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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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Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent member of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (NJS), has declared that it would oppose President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The patriotic people were ready to defeat such plans, even at the expense of their lives, the party has vowed.

The breakaway JVP faction consists of six MPs, including former minister Wimal Weerawansa. The NJS is contesting the Local Government polls, scheduled for March 09, under the ‘Helicopter’ symbol.

NFF spokesperson, MP Jayantha Samaraweera, on Monday (30), told the media that his party was ready to lead a campaign against the UNP leader’s move to do away with constitutional safeguards meant to ensure Sri Lanka’s unitary status. The Lawmaker addressed the media at the NFF main office, at Pitakotte.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the controversial constitutional amendment at the Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15, President Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to the Eelam project during the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, the former State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera asked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had flanked President Wickremesinghe, at the party leaders’ meeting, to disclose their stand on 13th Amendment.

The Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya, consisting of NFF, Democratic Left Front, Communist Party, Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya, Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya, Vijayadharani Jathika Sabhawa, Yuthukama, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Jana Jaya Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya and Nidahas Janatha Peramuna, has yet to disclose its position on this issue.

MP Samaraweera attacked the President, close on the heels of NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also the Chairman of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), questioning the legitimacy of the move. Lawmaker Weerawansa addressed this issue at a meeting held at the BMICH, on January 26, to discuss ways and means to thwart the move to privatize the CEB.

The ULS consisting of seven political parties, and groups, is aligned with the NJS.

Referring to the circumstances UNP leader Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, through the National List, nearly a year after the last General Election, former Minister Weerawansa emphasized the President didn’t have a mandate to fully implement the 13th Amendment. How could the UNP leader abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status, having received an opportunity to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remainder of five-year term, won at the Nov. 2019 Presidential Election.

The MP challenged their erstwhile comrades, in the JVP, to state their position on the 13th Amendment. Alleging that the JVP had been conveniently silent on the issue at hand, MP Samaraweera asked whether the current leadership would take up Wickremesinghe’s challenge.

In addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has declared opposition to the President’s move, at the party leaders’ meeting.

Of the SLPP parliamentary group, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera is the only MP to publicly oppose Wickremesinghe’s proposal.

Political sources said that the NJS, as a group contesting the forthcoming LG polls, was yet to deliberate this issue and take a stand. They said that consensus was required without further delay as the President’s proposal would be a major issue at the forthcoming election.

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PHU, too, opposes land, police powers to PCs

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A lawyers’ group, aligned with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), yesterday (31) said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t unilaterally decide on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Attorneys-at-Law Pasan Gunasekera and Bhupathi Kahathuduwa, in a statement issued, explained why police and land powers, in terms of the controversial amendment, shouldn’t be granted to Provincial Councils. Abolition of current constitutional safeguard would undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status thereby paved the way for a new conflict.

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Bangladesh FM to deliver LK memorial lecture

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Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, will deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture at Block 3, Jasmine Hall, BMICH, on February 03, at 6 pm.

The LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar, on Aug. 12, 2005.

FM Momen will deliver the annual lecture on the invitation of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.

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