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Origin of second corona wave remains a mystery

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SLAF clears Ukrainians here to inspect AN 32s

Ramada Hotel responds to allegations

Probe not taken out of CCD in spite of AG’s intervention

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Contrary to various claims as regards the origin of the Minuwangoda covid cluster that could have resulted in a catastrophic coronavirus eruption at the Peliyagoda Central Fish Market, the Health Ministry is yet to announce its conclusive findings.

Well informed sources said that the top health administration remained silent when Health Minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi recently inquired whether they were able to ascertain the origins of the second wave now into its fifth week.

Gampaha hospital made the first chance detection on Oct 2 when a 39-year-old Brandix worker was tested positive during a random test.

Minister Wanniarachchi has raised the issue at a top level meeting held at the ministry to discuss ways and means of countering the threat. Senior representatives of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), too, were present at the meeting.

Authoritative sources said that the government probed primarily two possibilities, namely repatriation of 341 Brandix workers and their families from India in three separate batches and a Ukrainian air crew causing the unprecedented crisis. Sources described the Ukrainians as an eight member crew of a civilian cargo plane that arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Sept 11 and a five-member Ukrainian technical crew here on May 9 on the invitation of the SLAF.

The Island sought an explanation from Asoka Jayamanne, Manager of Ramada Seeduwa where the Ukrainians stayed as regards accusations pertaining to the second wave. Declaring that hotels allowed to accommodate foreign airline crew were under government supervision,

Jayamanne said that the five-man Ukrainian technical crew never stayed at Ramada. “However, we accommodated the eight-member Ukrainian crew in terms of specific health guidelines issued,” Jayamanne said, adding that the crew arrived at the hotel on Sept. 11 after being subjected to PCR tests at the BIA. “We were informed on the morning of Sept. 13 of one of them being tested positive. Those responsible for evacuation of covid patients swiftly moved in, and the Ukrainian was taken to Infections Diseases Hospital, Angoda,” Jayamanne said.

Responding to another query, Jayamanne said that two days later (Sept. 15) the Captain of the crew sought their assistance as another member was in pain. Fearing the worst, the Captain sought immediate medical attention and once the situation was brought to the notice of relevant authorities, the second Ukrainian received immediate medical attention, Jayamanne said. “They moved him to the government hospital at Negombo where PCR tests cleared him.”

Jayamanne said that both Ukrainians after being discharged from hospitals were given accommodation at Ramada before they left the country. Six remaining members of the crew who stayed at Ramada during the 14-day quarantine period left the country on Sept 25, the hotelier said.

Jayamanne said that as part of the overall measures in place to curb spreading of coronavirus, they had set up a six-man special team to serve foreigners arriving in the country. “Of them, three were assigned to look after the Ukrainians. None of them were affected,” Jayamanne said, appreciating efforts made by health and military authorities to sustain hotel services in an extremely difficult situation.

Declaring that they were continuing services, Jayamanne emphasized that wouldn’t have been the case if Ukrainians caused the second wave.

 Asked again whether the Ukrainian technical team had at least visited Ramada hotel, Jayamanne alleged that deliberate attempts were being made to divert attention. “All visitors regardless of nationality are accommodated under government supervision. We follow a set of tough rules and regulations, including uninterrupted CCTV monitoring,” Jayamanne said.

The hotelier said that five out of a group of 15 hotel employees were tested positive in the second week of Oct. All of them were quarantined at the government facility for two weeks and subsequently directed to undergo home quarantine for two more weeks, Jayamanne said.

SLAF spokesperson Group Captain Dushan Wijesinghe yesterday told The Island that the five-member Ukrainian technical team was here to inspect three AN 32 transport aircraft before they were flown to Ukraine for overhauling. “They arrived at the BIA on May 5 and left on July 5 having completed their task,” GC Wijesinghe said, emphasizing that the group never stayed at Ramada or used private transport throughout this period.

According to the SLAF spokesperson, the Ukrainian team were subjected to three PCR tests, first on arrival at the BIA on May 9, the second at the Jetwing Hotel, Pitipana where the group was quarantined (May 9-22) and the third at the Katunayake air base on July 2, three days before their departure. Group Captain Wijesinghe said that during the period (May 22-July 5), the foreign team inspected the aircraft, the group stayed within the base till their departure. Responding to another query, the senior Air Force officer said that the SLAF flew the three aircraft to Ukraine, underwent stipulated quarantine there before returning home. The SLAF team assigned to work with the visitors, too, underwent quarantine in terms of health guidelines, GC Wijesinghe said.

The SLAF officer said that a high priority project was undertaken having obtained necessary approvals from relevant ministries and they followed stipulated guidelines. The official emphasized that the visitors were accommodated at the Jetwing hotel as per the relevant directives and the whole process completed without jeopardizing measures in place to counter corona.

Police spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana yesterday (4) told The Island that the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) was inquiring into the second eruption. Asked whether police headquarters appointed a new team following the directive of Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, to appoint a new team as the CCD was crippled by many officers being tested positive for the virus, attorney-at-law Rohana said the CCD remained in charge of the inquiry.

DIG Rohana said the CCD would conduct the investigation. AG de Livera directed Acting IGP C.D. Wickremaratne on Oct 27 to submit a progress report on an inquiry into alleged negligence on the part of Brandix management and government officers resulting in the crisis.

Well informed sources said that there had been lapses on the part of MoH, Dompe who had been asked to look after Minuwangoda area following the transfer of the MoH there. However, the failure on the part of the medical facility within Brandix premises, Minuwangoda as well as the BoI to detect large numbers of workers reporting sick should be inquired into, sources said. Sources explained that against the backdrop of the first wave, factories couldn’t have afforded to ignore basic precautions.

Against the backdrop of hospitals and quarantine facilities overflowing, the government recently decided to quarantine first and second/third level contacts of corona positive persons at their own homes. DIG Rohana yesterday placed the number of home quarantined persons in the Western Province at 5,715 and 6,199, respectively. The police spokesperson said that 14 ASPs had been tasked to constantly monitor the home quarantine process.



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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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