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Pandemic helps 48% of Lankan smokers to kick the habit



by Pradeep Prasanna Samarakoon and Chaminda Silva

The Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) ays that 48 percent of Lankan smokers have kicked the habit due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The centre points out that this is a very good trend and that about 50 percent of the people who have given up smoking will never smoke again.

ADIC Human Development Director Sampath de Saram said that smokers were at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and more likely to be seriously affected by the disease.

He said that nearly 40 people died daily in Sri Lanka due to smoking. De Saram said that Sri Lanka was one of the leading countries in reducing smoking and that there was also a need to implement a number of policies to prevent smoking.

“We have observed that there was a reduction of 40 to 50 percent of cigarette smoking during the past year. Compared to the previous year’s statistics, we observe that there is a 12 percent reduction so far this year. This is a good trend. In order to boost this trend we are planning to have regulations introduced to stop the sale of single stick cigarettes. Studies around the world show that selling single stick cigarettes makes smoking more affordable for the underprivileged and the minors who are unable to afford packs with 12-20 cigarettes. And we will also lobby for the implementation of another regulation to ban selling cigarettes within 100 meter radius of educational institutions.”



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COPA baffled by massive rewards for Customs at the expense of Treasury



Question mark over Tax Appeals Commission

70% of fine on Lanka Coal ends up with officers

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The cash-strapped government hasn’t been able to recover tax revenue running into billions of rupees, in spite of sporadic interventions made by the Parliamentary Watchdog, the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA).

 According to a report submitted to Parliament on July 20 by COPA, the situation has been further complicated by the Customs receiving substantial amounts, as rewards, from fines imposed on tax defaulters, at the expense of the Treasury.

 Prof. Tissa Vitarana, in his capacity as the Chairperson of the 22-member COPA, has submitted the report.

 The COPA has questioned the Customs why prominent palm oil importers Pyramid Wilma Pvt Ltd and Naratha Agro Industries (Pvt) Ltd. were allowed to appeal in 2019 against the Attorney General’s decision that loss of revenue suffered by the Treasury to the tune of Rs 6.130 bn during 2013-2016 period should be charged from 2013 instead of 2016 as recommended by a committee that inquired into the irregularities.

Pointing out that the Tax Appeals Commission couldn’t accept appeals made after the stipulated 3 month period following a particular decision, COPA has instructed Director General of Customs, Maj. Gen (retd) Vijitha Ravipriya to inform the Tax Appeal Commission. DG, Customs has done so on Feb 2, 2021, COPA according a copy of the report made available to The Island.

 Tax Appeals Commission has been established in terms of Tax Appeals Commission Act No 23 of 2011 (subsequently amended).

 COPA has also dealt with an unprecedented case of Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and Customs being involved in a costly case wherein the latter was seeking 50 percent of a fine imposed on SLPA as a reward for those involved in the inquiry. According to COPA proceedings, the SLPA had been blamed for defaulting on the payment of Rs 916,526 over the import of gantry cranes and other equipment worth Rs 11,498,829,084 way back in 2011.

 In spite of talks involving stakeholders, including the Treasury as well as the House watchdog over the years, the issue hadn’t been resolved as both parties spent quiet a lot on lawyers.

 Customs have sought a staggering 50 percent as a reward for officers from the fine imposed on the SLPA. The Consultative Committee on ports and shipping has inquired into the possibility of the Treasury taking the entire sum.

 COPA has questioned the rationale in one government institution receiving cash reward at the expense of another as it caused quite a problem. According to the COPA report made available to The Island, the watchdog has requested Chief Accounting Officer/Accounting Officer to send all relevant reports and documents to parliament before the Customs appeared before Prof. Vitharana’s outfit in two months.

 Prof. Tissa Vitharana told The Island that remedial measures should be taken to improve the revenue collection process. Appreciating the services rendered by members of his committee, the political veteran said that the need to enhance state revenue couldn’t be ignored. The LSSPer noted that the government income had now fallen very much less than 10 percent of the GDP, a situation all should be seriously concerned about.

