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Queen presided over Buddha Jayanthi 2500 celebrations as head of Ceylon

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The statement made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe while participating in the vote of condolence on the demise of HM Queen Elizabeth II, moved in the Parliament today (23).

“Amongst all the letters of congratulations I received on becoming the president, the one that was sent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was special. It would have been one of the last letters of congratulations, if not her last letter of congratulations. Her Majesty has been very frail after the death of her husband, His Highness Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh, but no one expected a sudden passing away like this.

The ceremonies are all over, but we have to grapple with the issue. What did Queen Elizabeth II mean to us, to Sri Lanka, to the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and to the world. As Queen of Ceylon, her reign signified the transformation of our country from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. The great political upheaval started under her. The 1956 election victory, the emergence of the ethnic issue, the coming of the free education generation, the state control of the economy, two coup d’etat against the government and the start of the armed uprisings in the South.

Her Majesty is a person who is a staunch Christian and held to her beliefs as a defender of the Anglican faith. But as Queen of Ceylon she also upheld the commitment to safeguard Buddhism under the Kandyan Convention of 1815. In fact, a little known item is that HM presided over the Buddha Jayanthi 2500 celebrations as the head of Ceylon together with the kings of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the President of Burma as Myanmar was then known.

When her term came to an end and we became a republic, there were also two issues that we had left behind which has still not been resolved. The conversion from a dominion of Ceylon into a unitary state of the Republic of Sri Lanka was the emergence of the ethnic issues which led, in turn to uprisings and still the last part of it has to be resolved.

Secondly, it was an issue that was raised, about if you want a figurehead why don’t you have the queen? Why do you need a figurehead President? I remember the late Mr. Siriwardena, Editor of the ‘Aththa’ wrote an editorial that we need not become a republic to become a socialist country. Then there was the issue that was raised by the then leader of the Opposition Hon. J.R. Jayawardena supported by his Chief Opposition Whip Ranasinghe Premadasa as to why we need a figurehead president. If we are to have a president, we should have an Executive Presidency on the model of France.

Now this is also still an unresolved question. Many have pledged and won elections to abolish the executive presidency but no one has done it. In a sense, she represented not only the transformation of Sri Lanka but also the transformation of the rest of the world. The transfer of power from the West to Asia and Africa, the dismantling of the British Empire and the UK joining Europe, and then they left Europe and are now redefining its role as Global Britain.

Queen Elizabeth II was different. From Head of the British Colonies she became head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the transformation which represents her greatest success bringing together the West and the rest. This Commonwealth of Nations saw some of the most outstanding leaders of our time get together with HM the Queen. Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Margaret Thatcher, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sir Robert Menzies, Pierre Trudeau, Lester Pearson, Nelson Mandela, Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Nyerere, Nkrumah, Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman were amongst the others.

In this transformation, Queen Elizabeth II became to us a symbol of stability and a symbol of adaptability. No other queen would have jumped off a helicopter with James Bond. And she was a symbol of duty. As a global icon she outranked the UK, a nation which has now to charter its fortune without its greatest soft-power asset, Queen Elizabeth, who was 100 times more powerful than the aircraft carrier named after her.

It is to pay our respect to this global icon which took many of us to the funeral service in Westminster Abbey. It was a very moving funeral service. The most poignant moment became when all of us in the Abbey, Christian or non-Christian, joined in to sing her favourite hymn ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’. ‘Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me and in the god’s house for evermore my dwelling place shall be’. Queen Elizabeth II is no more. Therefore, I request, Hon. Speaker, and I am supporting the motion moved by the Hon. Prime Minister to convey to HM King Charles III and members of the Royal Family our condolences.

I conclude this tribute to Queen Elizabeth II of Ceylon, the last of our royal line which began with King Wijaya with this verse. “Anicca vata sankhara, uppadavaya-dhammino, Uppajjitva nirujjhanti, tesam vupasamo sukho.” Impermanence our formations subject to rise and fall, having risen they cease, their subsiding is bliss. Thank You.”



