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Massive revenue losses blamed on Parliament



Customs, Motor Traffic faulted, Rs 3 bn scam revealed

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The first report of the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) for the first session of the 9th Parliament has revealed that the Treasury lost billions of rupees annually due to the failure on the part of Parliament to update laws against corruption and irregularities involving state institutions and the private sector.

The COPA has named the Sri Lanka Customs and the Department of Motor Traffic as two key institutions responsible for the pathetic situation.

The Customs and Motor Traffic Departments come under the purview of the Finance and Transport Ministries. Parliament is in charge of overall finances.

COPA Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana, National List member of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) on Tuesday (20) presented the report to the parliament.

COPA consists of Udaya Gammanpila, Duminda Dissanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, (Dr) (Mrs) Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Shehan Semasinghe, Prasanna Ranaweera, Tissa Attanayake, (Prof) Tissa Vitharana, Harin Fernando, Niroshan Perera, Faizal Cassim, Ashok Abeysinghe, Buddhika Pathirana, K. Kader Masthan, Sivagnanam Shritharan, (Dr.) Upul Galappaththi, B. Y. G. Rathnasekara, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, (Prof.) Ranjith Bandara, Mohomad Muzammil, and Dr. (Mrs.) Harini Amarasuriya.

The COPA has dealt with how successive governments conveniently had turned a blind eye to organized scams that deprived the Treasury much needed revenue especially at a time the cash-strapped government was struggling to cope up with deteriorating economic situation.

The LSSP veteran told parliament that those who could pay taxes took advantage of loopholes in the law and existing systems to deprive the Treasury of huge amounts of money.

The one-time minister pointed out how those enterprises which could pay taxes without difficulty exploited an opportunity to appeal thrice and then move court against the Inland Revenue to delay payment of taxes, further.

Recommending that the number of appeals should be reduced to one, Prof. Vitharana questioned the rationale in allowing various enterprises to evade paying taxes by exploiting the existing procedures.

Interestingly, COPA presented its report ahead of the vote of no-confidence motion against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over the increase in fuel prices– a development the lawmaker blamed on extremely difficult economic situation.

Prof. Vitharana said that COPA made recommendations meant to recover taxes due to the Treasury and streamline the process. The report revealed massive scams over a period of time in the absence of scrutiny at any level. It reiterated that the Customs and the Department of Motor Traffic caused colossal losses and were the worst culprits.

COPA revealed that the Treasury had been denied a staggering Rs 3 bn in taxes in the import of Toyota Hilux Smart Cabs as a result of the Customs fraudulently releasing 3,000 vehicles under a different category. Each vehicle had been taxed Rs 1 mn less than it should have been, COPA pointed out adding that in another instance 44 vehicles imported under the category of special purpose vehicles had been subsequently registered as dual purpose vehicles resulting in a further loss of Rs 1.3 bn. According to the report the import of 44 vehicles had taken place during 2010-2019 period.

Department of Communications, Parliament yesterday (21) briefed the media of the salient points in the COPA report.

COPA also dealt with how the Customs caused a loss of Rs. 6.1 bn to the Treasury during 2013-2016 in imports made by two leading palm oil companies.

Former Minister and one-time Chairman of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Dew Gunasekera told The Island that the government should make a genuine effort to streamline the revenue collection process by taking tangible measures to curb corruption and irregularities in the overall process.

The veteran Communist said that the country’s economy was in such a mess and turmoil the government couldn’t afford to turn a blind eye to waste, corruption, irregularities as well as negligence that caused debilitating losses to the national economy. If those lawmakers realized the gravity of the situation they wouldn’t have caused an uproar when Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila announced the fuel price hike on June 12, Gunasekera said.

Gammanpila’s statement as well as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s address to the nation in which he acknowledged the daunting task in meeting annual loan repayments amounting to USD 4 bn, reflected the ground situation.


MP’s wife, father-in-law among three detained



Rishad held under PTA to be questioned

16-year-old girl’s death:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Police investigating the death of 16-year-old Ishalini, the domestic servant at All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen’s Baudhaloka Mawatha residence have arrested Ayesha Shiabdeen, 46, the wife of the former minister.

Police also took into custody Rishad’s father-in-law Mohammed Shiabdeen, 70, and Ponnaiah Pandaram alias Shankar, 64, a resident of Dayagama.

Police Spokesman Senior DIG Ajith Rohana said that Shankar had brought Ilashini from Dayagama to the Baudhaloka Mawatha residence of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Vanni District lawmaker late last year.

Having studied the post postmortem report, they were taken into custody in terms of Section 360 C and Section 308 B of the Penal Code that dealt with human trafficking and cruelty to children, the top police officer said. According to him, so far 20 statements had been recorded.

Asked whether MP Bathiudeen, too, had been among the questioned, Senior DIG Rohana said the parliamentarian detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) over 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, too, would be interrogated in that regard.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. It switched its allegiance to the SJB ahead of 2020 general election after having represented the cabinet in UNP led yahapalana administration. Rishad has also served President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet during his second term.

Having suffered serious burn injuries on July 3 at the MP’s residence and admitted to the National Hospital, Illashini succumbed to her injuries on July 15th. Medical examination revealed that she had been raped over a period of time.

The police spokesman said that they intended to secure court approval to detain the suspects for 72 hours. A Superintendent of Police could obtain such approval on the strength of a B report submitted to the court in respect of offenses on children.

Although, the police indicated earlier in the day they would be produced in Colombo Magistrate court they weren’t brought in.

Meanwhile, the SJB said that interested parties were making a despicable attempt to politicize the incident. The police should be allowed to conduct the investigation without interference, a spokesman for the main Opposition party said.


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Women’s organisations in North conduct protests demanding justice for Ilashini



A section of those engaged in Jaffna protests


By Dinasena Ratugamage

Women’s organisations in the North yesterday held a number of demonstrations in Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna against the death of J. Ilashini, the 16 -year-old girl who died while working at SJB MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence.

The protesters urged authorities to ensure that investigations into the death are conducted in a transparent manner. The family of the victim should be compensated and those guilty punished, they said.

Representatives of the organisations said that if justice was not done, they would hold a massive demonstration in Tarapuram, Mannar, which Bathiudeen represents in Parliament.

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Dancer lodges complaint with police over FB post 



Police headquarters yesterday (23) said that dancer Anusha Damayanthi had lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over a Facebook post alleging that she was running a brothel.

Police headquarters said that Damayanthi, while denying the accusation, had also brought to the CID’s notice that a minister was being accused of lambasting the Walana anti-crime strike force for carrying out the raid. Police said that an investigation was underway.

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