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Kiriella insists it’s prerogative of Speaker to bring Ranjan from prison to Parliament

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella yesterday told Parliament that it was the prerogative of the Speaker to bring MP Ranjan Ramanayake or not.

 Raising a point of order, MP Kiriella said that neither the court nor the Department of the Attorney General could intervene in the matter and asked the Speaker to summon MP Ramanayake to Parliament.

 “The Appeal Court, in the matter of MP Premalal Jayasekera, said that it was the duty of the Speaker to allow or disallow an MP to sit in Parliament. It said that the court had no powers in that matter. Anura Bandaranaike, as the Speaker, once clearly stated that the court could not intervene in parliamentary affairs. Similarly, during the tenure of Chamal Rajapaksa as the Speaker, the court gave a ruling to stop the impeachment against Shirani Bandaranayake but the Speaker did not stop it on the same ground that the court could not intervene in the affairs of Parliament. Therefore, the Speaker is the one who should make the final decision in this regard.

“The Speaker has made a statement that if the Attorney General and Court permitted him to bring MP Ramanayake to Parliament, he would do so. When he tried to bring Premalal Jayasekera, the Attorney General objected, but the Speaker went ahead using his powers and allowed Jayasekera to attend Parliament. That means the Speaker has the powers, and, therefore, I request hims bring MP Ramanayake to parliament.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said that MP Ramanayake had been sentenced to jail for contempt of court and soon after that the Chairman of Elections Commission had stated that Ramanayake’s parliament seat might go vacant only if he continued to be in jail for over six months.

“According to that statement, Ramanayake still is an MP and he should be allowed to attend Parliament. He has that right under the privileges of an MP. As per legal experts, the sections 66, 89, 91 and 105 have ensured that he is still an MP. The Speaker is duty bound to ensure the rights and privileges of MPs so he is expected to take action to facilitate MP Ramanayake’s coming to parliament,” Opposition Leader Premadasa said.

TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran: “I want to flag several points in this regard. Before doing so, I am bound by the law and tradition to disclose my interest in the matter as the counsel who appeared for Ranjan Ramanayake in his case at the Supreme Court. I was privileged to appear for a clean and honest politician in court and I am proud of that. Nevertheless, he has been convicted and sentenced. The sentence of four years rigorous imprisonment is unprecedented and exceptionally severe. Parliament has a responsibility in this regard because we have not enacted a law for contempt of court. This has an implication to the Articles in the Constitution the Opposition Leader has just mentioned because it says for an offence for which the prescribed punishment is two years or more. There is nothing prescribed in the law, for parliament has failed to enact laws for contempt of court. Although there have been in the public realm a lot of instances where even drafts had been made we have not done that. By failing to do that, it has been something like freedom of the wild ass anything can be given as a sentence. That is not a good thing. In this case, Parliament has to take steps to enact a law. English law is to be substantive law because we do not have statute law now, and in English law itself scandalizing the court is no longer an offence of contempt of court. Unfortunately the court disregarded it. I like to bring to your notice a serious lacuna in the law with regard to statute for contempt of court in this unprecedented injustice to an honest member of parliament.”

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage:  Sumanthiran is the one who put Ramanayake in trouble by instructing him to go to the Supreme Court. You did not even go to the court when he was sentenced. Not a single MP was there to support Ranjan. If another lawyer had appeared for Ranjan Ramanayake he would have walked free today. Ramanayake did not have a counsel on that day.  We all are saddened by the predicament Ranjan Ramanayake is in today. I have filed two cases against him and next week I will withdraw them by filing two motions because if those cases would be heard to an end, Ramanayake may get four more years in prison. We stand for MPs’ rights, but do not forget Ramanayake denigrated and continued to humiliate the judiciary. The Speaker should consider that the ruling to imprison Ramanayake was given by the Supreme Court.

MP Premalal Jayasekera: I was imprisoned by a High Court. We have records that one of the MPs had been told by the then Justice Minister that I would be sent to gallows. She had said the same to one of the chairmen of an institute. Therefore, I appealed against the judgment handed down to me. However, the ruling given to MP Ramanayake is not by a High Court but by the Supreme Court – the highest and apex court of the country. He has no court to go above that.

State Minister Nimal Lanza said that Ramanayake had humiliated and denigrated all, not only parliament, judiciary, police but all. “Ramanayake is in the same plight as the proverbial woodpecker that finally pecked on the banana tree. MP Sumanthiran should have pointed out those laws at the court not here.”

Justice Minister Ali Sabry: “We regret punishment MP Ramanayake received. The Opposition Leader cited Section 89 of the Constitution. The sub section 4 of section 89 clearly states that no person shall be qualified to be an elector at an election of the President, or of the Members of Parliament or to vote at any Referendum, if he is subject to the following disqualification. That is if he is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding completed serving of a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) for a term not less than six months imposed after conviction by any court for an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than two years or is under sentence of death or is serving or has during the period of seven years immediately preceding completed the serving of a sentence of imprisonment for a term not less than six months awarded in lieu of execution of such sentence, provided that if any person disqualified under this paragraph is granted a free pardon such disqualification shall cease from the date on which the pardon is granted. So it is clear that Ramanayake is presently serving. This is different from the case of Premalal Jayasekera. The Supreme Court is the apex court of the country and since 1972 we cannot refer its decisions to another court for reversal.  So no appeal is pending.” 



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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs

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Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security

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India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port

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A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”

 

 

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