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Rs. 773 bn arrears: Go after massive tax dodgers before imposing new taxes – GMOA

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=AG alleges Inland Revenue withheld info citing Constitution

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) yesterday (02) asked the government to explain its continuing failure to recover as much as Rs 773 bn in taxes, penalties and interest against the backdrop of unprecedented new tax hikes to bridge the record deficit.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge told The Island that the disclosure made by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) on Nov 28 exposed the overall effect ofthe failure byparliament to meet its obligations pertaining to public finance.

The government should have gone flat out to recover taxes, penalties and interests owed by various entities before new revenue generation measures were proposed, Dr. Aluthge said, demanding that the government to come clean on the issue.Responding to another query, Dr. Aluthge said

that what transpired at COPA meeting chaired bySamagi Jana Balvegaya(SJB) MP Kabir Hashim on Nov 28 exposed how successive governments conveniently allowed the situation to deteriorate. Former Minister Hashim succeeded Prof. Tissa Vitharana in the wake of the re-opening of parliament followingitslast prorogation.

The COPA disclosure was nothing but an indictment on the government, Dr. Aluthge said, urging the Finance Ministry and other relevant institutions to address the issue at hand. Why the entire population should suffer due to utterly corrupt and incompetent lot neglecting their responsibilities?Dr. Aluthge asked.

Referring to the statement issued by the Director Legislative Services on Nov 29 consequent to COPA meeting on the previous day, Dr. Aluthge pointed out that the Inland Revenue Department had been summoned by the parliamentary watchdog committee to examine whether COPA recommendations given on March 24, 2021 were implemented.

The top GMOA official said that he was quite baffled that theburningissue hadn’t been given priority in spite of the financial crisis that caused an unparalleled explosion of public anger.

COPA meeting that had been chaired by MP Hashim were attended by State Ministers Mohan PriyadarshanadeSilva, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Kader Mastan, (Dr.) Suren Raghavan and Diana Gamage as well as MPs Tissa Attanayake, Ashok Abeysinghe, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Major Pradeep Undugoda and Weerasumana Weerasinghe.

Dr. Aluthge said that according to figures released by COPA, the total arrears as at June 30, 2022 amounted to a staggering Rs 773,957,856,618 inunpaidtaxes, penalties and interests. The GMOA official pointed outthatCOPA had acknowledged that out of that amount Rs 201,400,855,198 could be collected as there was no legal impediment whereas the recovery of the remaining Rs 572,557,001,420 was on hold temporarily due to various reasons.

Referring to COPA proceedings, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General had quite clearly asserted that the total amount due to the Inland Revenue was Rs 773,957,856,618 in terms of RAMIS (Revenue Administration Management Information System) and Legacy Systems.How could a bankrupt government be so irresponsible?Dr. Aluthge asked.

The GMOA Secretary also faulted the media for not providing sufficient coverage to the issues dealt by parliamentary watchdog committees. The waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement that had been exposed by these watchdog committees over the years proved over and over again the parliament was responsible for the current unprecedented crisis, Dr. Aluthge said.

The shocking disclosure made by the Auditor General that the RAMIS system installed at a staggering cost of over Rs 10 bn to ensure smooth collection of revenue was yet to be fully and properly operational painted a bleak picture, Dr. Aluthge said.

Referring to COPA proceedings again, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General was on record as having said that though deficiencies of RAMIS system had been brought to the notice of COPA on several occasions remedial measures were not taken.

“The parliament owed the public an explanation. The parliament cannot absolve itself of the pathetic and reckless handling of public finance that finally led to Sri Lanka tagged as a bankrupt country,” Dr. Aluthge said.

Dr. Aluthge said that the GMOA sincerely believed the parliament would at least now hear what the Auditor General told COPA of his efforts to get to the bottom of RAMIS installation.

