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Govt. in a bind over massive salary and pension bill: Revenue dwindles amidst pandemic



By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa says the country is in a bind due to dwindling revenue in the face of annual state sector salary and pension bill reaching a staggering Rs 1.2 trillion.

Dr. Godahewa, who holds Urban Development, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness portfolios, is of the view that the issue at hand should receive the attention of all political parties represented in Parliament.

The Viyathmaga pioneer, Godahewa said so when The Island sought a clarification as regards his admission at a recent event at the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) that the government was left with Rs 200 bn after the allocation of Rs 1.2 bn for state sector salaries and pensions. The event was held to welcome those who had been recruited to the public sector.

The declaration comes in the wake of COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) faulting tax collection mechanism comprising Sri Lanka Customs, Inland Revenue and Excise Department for failing in their primary task. The annual income has fallen to just over 9 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) according to the Central Bank.

The State Minister said: “There are over 1.4 mn public sector workers. There is a large number of pensioners. Annually, we need about Rs 1.2 trillion to pay salaries and pensions. In 2020, our annual income was Rs 1.4 trillion. We are left with Rs 200 bn to provide health services, education, transport et al.”

Dr. Godahewa explained the government had no option but to obtain loans to manage the economy under extremely difficult situations.

The Gampaha District lawmaker questioned the responsibility on the part of the public sector as the country struggled to cope up with the daunting challenges caused by the raging Covid-19 epidemic. He pointed out that the public sector salaries and pensions had been fully paid in spite of severe difficulties whereas the private sector had imposed unilateral salary cuts.

During his address at the NHDA, State Minister Godahewa made reference to honest as well as corrupt public sector officers and those who neglected their responsibilities. Welcoming those who had newly joined the public service, Dr. Godahewa urged them to join the genuine lot.

The State Minister said that a few irresponsible individuals shouldn’t be allowed to tarnish the image of the entire public sector.

Dr. Godahewa admitted that the government too was responsible to see whether the public sector addresses the requirements of those who needed their services.

The national economy had suffered severe setback due to the total disruption of the tourism trade that brought as much as USD 5 bn annually, he said. The State Minister explained the crippling impact the disruption of tourism was having on the national economy at an event at Walapone where he inaugurated a major construction project. The State Minister emphasized the need to kick start tourism once the ongoing vaccination drive was brought to a successful conclusion by Sept-Oct 2021.

The SLPP is under heavy fire for depriving the Treasury of over Rs 500 bn at the onset of the incumbent administration. The SJB both in and outside parliament has alleged that the Treasury lost well over Rs. 500 bn due to a controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes, including PAYE (Pay As You Earn), NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gains tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The SJB said that the 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

SJB senior Mujibur Rahman said that the decision was taken at the first cabinet meeting of the incumbent government held on Nov 27, 2019.

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Bandula undertakes to take over SLIIT



Bandula Gunawardane has, in his capacity, as the trade minister, assured the SLPP Parliamentary group that action would be taken to take over the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) divested through fraudulent means.

Political sources said that the assurance had been given at this week’s meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, was present. Minister Gunawardane said so when lawmakers Premanath C. Dolawatta and Weerasumana Weerasinghe raised the issue.

Chairman of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Prof. Charitha Herath, who called for taking over of SLIIT, too, was present at the meeting. Communist Party MP Weerasinghe said that they were really happy to receive such an assurance from Minister Gunawardane. Appreciating the manner in which the COPE under Prof. Herath’s leadership had handled the inquiry into the SLIIT acquisition, Matara District lawmaker Weerasinghe said the onus was on the government to take remedial measures immediately.

MP Weerasinghe said that denial of SLIIT ownership to the government was certainly not an isolated case. The way some officials and governments cooperated in daylight robbery of state property couldn’t have happened without the tacit understanding at the highest levels, lawmaker Weerasinghe said. (SF)

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SJB too demands prosecution of ex-President Sirisena and others over Easter carnage



By Saman Indrajith

The SJB yesterday demanded that the government allow the Attorney General to prosecute all those against whom the Presidential Commission of inquiry on Easter Sunday carnage wanted criminal proceedings instituted.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the Attorney General could not be forced by the government to spare certain individuals. “The report of the Presidential Commission recommends that legal action be taken against the former head of State Intelligence Service, senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena and the former President Maithripala Sirisena. But the government does not implement those recommendations.

“The Cardinal says that before the election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to prosecute all those responsible for the carnage. After release of the PCoI report the Cardinal has been told by the President that he could not implement some recommendations therein because he would lose his popularity. That is wrong. He cannot do so, it is the job of the Attorney General. It is not the President who implements the law of this country but the Attorney General. The President has no powers to that. “Upon the receipt of the PCoI report the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee under Minister Chamal Rajapaksa to study the report. Now, the government implements the recommendations of that sub-committee which has recommended to select whom should be prosecuted and who should be left out from the original list of persons identified by the PCoI as responsible for the terror attacks.

“The PCoI recommendations are not being properly implemented. We demand that the government should implement all recommendations of the PCoI. Victims demand the same. The Church and the Cardinal demand the same. The AG should prosecute all identified by the PCoI and let the judiciary decide who is guilty and who is not. The President cannot interfere in selecting the list to be prosecuted. That amounts to the Executive interfering in the matters of the judiciary.”

MP Kiriella said that consequences of the October 2018 constitutional crisis and 52-day government had paved the way for the Easter Sunday terror attacks. “That crisis started on 26 Oct., 2018. Thereafter, the then President Sirisena sidelined the UNP, which was the main party in the Yahapalana government. The National Security Council met without anyone representing the UNF government. The NSC was even attended by some SLFP MPs. President Sirisena took over the Ministry of Law and Order under him in addition to the Defence Ministry. The first move against the Yahapalana government was the 52-day government; the second was the Easter Sunday attack. Nilantha Jayawardena received all information and intelligence from India with exact dates, places and even the names of the attackers. He says that he did not pass that intelligence on to President Sirisena, who was the Minister of Defence. That was an offence. When the PCoI asked Jayawardena to surrender his mobile phone, he did so after deleting all its records. That too is an offence. Former President Sirisena says that he did not know anything about the matter because he had not been informed of it. Yet, the PCoI determined that he was responsible. The government should let the Attorney General implement the recommendations of the PCoI by prosecuting all who have been identified as persons responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage.”

SJB Kurunegala District MP JC Alawathuwala also addressed the press.

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BIA rapid testing PCR lab back in action



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The rapid testing PCR lab at the Bandaranaike International Airport, which was non-operational for several weeks, resumed accepting samples yesterday (27.)

Earlier, the Director General of Health Services authorised the PCR lab, SASL Hospinorm, to operate.

The lab can provide a PCR test report within three hours.

Those who test positive for COVID will be sent to quarantine centres.

Since passengers can get PCR report in three hours, they need to arrive at the airport six hours before departure. Passengers are provided with all facilities until the reports are issued.

The first passengers to benefit from the lab were those who arrived in QR 668 of Qatar Airways. The flight landed at 2.15 am yesterday (27).

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