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New Geneva challenge: Chagie calls for united stand

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage says the country should take a united stand at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) or face the consequences.

The battle-tested Gajaba regiment veteran said that there shouldn’t be a difference of opinion whatsoever as regards Sri Lanka’s defence in the face of a new investigative mechanism approved at the recently concluded 46th sessions.

“We are on the Geneva agenda. Let us be realistic about the threat and take tangible measures without further delay to set the record straight. We may not get another chance to present our case,” Gallage said. The outspoken officer underscored the need to revisit the accountability issue with an open mind.

Responding to another query, the celebrated infantry officer emphasized that Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from an accountability resolution co-sponsored by the previous administration in Oct 2015, six years after the triumph over terrorism, was irrelevant.

Two years before his retirement in August 2018, Australia refused to issue a visa to Gallage based on unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at the Army.

Referring to statements attributed to SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris and Samagi Jana Balavegaya lawmaker Dr. Harsha de Silva recently in The Island, Gallage welcomed the government and the main Opposition taking a common stand on Lord Naseby’s disclosure based on wartime dispatches from the British High Commission, Colombo. Sri Lanka should collectively ask for examination of all available information pertaining to the war and strive to bring everything before the proposed new inquiry.

The retired soldier noted that the UN had already allocated USD 2.8 mn. “Thanks to the disclosure of BHC, Colombo dispatches, the world now knows their diplomatic representative (Lt. Col. Anthony Gash) contradicted high profile lies propagated by their own,” Gallage said.

Examination of Gash reports, along with UN report that dealt with the Vanni war (Aug, 2008-May 13, 2009), Wikileaks cables, Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s astonishing declaration at the first Colombo Defence Seminar 2011 and exposed lies pertaining to Mannar mass graves and poisoning of detained terrorists would help the government to unravel the truth, he said.

Sri Lanka’s overall failure to disapprove accusations even a decade after the successful conclusion was a slur on those who paid the supreme sacrifice and the wounded, Gallage said. Nearly 6,000 security forces personnel died in the Eelam War IV. Of them approximately 2,400 lost their lives during January-May 2009 in fighting east of the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road.

Gallage emphasized that individual countries could always act on unsubstantiated findings and recommendations.

It would be a grave mistake on Sri Lanka’s part to take things lightly on the basis the country couldn’t be hauled up before the International Criminal Court (ICC) because UN Security Council members, China and Russia could veto proposed actions. Among those declared not welcome by the US and Australia were Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva and Maj. Gen. Gallage.

At the behest of the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Army headquarters moved Gallage out of the Jaffna peninsula following a public spat with the former.

Gallage pointed out that those pursuing war crimes issues were only interested in the final phase. Alleging that Sri Lanka was being targeted by both local and foreign elements who couldn’t stomach eradication of the LTTE, Gallage called for a determined bid to overcome the Geneva challenge. “Let us hope now that the Feb-March sessions are over the Geneva threat won’t be forgotten for the time being,” the war veteran said.

Gallage said that the country paid a very heavy price for not countering blatant lies. Unfortunately, some of those propagating lies against the country’s armed forces were elected members of parliament, the retired soldier said. “It is certainly an unfortunate situation,” Gallage said.

Despite public assurances given over the years, Sri Lanka never really addressed the denial of visas. Actually denial of visas was one of the first indicators of hostile foreign action directed against the war winning military, Gallage said, pointing out in the wake of the recently adopted resolution, Geneva was now talking about a host of measures, including universal jurisdiction and extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The war veteran said that whatever the political differences, there couldn’t be a dispute over the need to finish off terrorism for once and for all. “We should quite rightly be proud of maintaining peace since then.”



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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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