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‘Ratwatte’s boorish actions unbecoming of a Minister’

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DEW alleges cover-up, warns of dire consequences

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time Prisons Minister Dew Gunasekera yesterday (16) called for an immediate police investigation into SLPP lawmaker Lohan Ratwatte’s recent wild behaviour inside the Anuradhapura prison, where he issued death threats to two LTTEers incarcerated there.

Gunasekera pointed out that the minister had forcibly entered the Anuradhapura prison on 12 Sept. around 5.30 pm in the wake of the government turning a blind eye to his earlier drunken raid on Welikada prison on 06 Sept. Gunasekera served as the Prisons Minister after the end of the war in May 2009. The former minister stressed that on both occasions the State Minister in a state of inebriation had been armed with a pistol and was accompanied by several others. Law enforcement authorities couldn’t afford not to investigate the incident, the ex-minister said, referring to the presence of a woman among the crowd that entered Welikada and they went onto visit the gallows.

Prison sources said that Ratwatte had arrived at the Anuradhapura prison after being to week-long Sathi Pirith chanting ceremony at Anuradhapura sacred Mirisawetiya compound in order to invoke spiritual blessings for eradication of COVID-19 epidemic from Sri Lanka and the world. The pirith chanting culminated on the following day evening after conducting a special Buddha Pooja.

“Conduct a proper investigation or face the consequences,” the former General Secretary of the Communist Party told The Island, pointing out the responsibility on the part of the ruling SLPP to conduct its own inquiry.

SLPP General Secretary attorney-at-law Sagara Kariyawasam said that the matter could be taken up with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Chairman of the party on his return from an overseas visit. Lawmaker Kariyawasam said so when The Island asked him whether the party would initiate disciplinary action against Ratwatte.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, also a member of the SLPP, should brief the Parliament how he intended to address this issue, Gunasekera said. The outspoken political veteran said that the Police Headquarters should make a public statement on those incidents.

Gunasekera emphasiSed that the Anuradhapura incident could have been averted if the government took tangible measures in the wake of Ratwatte’s raid on Welikada prison several days before.

Alleging that the Prisons Department suppressed both Welikada and Anuradhapura incidents, Gunasekera questioned the rationale in Ratwatte being allowed to avoid a proper investigation by giving up Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation portfolio and also queried how Ratwatte could be allowed to continue as the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery related Industries as if nothing had happened.

“I’m really disappointed and disgusted with the way the government handled Anuradhapura and Welikada affairs,” Gunasekera said.

Responding to queries, Gunasekera pointed out that the incidents placed Sri Lanka at an extremely embarrassing position at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ongoing 48th sessions.

Pointing out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) and the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) roundly condemned Ratwatte’s actions; Gunasekera said the government would have to face grave consequences unless a proper investigation was conducted. The government should inquire into those incidents taking into consideration the ongoing Geneva confab and the forthcoming UNGA.

The former minister pointed out that the Prisons Media Spokesman and Commissioner Chandana Ekanayaka denied any knowledge of the incident.

Gunasekera welcomed the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) launching an investigation into the incidents. Nihal Chandrasiri, HRCSL’s Acting Director – Research & Monitoring told The Island that the outfit initiated an inquiry on its own into the incidents that had taken place in Prisons. “Three Regional Coordinating Officers of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka visited Anuradhapura Prison on 15th September 2021 to investigate the incidents that took place on 12th September 2021. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will summon all the responsible parties connected to these incidents as early as possible.”

The CP heavyweight recalled how thousands of LTTE cadres and suspects brought under the military and the Prisons system at the conclusion of the war in May 2009 were protected. Those who had been campaigning against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC and the UN would exploit Ratwatte’s actions, the former lawmaker said, adding that the ruling party seemed bent on causing its own destruction.

Gunasekera said that recently Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and IGP C.D. Wickremaratne explained measures taken by the government to eradicate the underworld especially those directing the narcotics trade from within prisons. They assured the public of safety and security. However, Ratwatte’s raids on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons underscored the reality, Gunasekera said and called on the Prisons Chief to explain his failure to address the Welikada incident.

Police headquarters hasn’t so far issued an official statement on incidents at Welikada and Anuradhapura.

Ratwatte was sworn in as the Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Minister in the wake of the Mahara Prison riot in late Nov 2020. Ratwatte succeeded Dr. Sudarshini Fernandoplle.



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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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