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Mahanamahewa flays ‘parliamentary system’ over contempt of SC issue



Prof. Prathiba Mahanamahewa

BASL says ‘it is a matter entirely for the House’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Prof. Prathiba Mahanamahewa of the Colombo University Law Faculty, yesterday, lambasted the double standards in dealing with lawmakers over contempt of court, which, too, tended to erode public confidence in the parliamentary system.

The Attorney-at-Law said so referring to the sentencing of Gampaha District MP Ranjan Ramanayake (SJB) to four years imprisonment and Jaffna District (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran being allowed to take refuge under parliamentary privileges for also flaying the Supreme Court recently.

Prof. Mahanamahewa said so on ‘The Challenge’ on Jayamaga TV, anchored by Anushi Hakmanage.

The academic asked why the two lawmakers were treated differently over the same offence. He said criticism of the Supreme Court was not acceptable on any grounds or tolerated, under any circumstances.

Warning that the public had realised the double standards in respect of the same offence committed by two different lawmakers, the Mahanamahewa stressed the responsibility on the part of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to address the issue at hand.

Speaker Abeywardena said the matter was before the party leaders when The Island raised the issue with him. The Speaker said that though he received a complaint from Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, in that regard, the party leaders should address the issue at hand. Lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran declined to comment.

In a hard hitting letter to Speaker Abeywardena, last week, Justice Minister Rajapakse asked for the appointment of a Special Parliamentary Select Committee to examine MP Sumanthiran’s conduct, in the wake of his strong criticism of the SC, during the debate on the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. Sumanthiran skipped the vote whereas six out of the 10-member TNA parliamentary group, voted for the new law.

However, Saliya Peiris, PC, President of the Bar Association said: “Speeches made by MPs in Parliament are covered by the parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act. That is a matter entirely for the Parliament.”

At the onset of the live interview, Prof.Mahananahewa asserted that there were far more important issues to be addressed, than exposing dual citizens in Parliament.

The Attorney-at-Law questioned whether the Parliament. as a result of conduct of its members, caused doubts among the public regarding responsibility and accountability.

The Prof. dealt with the gradual expansion of the parliamentary structure, since independence, with the introduction of the PR (proportional representation) system, in 1989, at the expense of the first-past-the-post system. Acknowledging the current election process was meant to ensure a much wider public representation, Prof. Mahanamahewa asked whether Parliament met the expectations of the electorate.

Referring to the composition of Parliament – 196 elected and 29 appointed members – lawyer Mahanamahewa said that MPs led quite comfortable lives, though the vast majority of the people were struggling to make ends meet. The lawyer briefly discussed the massive eruption of public protests, in March, over the disruption of essential supplies as a result of years of waste, corruption, mismanagement and irregularities blamed on successive governments.

Responding to another query from the interviewer, Prof Mahanamahewa said that in spite of Litro being almost 100 percent owned by the government, those who suffered damages, as a result of gas explosions, weren’t paid compensation.

However, in the case of lawmakers, whatever the reasons, their grievances are addressed promptly, Prof Mahanamahewa said.

Contrary to the much-touted assurances, regarding equality among the population, lawyer Mahanamahewa questioned how restrictions were imposed on the fuel distribution by way of operation of ‘QR’ code. Pointing out that these restrictions applied only to some sections of the population, lawyer Mahanamahewa complained bitterly about lawmakers, some of whom were not even qualified to be tea makers, but were afforded privileged status.

The law professor asked whether Parliament fulfilled its primary obligations, namely financial discipline and enactment of laws. Asserting that Parliament had failed to meet basic aspirations of the public, lawyer Mahanamahewa queried who caused the deterioration of Parliament to such an extent the public now questioned the parliamentary system of governance.

