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Labour Minister opposes govt. move to tax EPF, ETF

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By Saman Indrajith

Minister of Labour Nimal Siripala de Silva told Parliament yesterday that the Ministry of Labour was opposed to taxing the Employees’ Provident Fund.

Responding to a question raised by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on the proposed surcharge on superannuation funds, demanding that a gazette, announcing the Surcharge Tax Bill be withdrawn, Minister de Silva said: “My stance on this matter is clear and it has already been announced. The origin of this issue is not the gazette. The Inland Revenue Department has said the income earned by investing EPF and ETF money should be taxed. Yet, our ministry’s position is clear: the EPF and ETF should not be taxed and the position of the Inland Revenue Department is wrong. We have informed the Treasury that this definition should be amended. We have also informed the Commissioner of the Department of Inland Revenue. We informed them of our position months ago,” the minister said.

Opposition Leader Premadasa: I am thankful to the minister for his honesty. The minister has told this House that his ministry is opposed to this. Then, how could the Finance Ministry issue a gazette of this nature?

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe: We must discuss this matter in the party leaders’ meeting and thereafter we can debate it here to prepare a draft to submit for the approval of Parliament to ensure that both EPF and ETF are exempted from the taxes.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella: We demand a debate on this matter. This is fundamentally wrong because this leads to double taxation. An EPF beneficiary would be taxed for the amount of his money. Those receiving EPF face double taxation as a tax is imposed when withdrawing the funds and the Fund will be taxed again on investments. Double taxation is against the law. Therefore, we demand a debate on this matter.

Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena: It is during the Yahapalana time this new income tax law was passed. It is according to that law these regulations are introduced. You passed the wrong law removing the tax exemptions given to these funds.

Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa: The new circular in question was issued as per the provisions of the Inland Revenue Act No 24 of 2017. It was your government that brought this Act. It is wrong for you to speak as if you do not know the matter. MP Kiriella demands a debate on the economy stating that he does not know of the prevailing economic situation. In the meantime, he tells in the meetings outside parliament that the economy is collapsing.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella: Minister Namal Rajapaksa said that it was as per the provisions of an Act passed during our time that the taxation was introduced. I ask him to read to this House the particular section from that Act enabling taxation. I challenge him to show us such a section. Can you do that?

Minister Namal Rajapaksa: Minister Bandula Gunawardena will read out the particular section to this House tomorrow.

The Chief Opposition Whip: He spoke of a section, but he does not know where it is. He does not know what he spoke of.

Earlier in the day, leader of the opposition Premadasa said the country’s current foreign reserves available for importing goods were only sufficient for three weeks. The government had failed to address the matter in the House. The government had imposed a 25 percent tax on Sri Lanka’s largest fund, the Employees’ Provident Fund, which is worth Rs.3 trillion, which generated a profit of around Rs. 250 billion. The Minister of Finance is attempting to misappropriate funds belonging to the public for implementing the ‘100,000 Projects’ through the Budget’s rural development programme.

He demanded to know whether the government was attempting to misappropriate funds amounting to Rs.65 billion from the EPF.



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More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients

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The Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) has disclosed that Rs. 6,259 million worth of drugs faced a quality failure from 2011 to 2020 due to improper storage. The COPA report has further revealed that 99% of such drugs had already been dispensed to patients when the condition was brought to attention. In that situation, it was not possible to recover the cost of substandard drugs from the suppliers, the Parliament said.

The Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to expedite the process of facilitating better storage of drugs to ensure their safety.

It has also been observed that the temperature in the warehouses, owned by the Medical Supplies Division, is maintained properly and that the medical supplies are stored in the corridors of the central drug warehouses and hospitals.

Furthermore, the Secretary to the Ministry has pointed out that if there is a system to detect the failure of drugs as soon as they are received, the loss can be recovered from the suppliers and if the quality testing of 60 drugs can be done by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, this situation can be avoided to some extent.

These concerns and observations were contained in the first report of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament on COPA, which was tabled in Parliament recently (20) by Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The report contains information about the investigations of seven state institutions summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts and one Special Audit Report during the period from 04.08.2021 to 19.11.2021.

