By Saman Indrajith
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday (21) told Parliament that he was happy and proud of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution for it would become law without any political deals to get it passed in Parliament.
Participating in the second reading stage debate on the amendment bill, the Prime Minister said that instances of constitutional reforms in history were full of political deals to obtain votes from other parties to pass those bills. “There is neither such pressure nor political deal in this instance,” he said.
The 20th Amendment was brought to remove the 19th Amendment which had plunged the country into anarchy and was rejected by the people, Prime Minister Rajapaksa said.
The PM said people had given the SLPP to strengthen the position of the President and therefore the 20th Amendment had been brought in to strengthen national security and repeal the 19th Amendment which destabilized the country.
The Prime Minister said that the government was not planning to continue with the existing Constitution would introduce a new constitution to build the nation fulfilling the long awaited aspiration of the people.
“No other Constitution has been criticised as much as this Constitution. Dr. NM Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and Sarath Muttettuwegama were the ones who initially opposed this constitution but, they are not alive today. However, we have no choice but to maintain this constitution. Although the SLFP opposes this Constitution, the Presidents produced by the SLFP have formed governments under it. Although UNP leader J.R. Jayewardene had introduced the present Constitution to prevent the SLFP from coming to power, the SLFP had ruled the country for the longest period by producing the highest number of residents. Therefore, all of us have been subjected to political ridicule under this constitution. But we have not been able to change this Constitution because one party could not get a two- thirds majority in Parliament under the PR system, but we have won a two-thirds majority. The people of this country wanted a government that would safeguard the sovereignty of the people without succumbing to foreign pressures and breaking up into factions.”
The PM said that when a Constitution was amended it was normal for various debates to arise in Parliament. “However, certain amendments in history have been made with MPs kept under pressure. But, we are not bringing this 20th Amendment to Parliament through political deals or by securing votes by exerting influence on anyone. That is why at this moment when the 20th Amendment is being brought, there is room for debate. On the other hand, I would like to ask whether the same could be said about the 19th Amendment. At that time the Maha Sangha or anyone was not allowed to protest. Therefore, we can be happy about the manner in which the 20th Amendment is being debated respecting the democratic rights of the people without any underhand deal making involved.”
The PM said that the 19th Amendment was solely aimed at taking revenge from the Rajapaksa family and to target the civic rights of the Rajapaksas. But unfortunately, it had only jeopardised the national security and unity of the country.
“Some people rejoiced when the President’s wings were clipped, not realising that such action would endanger national security. The Head of former State Intelligence Service has revealed before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the Easter Sunday attacks that at least 10,000 officials had been aware that the terror strikes would happen but could do nothing to prevent the attack.”
In addition the Prime Minister noted that the president did not even have the power to remove the IGP even after such a tragedy or even to transfer inefficient police officers. “Only the Police Commission can do that. But it was a mystery as to who the Police Commission was answerable to.
“The state intelligence and other intelligence services were very strong during our time. But after the introduction of 19th Amendment, the CID was used to hunt down Opposition politicians. As a result, the efficiency of services such as the CID intelligence deteriorated. Now, the CID could not apprehend Rishad Bathiudeen fast. Rishad’s younger brother who was allegedly linked to terrorists has been released on bail by the police. No there is nothing that can be done about that.”
Prime Minister Rajapaksa said that officials from the Attorney General’s Department had been summoned to Temple Trees to conduct an anti-corruption committee during the previous regime. For five years Temple Trees had spent a colossal sum of money to maintain that committee. “Even the officials of the then Attorney General’s Department have publicly stated that the committee was illegal. But has the Independent Audit Commission audited the huge expenditure incurred by this committee? Is there a report submitted to this country after such an audit?”
COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs
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.
India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security
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. “
Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port
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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