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New private sector retirement age: Question mark over mandatory or voluntary status

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…concerns over workers’ inability to receive EPF at 55

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle yesterday (22) said that the implementation of the 2021 budget proposal to increase the retirement age of private sector workers to 60 would have to be discussed with stakeholders before a final decision was made.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Finance Minister presented to Parliament the government policy with regard to the private sector retirement and now the implementation would have to be worked out, Attygalle said.

The Treasury Secretary said so when The Island asked him whether private sector workers would be deprived of an opportunity to withdraw their EPF (Employees Provident Fund) at 55 years.

When The Island pointed out that many workers required the EPF for various family commitments, particularly education purposes and pay dowry et al, the Treasury Chief said the benefit of private sector workers receiving an opportunity to work till 60, too, should be taken into consideration.

Responding to another query, Attygalle emphasized the proposal pertaining to compulsory retirement age dealt only with the private sector. “No. It did not affect the armed forces or the police,” Attygalle explained, pointing out the rationale in bringing the retirement age of both public and private sector workers on par.

The top Finance Ministry official emphasized that there couldn’t be any confusion in that regard as the particular proposal dealt with the private sector.

The Finance Secretary said that a decision would have to be made with regard to the increase of retirement age of private sector workers to 60 whether it was voluntary or mandatory.

At the moment, the retirement age of men and women in the private sector stands at 55 and50, respectively.

Responding to another query, Attygalle pointed out that at the time the then government established the fund in terms of the Employees’ Provident Fund Act No 15 of 1958, the life expectancy of the men and women were 58.8 and 57.5, respectively.

The largest superannuation fund in the country is meant to provide retirement benefits for the private and semi government sector employees.

Attygalle explained that the government policy was to introduce required changes to the EPF Act in accordance with the much improved life expectancy of both men and women, estimated at 72 and 76.6, respectively.

The passage of budget 2021 is a mere formality as the government enjoys a staggering 2/3 majority in parliament. The second reading of the budget was passed on Saturday (21) with a majority of 99 votes.

State Minister of Money, Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal strongly endorsed the move. When The Island sought an explanation how private sector workers’ concerns about them having to wait five years more to obtain EPF funds, State Minister Cabraal said that he earned the wrath of some for suggesting 20 percent of the fund should be released to members in view of the corona epidemic. The former Central Bank Governor made the proposal in March this year in his capacity as the senior economic affairs advisor to the Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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