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CBSL Chief: Economy could be stabilised in year or so if …

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The prevailing Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis could lead to a major social crisis as the available foreign reserves were only sufficient for a few weeks’ imports, Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned on Monday.

“The economy can be stabilised in the next 12 month if the IMF negotiations and debt restructuring are finalised within the next seven to eight months. Until then we have to support the poor people,” Dr. Weerasinghe said, addressing a seminar on the “State of the Economy and Talks with the IMF”. It was organised by the Press Club, together with the Press Institute, at Colombo Hilton.

The CB Governor said the current BoP crisis would worsen and, therefore the economic pain could only be minimised if essential policies and measures were implemented in an expeditious manner. But “IMF technical level virtual meetings are likely to conclude this week, and thereafter further discussion will take place to finalise everything,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Dr. Weerasinghe suggested that the monetary and fiscal authorities tighten the monetary policy by higher margins and fiscal policy by restoring tax rates to pre-2020 levels.

The Governor said, “We have three categories of creditors namely International Sovereign Bonds, which raise short term funds from global markets, which account for 35 percent of the government debt, while other two creditors are Paris Club and non-Paris Club (India and China).

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the country’s debt needed to be brought to a sustainable level. “For that purpose a debt sustainability analysis needs to be drafted with a fiscal policy for the IMF bailout”, he said.

Speaking about the country’s worsening economic fundamentals, Dr. Weerasinghe said: “The nation is currently experiencing a historically low economic growth and falling trend of per capita GDP since 2017 with rising levels of poverty. It is also running the highest fiscal deficits since 1988 with the lowest ever government revenue as a percent of GDP.

“Amid those developments Sri Lanka’ poverty level will increase, unemployment level soar and local industries will have to shut down due to restriction of importation of raw material. Therefore, we have to seek humanitarian assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral and multilateral agencies”, the Governor said.

“We are seeking short-term bridging facilities from official creditors until an agreement is reached with creditors on restructuring,” he said.

In his presentation, Dr. Weerasinghe analysed the links between banking and the currency crises. He pointed out that the problems in the banking sector typically precede a currency crisis with the currency crisis deepening the banking crisis, thus activating a vicious spiral.

Sri Lanka also had the highest-ever government debt which was unsustainable at the moment. Debt dynamics might be worsening in the next few years unless the debt was restructured, he said.

Sri Lanka also recorded the highest rate of inflation in 12 years which was increasing sharply and was experiencing the highest-ever levels of money printing by the CBSL, he added

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Dragonfly thought to be extinct found again

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By Ifham Nizam

Scientists have rediscovered Sri Lankan Clubtail (Anisogomphus ceylonicus), one of the rarest species of dragonflies in the country. The team that made the discovery comprised Amila Sumanapala of the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo, T. Ranasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, and D. Sumanapala of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to lead scientist Amila Sumanapala Sri Lankan Clubtail is one of the rarest species of dragonflies.

First collected in 1859, it was only known from the original collection and another collection record made a century after in 1962. This species had not been found anywhere in Sri Lanka for close to 60 years until the team encountered a larva during a survey conducted in 2021.

Anisogomphus ceylonicus is one of the few Odonates of Sri Lanka with no photographic records of a living specimen available hitherto.

The present observation provides the first photographs of a live A. ceylonicus larva and the most recent documentation of the species. These observations, coupled with previous work (Lieftinck 1971, Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013), provide an improved understanding of the species, which might enable further targeted surveys to be made

It was first discovered from Ramboda over 140 years ago based on a female specimen, which was originally described as Gomphus ceylonicus and later assigned to the genus Heliogomphus by F.C. Fraser (Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013). Almost a century later, Lieftinck (1971) collected an immature male and its exuvia of a clubtail dragonfly from Rambukpath Oya, 10 miles northwest of Hatton in 1962 and described it as Anisogomphus solitaris. However, Bedjanič & van der Poorten (2013) recognized that H. ceylonicus is conspecific with A. solitaris, and thus reassigned it to the genus Anisogomphus. Since the discovery of the species, only these two records have ever been documented (Bedjanič et al. 2014), despite odonatological surveys and numerous biodiversity explorations conducted countrywide.

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