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Rs. 773 bn arrears: Go after massive tax dodgers before imposing new taxes – GMOA



=AG alleges Inland Revenue withheld info citing Constitution

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) yesterday (02) asked the government to explain its continuing failure to recover as much as Rs 773 bn in taxes, penalties and interest against the backdrop of unprecedented new tax hikes to bridge the record deficit.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge told The Island that the disclosure made by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) on Nov 28 exposed the overall effect ofthe failure byparliament to meet its obligations pertaining to public finance.

The government should have gone flat out to recover taxes, penalties and interests owed by various entities before new revenue generation measures were proposed, Dr. Aluthge said, demanding that the government to come clean on the issue.Responding to another query, Dr. Aluthge said

that what transpired at COPA meeting chaired bySamagi Jana Balvegaya(SJB) MP Kabir Hashim on Nov 28 exposed how successive governments conveniently allowed the situation to deteriorate. Former Minister Hashim succeeded Prof. Tissa Vitharana in the wake of the re-opening of parliament followingitslast prorogation.

The COPA disclosure was nothing but an indictment on the government, Dr. Aluthge said, urging the Finance Ministry and other relevant institutions to address the issue at hand. Why the entire population should suffer due to utterly corrupt and incompetent lot neglecting their responsibilities?Dr. Aluthge asked.

Referring to the statement issued by the Director Legislative Services on Nov 29 consequent to COPA meeting on the previous day, Dr. Aluthge pointed out that the Inland Revenue Department had been summoned by the parliamentary watchdog committee to examine whether COPA recommendations given on March 24, 2021 were implemented.

The top GMOA official said that he was quite baffled that theburningissue hadn’t been given priority in spite of the financial crisis that caused an unparalleled explosion of public anger.

COPA meeting that had been chaired by MP Hashim were attended by State Ministers Mohan PriyadarshanadeSilva, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Kader Mastan, (Dr.) Suren Raghavan and Diana Gamage as well as MPs Tissa Attanayake, Ashok Abeysinghe, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Major Pradeep Undugoda and Weerasumana Weerasinghe.

Dr. Aluthge said that according to figures released by COPA, the total arrears as at June 30, 2022 amounted to a staggering Rs 773,957,856,618 inunpaidtaxes, penalties and interests. The GMOA official pointed outthatCOPA had acknowledged that out of that amount Rs 201,400,855,198 could be collected as there was no legal impediment whereas the recovery of the remaining Rs 572,557,001,420 was on hold temporarily due to various reasons.

Referring to COPA proceedings, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General had quite clearly asserted that the total amount due to the Inland Revenue was Rs 773,957,856,618 in terms of RAMIS (Revenue Administration Management Information System) and Legacy Systems.How could a bankrupt government be so irresponsible?Dr. Aluthge asked.

The GMOA Secretary also faulted the media for not providing sufficient coverage to the issues dealt by parliamentary watchdog committees. The waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement that had been exposed by these watchdog committees over the years proved over and over again the parliament was responsible for the current unprecedented crisis, Dr. Aluthge said.

The shocking disclosure made by the Auditor General that the RAMIS system installed at a staggering cost of over Rs 10 bn to ensure smooth collection of revenue was yet to be fully and properly operational painted a bleak picture, Dr. Aluthge said.

Referring to COPA proceedings again, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General was on record as having said that though deficiencies of RAMIS system had been brought to the notice of COPA on several occasions remedial measures were not taken.

“The parliament owed the public an explanation. The parliament cannot absolve itself of the pathetic and reckless handling of public finance that finally led to Sri Lanka tagged as a bankrupt country,” Dr. Aluthge said.

Dr. Aluthge said that the GMOA sincerely believed the parliament would at least now hear what the Auditor General told COPA of his efforts to get to the bottom of RAMIS installation.

Janakantha Silva, Director Legislative Services and Acting Director Communication in a statement that dealt with COPA meeting chaired by MP Hashim quoted the Auditor General as having said that the Inland Revenue Department declined to release the RAMIS agreement and related payments, the agreement barred the Inland Revenue from releasing the information sought by him. The Auditor General has further alleged that the Inland Revenue Department withheld information pertaining to the RAMIS agreement claiming the release of the agreement violated the Constitution.

