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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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Herath: COPE dissolution must not hinder probe into economic crisis

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Prof. Charitha Herath yesterday (07) said that though the prorogation of the Parliament led to the dissolution of the watchdog committee it shouldn’t hinder a planned inquiry to identify those responsible for the current economic chaos.

Prof. Herath said that the COPE was about to initiate the probe when the prorogation of the Parliament took place. President Ranil Wickremesinghe prorogued the House at midnight on July 28, just a week after the Parliament overwhelmingly elected him to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, won at the Nov 2019 presidential poll.

In a brief interview with The Island, Prof. Herath said as a result of the prorogation, he no longer functioned as the COPE Chairman. All committees, except the High Post Committee, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Sectoral Oversight Committees and Select Committees of Parliament, stand dissolved, lawmaker Herath said, urging the powers that be to ensure the continuation of the inquiry.

The proposed inquiry would be largely based on a report received by the Parliament from Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremeratne several weeks ago, Prof. Herath said.

Prof. Herath said that the parliamentary watchdog, he headed, had planned daily sittings over a period of two weeks to inquire into the entire gamut of issues that finally led to the declaration made by incumbent Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, on 19 May, that the country was no longer in a position to service its foreign debt. This was a week after UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership, Prof. Herath said, while stressing the responsibility on the part of the Parliament to conduct a no holds barred investigation into the whole affair.

According to the first-time entrant to the Parliament, the inquiry was to be launched on July 19, but couldn’t due to the political upheaval, caused by the forced resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Among those asked to appear before the parliamentary committee were the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, and his predecessors, Prof. W.D. Lakshman (Dec 2019-Sept 2021) and Ajith Nivard Cabraal (Sept 2021-March 2022), former Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera (Nov 2019-Dec 2021), Finance Secretary Mahinda Sirisiwardana and his predecessors, S.R. Attygalle and Dr. S.R. Samarasinghe, who now functions as an advisor to President Ranil Wickremesinghe.The COPE also planned to summon former members of the Monetary Board, Sanjiva Jayawardena, PC, and Dr. Ranee Jayamaha and others. Governor, CBSL and Secretary to the Treasury are ex-officio members of the Monetary Board.

Asked whether he would like to be re-appointed as COPE Chairman, Prof. Herath said that as his outfit inquired into the issues at hand pertaining to overall financial crisis that caused massive protest campaign, leading to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster without fear or favour those interested in serving the watchdog again should be accommodated. Prof. Herath said that he was ready to give the required leadership to it, especially against the backdrop of President Wickremesinghe’s assurance to the Parliament, regarding a high profile anti-corruption campaign.

Herath quoted President Wickremesinghe as having told the Parliament that: “It is essential to completely eliminate bribery, corruption and fraud from our society. I will implement a national policy to combat bribery and corruption. New rules and regulations and orders in this regard are being prepared by the Ministry of Justice. A consensus will be reached with the International Monetary Fund regarding combating corruption.”

Prof. Herath emphasized that regardless of consensus on political matters, the current crisis couldn’t be addressed unless tangible measures were taken to discipline the public sector and also thwart corrupt practices involving the public and private sectors.

Prof. Herath said that those who could provide information, relating to the inquiry, would be given an opportunity to do so.When The Island pointed out he may not be even considered for re-appointment as COPE Chief due to him joining the rebel group, that backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the presidential contest, Prof. Herath stressed that he was confident his political stand shouldn’t be a disqualification. Should it be the case, would there be any purpose in even talking about an all-party arrangement to address issues at hand.Prof. Herath said that the country couldn’t move forward without establishing who brought on this catastrophe in our country.

Declaring old political strategies would be irrelevant in the current context, Prof. Herath said that no one could challenge the process adopted in the election of President Wickremesinghe as the 8th President.

Lawmaker Herath told a recent media briefing, chaired by SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, at the Madiwela residence of SLPP MP Wasantha Yapa Bandara, that not only legality of a process but legitimacy, too, was of pivotal importance.

Prof. Peiris emphasized that unless political actions that had been constitutionally correct, received legitimacy, those responsible would always be at a conflict with the public. There couldn’t be a better example than the referendum ordered by the then President J.R.J, in 1982, meant to extend the life of his government by six years, Prof. Herath said.

“No one could find fault with J.R.J for exercising his powers in terms of the Constitution. Therefore, there was no issue with regard to the referendum that allowed the first Executive President to extend the life of the Parliament. The action, in spite of being controversial, is in line with the Constitution. But, J.R.J’s action never received legitimacy. It never will,” Prof. Herath said.

The catastrophic consequences of J.R.J’s actions should be examined, taking into consideration the eruption of separatist Tamil terrorism in the early 80s and the launch of the second JVP-led insurgency, in the wake of the proscription of that party on political grounds, the MP argued.

Prof. Herath urged all political parties, particularly those in power, to secure the legitimacy by taking into consideration concerns raised by various stakeholders. Responding to another query, Prof. Herath recalled how the then COPE Chairman, DEW Gunasekera, was deprived of an opportunity to hand over his report on the Treasury bond scams by the hasty dissolution of Parliament by President Sirisena, in late June 2015. “We shouldn’t repeat past mistakes. People have suffered enough. Therefore, let there be a clear stand on creating an administration responsible and acceptable to all.”

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JVP: Both President and ruling party MPs must be sent home

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BY Saman Indrajith

The Aragalaya protest must unite all its forces to pressure the Executive and the legislature, and the protesters should not shy away from that task, JVP trade union wing leader, KD Lalkantha, said, addressing a rally at the Ananda Samarakoon Open Air Theatre, in Nugegoda, on Saturday.

Lalkantha said that the Aragalaya had to topple both the President and the government. “There is no point in attacking any other power centre. Actually, there are no other power centres in this country today. Parliament is the place where the President derives his power. He is just a constitutional President. He has no mandate. Nor do the SLPP MPs have any mandate. The government MPs cannot even attend a funeral today. They all are hiding from the people. So we no longer need them. We must get rid of them and their constitutionally appointed President.”

Lalkantha said Wickremesinghe had unleashed two types of terror. “On one front, he uses the police and security forces to arrest, detain and prosecute the leaders of the Aragalaya protests. On the other front, he tries to promote his interests, ideologically. Dozens of university students are made to praise him on television. People should not fall for these ruses.”

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Stakeholders’ proposals to be made available

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Bid to form all-party govt.:

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said the proposals presented by all stakeholders, during talks on the formation of an all-party government, will be made available to them.President Wickremesinghe stated so during Friday’s (05) discussions with leaders of the 11 independent parties in the Parliament and the 43 Brigade on the formation of an all-party government. The discussions were held at the President’s Office.

President Wickremesinghe pointed out that only the JVP, the National People’s Power, and a few other Tamil political parties, had not come for talks. He thanked the parties that had met him for their willingness to sink their political differences for the sake of the public. Leader of the 43 Brigade MP Champika Ranawaka said his outfit was hopeful that it would be possible to restore the 19 Amendment to the Constitution. He also said that there was a need to appoint professionals as Heads of State Institutions.

Ranawaka further said that a country could not be developed by political reforms alone, and the contribution of professionals should be a key factor. He said educational reforms had to be introduced in keeping with global trends.Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Members of Parliament Professor Tissa Vitharana, Wimal Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila, Asanga Navaratne, Premanath C. Dolawatta, Karu Paranawithana, Secretary to the President Saman Ekanayake, and President’s Additional Secretary Attorney-at-Law, Chaminda Kularatne, were present in this discussion.

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