 COPA has examined the legal wrangle involving the Customs and the SLPA against the backdrop of Customs officers receiving half of Rs 205 mn imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Ltd as rewards due to the payment being categorized as a fine instead of an additional tax. The company in question has been formed by CEB (60%), Treasury (20%), Ceylon Shipping Corporation (10%) and SLPA (10%). COPA pointed out that in addition to taking 50 % of the so called fine, Customs had secured a further 20% (Rs 41 mn) for their welfare and management fund leaving Rs 61.5 for the Treasury.

 COPA has underscored the need to amend relevant laws to prevent recurrence of such irregularities.

 COPA has revealed a spate of instances wherein due to range of factors, including raging Covid-19 epidemic had been blamed on the inordinate delay in settling a substantial number of tax appeals. The tax and penalties pertaining to 1,108 appeals amounted to a staggering Rs 18,684,603,316 whereas only 49 were finalized.



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Ranil submits motion calling for PSC to probe MV X-Press Pearl disaster



UNP Leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has submitted a motion for the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to investigate the MV X-Press Pearl disaster.

The motion, included in the latest addendum to the Order Book of Parliament, identifies the MV X-Press Pearl incident as the worst marine ecological disaster in the country and says that a PSC should be appointed “to look into and report its recommendations on the damage caused to the Sri Lankan marine environment and marine life, persons whose livelihoods have been lost, and the impact on the national economy by the sinking of the MV X–Press Pearl ship on June 22, 2021 off the coast of Sri Lanka.”

The motion reads: “The sinking of MV X-Press Pearl, off the coast of Colombo on 22 June 2021 is Sri Lanka’s worst marine ecological disaster; and whereas, this disaster has destroyed marine and animal lives and caused a massive economic loss; This Parliament resolves that a Select Committee of Parliament be appointed to, (a) Quantify the economic damage caused as a result of the sinking of MV X-Press Pearl; (b) Estimate the number of persons whose livelihoods have been affected; (c) To recommend financial relief and other compensation to be awarded to the people so affected; and (d) The extent of (i) marine and animal lives and (ii) the undersea environment affected by this disaster. 2. (a) That the Chair and the Members of the Committee shall be appointed by the Speaker; and (b) The Committee shall report to Parliament within six (6) months of its first sitting or such extended period that the Parliament may grant.

The PSC shall have the power to (a) fix its quorum; (b) summon in person to appear before it, to require in person to procure or record, to procure and receive such evidence, written or oral, as the Committee may think it is necessary for the fullest consideration of the matters referred to above; (c) obtain the services of Specialists and Experts in the relevant fields to assist the Committee; and (d) make interim reports from time to time and sit, notwithstanding any adjournment of Parliament, the motion by the UNP leader said.

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TNPF threatens to mobilise people against govt. over land dispute



Troops deployed outside SLN base in Mullaitivu

By Dinasena Ratugamage

Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam said, on Thursday, that they would mobilse all Tamils against the government if it didn’t refrain from taking over private lands in the North.

Ponnambalam issued the warning after joining a protest against the expansion of a Navy camp in Mullaitivu.

“There is no need to expand this facility at a time when there is no war. Even if there is a valid reason, the government can easily use state lands. There are plenty of state lands in the North. Why try to take over land given to people by land licences?” the MP asked.

A section of protesting politicians

Ponnambalam said that the only purpose of taking over private land was to demean the Tamils. It was unfair to discriminate against Tamil people simply because they were a minority, he said.

“The President must intervene and put an end to this. Otherwise, there will be unrest in Mullaitivu,” he said.

Earlier Ponnambalam was among a number of Tamil politicians who joined a demonstration opposing an attempt to take over a plot of private land by the Navy.

The demonstrators also surrounded the Survey Department officers who had arrived to survey the plot of land. Mullaitivu Police had to escort the Survey Department officers to safety.



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