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Govt. can prove its sincerity by abolishing MPs’ duty free vehicle permits – Nagananda

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Financial crisis

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Colombo District SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) MP Madura Vithana yesterday (19) said that he wouldn’t take the duty free vehicle permit he was entitled to.

The former Kotte Mayor said that he had informed the relevant ministry of his decision. The newly elected member said so when The Island asked him whether he intended to honour his promise to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not to utilise the permit. Vithana polled 70,205 preference votes in the Colombo district. The SLPPer admitted that it wouldn’t be fair on their part to receive such privilege as the country was struggling on the economic front.

Attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku asked whether members of parliament were entitled to such generous grants. Kodituwakku told The Island yesterday (19) that it would be a massive challenge for the new government to scrap the duty-free vehicle permit scheme.

The 9th parliament meets today (20) at 9.30 am.

Acknowledging that the SLPP’s 2019 presidential poll manifesto titled ‘Vistas for Prosperity and Splendour’ dealt with the issue, the public litigation activist pointed out that the economy was in such a perilous state that the government couldn’t under any circumstance provide duty free facility to members of parliament now.

In a section titled ‘An efficient governance mechanism,’ the SLPP assured in Oct 2019 in the run-up to the presidential poll that the procurement of vehicles for the public sector (including Ministers) and purchase of multi-faceted office facilities would be suspended for a period of 3 years. In addition, the renting of such facilities would also be stopped for a period of three years.

Kodituwakku pointed out that the assurance was given months before corona epidemic ruined the national economy. Responding to another query, Koditiwakku asked how the government could provide that having restricted imports due to deepening foreign reserve crisis

Having gradually increased the duty free facility, those who represented the last parliament received tax exemption as much as Rs 33 mn in the import of luxury vehicles and the privilege to sell it.

Kodituwakku said that members of all political parties sold the vehicles on the same day they were registered under their names.

The former Customs officer alleged that lawmakers deprived the country revenue to the tune of billions of rupees by selling their duty free vehicles to those who could afford to import expensive vehicles through proper channels. In terms of the relevant laws, duty free imports couldn’t be sold to another party unless the importer settled government dues, Kodituwakku said.

According to Kodituwakku, the Right to Information (RTI) Law enacted by the previous government gave him an opportunity to expose the massive scam perpetrated by members of parliament.

When the then Customs Chief declined to furnish the required information pertaining to the importation and the transferring of vehicles, Kodituwakkku moved the Supreme Court, successfully. “The Customs provided me everything I asked for after the Attorney General assured the Supreme Court information would be provided in terms of the RTI Law.”

Kodituwakku acknowledged that he hadn’t been successful in moving the Supreme Court against those who had sold their duty free vehicles contrary to the laws.

Top SLPP leadership would definitely come under pressure to issue duty free permits regardless of the much advertised promise to do away with duty free facility, Kodituwakku said.

The SLPP won 145 seats out of 225 in parliament whereas the breakaway UNP faction obtained 54 seats.

Kodituwakku said that the parliament was responsible for financial discipline and enactment of laws. Instead, the parliament as an institution allowed deterioration of financial discipline to such an extent the system was abused to reimburse expenses incurred by candidates regardless of the party they represented, the attorney-at-law said.

Part of the campaigning costs was covered by raising funds by selling the duty free vehicle, Kodituwakku said.

He said that the people would stop exercising their franchise if they really knew what was going on both in and out of parliament.

Kodituwakku questioned whether the top political leadership had the courage to abolish the duty free scheme or at least suspend it until the country recovered from the worst ever financial crisis faced in post-independence period. The interim government obtained USD 400 mn from India, then requested New Delhi to re-schedule Sri Lanka’s debt and sought an additional USD 1.1 bn loan facility, Kodituwakku pointed out. The parliament should set an example now as the country faced daunting challenge in reviving the economy.

Kodituwakku alleged that during the previous administration some of those National List members who had been appointed originally resigned to pave the way for newcomers to obtain the duty free facility. There were at least three such cases between 2015 and 2020, the outspoken lawyer pointed out, challenging the new parliament/govt to do away with such bad old practices.