Janakantha Silva, Director Legislative Services and Acting Director Communication in a statement that dealt with COPA meeting chaired by MP Hashim quoted the Auditor General as having said that the Inland Revenue Department declined to release the RAMIS agreement and related payments, the agreement barred the Inland Revenue from releasing the information sought by him. The Auditor General has further alleged that the Inland Revenue Department withheld information pertaining to the RAMIS agreement claiming the release of the agreement violated the Constitution.

How could the Auditor General be deprived of an agreement entered into by the Inland Revenue on behalf of the government? Dr. Aluthge asked.COPA Chairman Hashim has declared that an audit would be conducted on the RAMIS deal if the report sought from the Inland Revenue within a month in respect of the same was not satisfactory.

Dr. Aluthge said that he couldn’t believe that action hadn’t been taken in respect of 4,831 return checks worth Rs 2,488,003,615 (2.4 billion) received by Inland Revenue as at June 30. According to COPA 3,817 of these returned cheques worth Rs. 1,429,356,750 rupees were more than 3 years old. The Inland Revenue has said that the department lacked the authority to take legal action.

Pointing out that COPA Chairman has advised Inland Revenue to inform him of the action in this regard in consultation with the Attorney General , Dr. Aluthge said if the parliament bothered to inquire into what was happening in the revenue collection set up the current crisis could be easily explained.

Dr. Aluthge recalled comprehensive tax proposals submitted by Prof. W.D. Lakshman during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term were never implemented. In fact, the library of the parliament didn’t have a copy of it, Dr. Aluthge alleged, urging the parliament to address the issues at hand without further delay or prepare to face the consequences.

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Record number of students visited parliament on 01 Dec.

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A record number of students had visited Parliament yesterday (02), Serjeant-at Arms Narendra Fernando said, adding that it was the highest since the country gained Independence in 1948.Permission had been given to over 5,000 students from 32 schools representing different areas of the country to visit the Parliament on 01 December, he said.

More than 25,000 students have visited to observe the Parliamentary debates after the Public Gallery reopened for schoolchildtrn from 19 September 2022. For over two years the gallery was closed due to COVID-19.

He also mentions that steps are being taken to provide a free glass of milk to each student who visits the Parliament from January 2023.

He added that it is a decision taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by the Speaker and with the support of all the party leaders including the Leader of the House,Chief Government Whip and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Serjeant-at Arms said that it should be specially highlighted that the President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, has decided to provide the necessary financial support for it.

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TNA MP vows to send China packing

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By Saman Indrajith

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Batticaloa District MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam yesterday vowed to lead ‘China Go Home’ protests if Beijing did not restructure Sri Lanka’s debt expeiditiously.Speaking in parliament yesterday, Rasamanickam said that China was a 20 trillion US dollar economy and the total Sri Lankan debt to China is 7.4 billion dollars.

“We owe three billion US dollars to China Development Bank and 4.4 billion US dollars to EXIM bank. If China, who has

nearly 20,000 billion dollar economy is truly Sri Lanka’s friend it can write off our debt. We are not even asking for that, we are asking China to expedite the debt restructuring. Offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” he said.The TNA MP added that China lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars knowing well that the country’s economy was in shambles.

“China has built a 20 trillion dollar economy. They are smart. They are not stupid. They knew we were in trouble but kept on lending to ensnare Sri Lanka in a Chinese debt trap. So I ask China to do the right thing. Sri Lankans might be divided over ethnicity and religion but when the country is really in trouble, we all come together. Everyone came together under ‘Gota Go Home’ banner to get rid of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If China doesn’t help us restructure our debt, people will come onto the road demanding ‘China Go Home’ and I will lead them,” he said.

Rasamanickam said said debt destructing is Sri lanka’s prime objective and the government’s priority should be to secure the IMF package.

“The main problem is that china is not willing to restructure. I spoke of this in Parliament before and the Chinese embassy Twitter handle has commented on this. They are tagging me on Twitter all the time. I am speaking on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I am not talking on behalf of some embassy. Them tagging me on Twitter and commenting on what happens inside is an attack on our sovereignty. If the Chinese embassy wants a Twitter war, I am ready,” he said.

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