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SEC received over Rs 1 bn for unfinished Inland Revenue building project – COPA



…building rented at over 5 mn not used

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has questioned the failure on the part of the Inland Revenue Department to use a building at Colpetty rented at a cost of Rs.5.08 mn.

According to the first COPA report handed over to Parliament, on July 20, by the watchdog’s Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Inland Revenue Department abandoned plans to set up ‘Tax Services Division’ due to strong objections by employees.

COPA comprises Prof. Vitarana, Udaya Gammanpila, Duminda Dissanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Mrs Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Shehan Semasinghe, Prasanna Ranaweera, Tissa Attanayake, Harin Fernando, Niroshan Perera, Faizal Cassim, Ashok Abeysinghe, Buddhika Pathirana, Kader Masthan, Mohammed Muzammil, Sivagnanam Shritharan, Dr. Upul Galappalaththi, B.Y.G. Ratnasekera, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Prof. Ranjith Bandara and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya.

In response to COPA inquiries, the Inland Revenue Department has claimed that the building rented to store documents as part of the expansion of the Tax Services Division couldn’t be utilized for want of employees’ cooperation.

Expressing serious concerns over the development, COPA termed the transaction misuse of public funds.

The report dealt with a spate of serious shortcomings, misappropriation of public funds and perhaps some sections of the Inland Revenue Department, Sri Lanka Customs and Excise Department colluding with interested parties.

The report also exposed the utterly irresponsible conduct of the State Engineering Corporation (SEC) as regards a finalized agreement to build a 9 storeyed vehicle park at a cost of Rs 1,430.5 mn for the Inland Revenue. Of that amount, Rs 1,399.7 mn had been paid to the SEC by Dec 31, 2018 without paying attention to progress. The report revealed that the SEC had awarded all work to private sub-contractors although the state enterprise accepted the contract.

The Inland Revenue has taken up the position that a state institution couldn’t initiate legal action for violating an agreement. However, the COPA hasn’t made remedial measures to address the issue at hand. Prof. Vitarana told The Island that the matter needs careful consideration particularly at a time the country was experiencing a severe financial crisis.

The senior LSSPer who received SLPP National List appointment said that since the last parliamentary election the COPA and two other parliamentary watchdogs- COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) had raised a number of pertinent questions.  The Parliament should take tangible measures to rectify inadequacies in the revenue collection systems, curb waste, corruption and irregularities and also negligence, the veteran politician stressed.

The COPA report on the basis of submissions made those responsible for revenue collection acknowledge further complications caused by the raging Covid-19 epidemic. However, closer scrutiny of the report revealed that the entire tax collection system had been in turmoil even before the eruption of the epidemic here in early 2020.

COPA pointed out that in spite of the setting up of a special division in terms of the Default Taxes Payment (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010, recovery of taxes had been unsatisfactory. The watchdog has observed by December 2018, eight years after the setting up of the special division arrears in taxes and fines amounting to Rs 32.5 bn were yet to be collected. Referring to Rs 32.5 bn, COPA largely faulted government institutions for the non –payment of taxes while quoting the relevant Inland Revenue official as having said that an Independent Advisory Committee established to deal with recovery of defaulted taxes directed that defaulters given an opportunity to pay arrears in installments.

Former COPA Chairman Lasantha Alagiyawanna admitted that in spite of disclosures made by not only COPA but other parliamentary watchdogs as well over a period of time corrective measures hadn’t been taken. According to the SLFPer, relevant ministers were answerable for whatever the shortcomings and discrepancies taking place under their watch.

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SL defenceless, warn experts



New COVID variants

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Due to the lax testing at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), there is a strong possibility that any new variant of COVID-19 entering the country, College of Medical Laboratory Science (CMLS) President, Ravi Kumudesh told The Island yesterday commenting on the detection of a new coronavirus variant spreading in South Africa.

Even a travel ban would be useless unless the country enhances its testing and surveillance capacities, Kumudesh said.

Kumudesh said that PCR tests were not conducted on passengers on arrival and that it was likely that even those not fully vaccinated were entering the country. “Gene sequencing in respect of those infected with COVID inside the country was at a minimal level, and therefore, there is no way we can find out whether a new variant has entered the country until it is too late.

“There are two state-of-the-art labs in the BIA but no tests are done there. We are not ready, at all. Several nations are imposing travel bans on travellers from South Africa and the region. Perhaps, we should follow suit. However, the fact that we don’t test those coming in means that even a travel ban might be useless,” he said.

Kumudesh added that the number of PCR tests conducted had dropped to such a low level that reagents used in some labs for PCR testing are now nearing the expiry dates. The attitude of health officials at the airport is such that everyone operates on the basis that testing of passengers is not important.