 



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About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months

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Overtime gravy train for CPC refinery workers:

By Saman Indrajith

About Rs. 3,000 million had been paid as overtime for the employees of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil refinery, during the past few months, Parliament was told yesterday.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said that he had asked for a detailed report as to whom and on what grounds the overtime payments had been made and it would be submitted to Parliament.

Fielding a question asked by Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, Minister Wijesekera said instructions had been issued to regulate overtime.

MP Kiriella demanded to know why overtime had been paid to employees of an institution that had been shut down. “There are reports that over Rs 4,000 million has been paid as overtime to the workers of the refinery that was not functioning owing to the non-availability of crude oil. This is a crime,” Kiriella said.

Minister Wijesekera: “I made inquiries after I saw newspaper reports on payment of overtime to refinery workers. I inquired from the Finance Manager of the CPC. I was told that a sum between Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 3 billion had been paid as overtime. The refinery was not closed during the months of March and April. It was closed only during the last month. They had issued refined fuel on all seven days of the week continuously. When an institution operates full time in such a manner the employees would have to be paid for their overtime work. However, I admit that could have been done with some level of management in the payment process,” the Minister said.

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Wigneswaran claims RW accepted all his demands

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Head of the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), C. V. Wigneswaran told the media recently that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to all demands he had made, including the release of Tamil ‘political prisoners’, to secure his vote during last month’s Parliament election, to elect a President.

He made this statement following a meeting with the President in Colombo to discuss the establishment of an all-party government.

“We have made several requests and if the President is ready to comply with them, we will consider taking part in the all party government,” he said.

“We met him when he was Prime Minister. Before the parliamentary vote to elect the President, I made these demands and he agreed to them. That is why I voted for him. Now, it is for him to keep his promises. I am here to remind him of this,” Wigenswaran said.

Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister in the yahapalana government, vehemently denied that there were Tamil ‘political prisoners’ in the country. (RK)

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MPs are not immune from country’s laws – SJB

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By Saman Indrajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that the MPs were not immune from the Penal Code despite the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.

Premadasa said Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardane had claimed that incidents in Parliament could not be dealt with under the regular law.

“This claim sends the wrong message to people. Aren’t the provisions of the Penal Code or the Offences against Public Property Act applicable to the MPs? There were incidents in this Chamber during the 52-day coup conspiracy; some MPs damaged public property. There were investigations by the CID and also by Parliament.

The Secretary General announced the cost of the damage. When the process was on to prosecute those MPs responsible for the damage, political influence was exerted on the CID not to file cases against the culprits. It is against this background that Minister Gunawardane, in his position as the Cabinet spokesman, makes this false claim. His statement is sending a message saying that there is one law inside the Parliament and another outside it.

“He also claims that the Speaker decides whether these laws are applicable to Parliament or not,” Premadasa said.

Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that people were already against the MPs and this new wrong message would further exacerbate their anger against elected members. “The Cabinet Spokesman says that the MPs have a different set of laws while the people are dealt with by the country’s laws. That is wrong. We are also liable for criminal offences that we commit,” Rahuman said.

“The CID conducted an investigation and was prepared to file cases, but that was prevented through political influence. The Cabinet Spokesman’s statement is fueling public hatred towards the MPs. Please, request the Cabinet Spokesman to refrain from making such statements,” he said.

Minister Gunawardane said that he was only responding to a question raised by a journalist and the question was about fairness of cracking down on protesters for destroying public property, during anti-government protests, when MPs, who damaged Parliament, property under the former government, are yet to be apprehended.

Minister Gunawardane said as a public representative in Parliament for the last 33 years he had only explained that the law would be implemented against those engaged in violent activities during peaceful protests.

“I said MPs had Parliament privileges and the Parliament law. I also explained that MPs attending Parliament cannot be arrested as they are engaged in legislative activities,” he said.

Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said that the MPs had no such legal immunity. and Parliament privileges only cover MPs from being arrested while they are on their way to attend and when they leave Parliament. “Therefore, there is no law that says they are exempt from other laws of the country,” Kiriella said.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, agreeing with Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella, said that all other laws in the country applied to the MPs.

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