How could the Auditor General be deprived of an agreement entered into by the Inland Revenue on behalf of the government? Dr. Aluthge asked.COPA Chairman Hashim has declared that an audit would be conducted on the RAMIS deal if the report sought from the Inland Revenue within a month in respect of the same was not satisfactory.

Dr. Aluthge said that he couldn’t believe that action hadn’t been taken in respect of 4,831 return checks worth Rs 2,488,003,615 (2.4 billion) received by Inland Revenue as at June 30. According to COPA 3,817 of these returned cheques worth Rs. 1,429,356,750 rupees were more than 3 years old. The Inland Revenue has said that the department lacked the authority to take legal action.

Pointing out that COPA Chairman has advised Inland Revenue to inform him of the action in this regard in consultation with the Attorney General , Dr. Aluthge said if the parliament bothered to inquire into what was happening in the revenue collection set up the current crisis could be easily explained.

Dr. Aluthge recalled comprehensive tax proposals submitted by Prof. W.D. Lakshman during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term were never implemented. In fact, the library of the parliament didn’t have a copy of it, Dr. Aluthge alleged, urging the parliament to address the issues at hand without further delay or prepare to face the consequences.

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Record number of students visited parliament on 01 Dec.



A record number of students had visited Parliament yesterday (02), Serjeant-at Arms Narendra Fernando said, adding that it was the highest since the country gained Independence in 1948.Permission had been given to over 5,000 students from 32 schools representing different areas of the country to visit the Parliament on 01 December, he said.

More than 25,000 students have visited to observe the Parliamentary debates after the Public Gallery reopened for schoolchildtrn from 19 September 2022. For over two years the gallery was closed due to COVID-19.

He also mentions that steps are being taken to provide a free glass of milk to each student who visits the Parliament from January 2023.

He added that it is a decision taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by the Speaker and with the support of all the party leaders including the Leader of the House,Chief Government Whip and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Serjeant-at Arms said that it should be specially highlighted that the President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, has decided to provide the necessary financial support for it.

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TNA MP vows to send China packing



By Saman Indrajith

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Batticaloa District MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam yesterday vowed to lead ‘China Go Home’ protests if Beijing did not restructure Sri Lanka’s debt expeiditiously.Speaking in parliament yesterday, Rasamanickam said that China was a 20 trillion US dollar economy and the total Sri Lankan debt to China is 7.4 billion dollars.

“We owe three billion US dollars to China Development Bank and 4.4 billion US dollars to EXIM bank. If China, who has

nearly 20,000 billion dollar economy is truly Sri Lanka’s friend it can write off our debt. We are not even asking for that, we are asking China to expedite the debt restructuring. Offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” he said.The TNA MP added that China lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars knowing well that the country’s economy was in shambles.

“China has built a 20 trillion dollar economy. They are smart. They are not stupid. They knew we were in trouble but kept on lending to ensnare Sri Lanka in a Chinese debt trap. So I ask China to do the right thing. Sri Lankans might be divided over ethnicity and religion but when the country is really in trouble, we all come together. Everyone came together under ‘Gota Go Home’ banner to get rid of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If China doesn’t help us restructure our debt, people will come onto the road demanding ‘China Go Home’ and I will lead them,” he said.

Rasamanickam said said debt destructing is Sri lanka’s prime objective and the government’s priority should be to secure the IMF package.

“The main problem is that china is not willing to restructure. I spoke of this in Parliament before and the Chinese embassy Twitter handle has commented on this. They are tagging me on Twitter all the time. I am speaking on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I am not talking on behalf of some embassy. Them tagging me on Twitter and commenting on what happens inside is an attack on our sovereignty. If the Chinese embassy wants a Twitter war, I am ready,” he said.

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