Executive Director of the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya yesterday said the detection of the new South African variant was potentially very bad news for all countries, and certainly for Sri Lanka.

“We still don’t have sufficient data on this, but I am very worried. It was only discovered a few days ago, but the scanty evidence strongly indicates that this new variant is driving a rapid increase in infections in S Africa. Only 100 cases have been confirmed officially, but reports indicate it may be 90% of new cases since Wed in Johannusburg,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said that his best guess was that three out of four South Africans had been infected by COVID during the pandemic. Thus, a large number of them had acquired natural immunity. Moreover, 25% of others have been vaccinated.

“So this rapid spread despite a lot of immunity is very disturbing. This really points to this new variant—B1.1.529—being both more infectious and also significantly immune resistant. Something that also matches with its particular mutations,” he said.

Dr. Rannan-Eliya said he was not surprised at the emergence of the new variant because contrary to many experts who drink the kool-aid, there is no scientific basis to think SARS-CoV-2 had matured in its evolution. It might still have a lot of potential to evolve greater immune evasion and virulence, and that we should act on that basis.

“Second, because most of the world is following the misguided strategy of just accepting the virus (hey you – USA, UK, Sri Lanka…), the virus has plenty of chances to keep on mutating more because the truth is more of the virus is circulating than ever before. Third, despite a lot of nonsense about how T-cell immunity is going to protect us, there’s really no evidence that either infection or current vaccines and boosters will ever give us long-lasting immunity. We simply don’t know.”

Countries like South Africa, Peru, etc., who had such high levels of infection that much of their population was infected more than once, still continue to suffer new waves of infection.

“So this is bad news for all of us humans on planet earth, but very definitely for us in Sri Lanka. Why? Because based on how our medical establishment and govt authorities think, we will be slow or refuse to put the necessary border controls in to prevent this entering. And when it does enter-which is inevitable if this variant spreads globally–we will be slow to detect its entry, we will refuse to sound the alarm, and we will do everything but actually attempt to stop it. That’s been our track record, so why would it change? Worth noting that if this starts a new wave in Southern Africa, it’s just three to four months after their third wave. So just as immunity starts waning appreciably from natural infection (or vaccines). That gives us a strong hint of what our future holds unless we end this pandemic.”

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Navy deploys lagoon craft at Kurinchankerny until construction of new bridge



Residents waiting for the boat

Sri Lanka Navy began providing transport facilities at the Kurinchankerny lagoon following the recent tragedy that claimed several lives. This service will continue until the construction of a new bridge at Kurinchankerny, Kinniya in Trincomalee is completed.

This initiative was set in motion following the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. The Navy deployed a Lagoon Craft, capable of carrying 25 passengers safely at a time from Thursday (25) under the supervision of the Eastern Naval Command. The lagoon craft will be in service from 7.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. and from 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. each day. Further, the Navy erected a temporary jetty to allow passengers to board the vessel safely.

A schoolgirl on her way to the ferry
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UN Assistant Secretary General during talks with President pledges to work closely with Sri Lanka



The United Nations will always work closely with Sri Lanka, said Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary General for Political, Peacebuilding and Peace Operations. Khiari made these remarks when he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat, on Thursday (25).

UN Assistant Secretary General Khiari is visiting Sri Lanka as a follow-up to the bilateral meeting with the President and the UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres held in September this year on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. Khiari conveyed the best wishes of UN Secretary-General Guterres to President Rajapaksa and said that the UN is willing to engage in a constructive and positive engagement with Sri Lanka.

Expressing satisfaction over the President’s affection and interest in the environment, the Assistant Secretary General appreciated Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The President explained that steps are being taken to plant 100,000 mangroves with the assistance of the Navy and actions are being taken to prevent climate change through environmental conservation programmes.

President Rajapaksa expressed gratitude to the UN agencies and donors that have assisted Sri Lanka through the COVAX facility to make the vaccination drive successful and in facing other challenges in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The President pointed out that the government’s development programme implemented in the North and East after the end of the war in 2009 had brought about rapid development. The President recalled his invitation made while participating in the UN General Assembly to the diaspora to work together with all communities after visiting Sri Lanka. The President said that he hoped that the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.

The two sides exchanged views on unity and relations between communities. An environment where all communities can live freely has been made available in Sri Lanka. The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard.

Both sides were of the view that education was fundamental to unity among the communities. President Rajapaksa said that the process by which South Africa has been able to end apartheid and move forward will be studied and the lessons that can be learned from it and what can be implemented will be looked into. The President also expressed hope that the United Nations will provide assistance in this regard.

Secretary to the President Dr. P.B. Jayasundera and Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, and Political Officer at the UN Peace Operations Department’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department Chiaki Ota were also present.

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