader apps free of charge to be downloaded to the mobile phones.

“We have been warning of this security sticker project since inception. We have also warned that the company selected for printing QR code stickers for liquor is under a cloud.”

Pathirana said that State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya too had admitted that artificial toddy is for manufacturing arrack. “Minister Siyambalapitiya has stated that the country’s liquor industry needs at least 150,000 liters of toddy a day but only 45,000 litres can be produced from the coconut palms in the country, and the shortfall is met with artificial toddy. I know that he too is now in a position where he cannot fight against the racketeers because the Finance Ministry officials do not support him,” Pathirana said.

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