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Shocking lapses in revenue collection revealed



COPA concerned over Rs. 7.5 bn spent on upgrading integrated computer system 

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

Parliamentary watchdog-COPA (Committee on Public Accounts), in its latest report has highlighted significant loss of revenue and misuse of public money caused by the failure on the part of the Department of Inland Revenue, Sri Lanka Customs and Department of Excise to streamline their operations.  

COPA Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitarana presented his first report to Parliament on July 20. The COPA consists of 22 members representing both the government and the Opposition. The COPA report dealt with the Auditor General’s reports on Department of Inland Revenue, Sri Lanka Customs and Department of Excise. 

Pointing out that as at July 31, 2020, there had been 281 vacancies (10 percent of the approved cadre), the all-party committee asserted that failure to fill 183 senior level vacancies in the Inland Revenue Department would hinder the smooth functioning of the institution.  

COPA has questioned the failure on the part of Sri Lanka Customs to recruit a suitable person to the post of Legal Officer. The vacancy hadn’t been filled in spite of the Management Services Department approving the creation of the post, it has pointed out. 

COPA has observed that the Excise Department, too, in spite of receiving approval from the Management Services Department on June 30, 2020 failed to recruit a legal officer though it being an essential post. There had been 35 senior and 66 tertiary level positions among altogether 292 vacancies in what the watchdog committee called a vital part in overall revenue collection mechanism. 

Asserting that the three above-mentioned institutions were responsible for the collection of 90 percent of government revenue, COPA alleged that the continuing failure to streamline operations contributed to corruption. It faulted these institutions for allowing what it called private parties to misappropriate public funds.

Former COPA Chairman and incumbent member lawmaker Lasantha Alagiyawanna yesterday (28) said that tangible measures were required to ensure proper collection of revenue. Acknowledging irregularities had undermined the whole process, the SLFPer explained how those responsible for revenue collection manipulated the system for their benefit at the expense of the national economy.

State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection Alagiyawanna said that the continuing registration of vehicles imported for a particular purpose as dual purpose vehicles was nothing but a crime. Lawmaker Alagiyawanna said that in spite of interventions made by parliamentary watchdogs, COPA, COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) the situation remained quite unsatisfactory.

Responding to another query, lawmaker Alagiyawanna said that relevant ministers should take remedial measures.

COPE member Dr. Harsha de Silva yesterday said that the government revenue was now at a paltry 9.2 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Production). One-time non-cabinet minister de Silva said that perhaps it was one of the lowest in the world. 

Vitarana’s outfit has recommended urgent amendments to Acts pertaining to the Inland Revenue Department as well as Sri Lanka Customs to facilitate the revenue collection process. As regards Sri Lanka Customs and Motor Traffic Department, COPA underscored the urgent need to amend relevant Acts as existing laws seriously hindered revenue collection procedures. COPA also called for modification of existing laws pertaining to the Excise Department to enable the institution to achieve its primary objectives.

Pointing out that a vast sum of money had been spent on developing integrated computer systems, COPA underscored revenue collection mechanisms that couldn’t be perfected without the availability of such methods. COPA called for the development of what it called a National Coordination Plan meant for strengthening of the revenue collection process.

COPA revealed that a staggering Rs 4 bn had been spent so far on modifying/updating the system at the Inland Revenue and a further Rs 3.5 bn was required to complete the work. The 22-member COPA has expressed serious concern over the large amount of funding made available to still unfinished project.




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Bandula undertakes to take over SLIIT



Bandula Gunawardane has, in his capacity, as the trade minister, assured the SLPP Parliamentary group that action would be taken to take over the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) divested through fraudulent means.

Political sources said that the assurance had been given at this week’s meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, was present. Minister Gunawardane said so when lawmakers Premanath C. Dolawatta and Weerasumana Weerasinghe raised the issue.

Chairman of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Prof. Charitha Herath, who called for taking over of SLIIT, too, was present at the meeting. Communist Party MP Weerasinghe said that they were really happy to receive such an assurance from Minister Gunawardane. Appreciating the manner in which the COPE under Prof. Herath’s leadership had handled the inquiry into the SLIIT acquisition, Matara District lawmaker Weerasinghe said the onus was on the government to take remedial measures immediately.

MP Weerasinghe said that denial of SLIIT ownership to the government was certainly not an isolated case. The way some officials and governments cooperated in daylight robbery of state property couldn’t have happened without the tacit understanding at the highest levels, lawmaker Weerasinghe said. (SF)

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SJB too demands prosecution of ex-President Sirisena and others over Easter carnage



By Saman Indrajith

The SJB yesterday demanded that the government allow the Attorney General to prosecute all those against whom the Presidential Commission of inquiry on Easter Sunday carnage wanted criminal proceedings instituted.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the Attorney General could not be forced by the government to spare certain individuals. “The report of the Presidential Commission recommends that legal action be taken against the former head of State Intelligence Service, senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena and the former President Maithripala Sirisena. But the government does not implement those recommendations.

“The Cardinal says that before the election, Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to prosecute all those responsible for the carnage. After release of the PCoI report the Cardinal has been told by the President that he could not implement some recommendations therein because he would lose his popularity. That is wrong. He cannot do so, it is the job of the Attorney General. It is not the President who implements the law of this country but the Attorney General. The President has no powers to that. “Upon the receipt of the PCoI report the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee under Minister Chamal Rajapaksa to study the report. Now, the government implements the recommendations of that sub-committee which has recommended to select whom should be prosecuted and who should be left out from the original list of persons identified by the PCoI as responsible for the terror attacks.

“The PCoI recommendations are not being properly implemented. We demand that the government should implement all recommendations of the PCoI. Victims demand the same. The Church and the Cardinal demand the same. The AG should prosecute all identified by the PCoI and let the judiciary decide who is guilty and who is not. The President cannot interfere in selecting the list to be prosecuted. That amounts to the Executive interfering in the matters of the judiciary.”

MP Kiriella said that consequences of the October 2018 constitutional crisis and 52-day government had paved the way for the Easter Sunday terror attacks. “That crisis started on 26 Oct., 2018. Thereafter, the then President Sirisena sidelined the UNP, which was the main party in the Yahapalana government. The National Security Council met without anyone representing the UNF government. The NSC was even attended by some SLFP MPs. President Sirisena took over the Ministry of Law and Order under him in addition to the Defence Ministry. The first move against the Yahapalana government was the 52-day government; the second was the Easter Sunday attack. Nilantha Jayawardena received all information and intelligence from India with exact dates, places and even the names of the attackers. He says that he did not pass that intelligence on to President Sirisena, who was the Minister of Defence. That was an offence. When the PCoI asked Jayawardena to surrender his mobile phone, he did so after deleting all its records. That too is an offence. Former President Sirisena says that he did not know anything about the matter because he had not been informed of it. Yet, the PCoI determined that he was responsible. The government should let the Attorney General implement the recommendations of the PCoI by prosecuting all who have been identified as persons responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage.”

SJB Kurunegala District MP JC Alawathuwala also addressed the press.

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BIA rapid testing PCR lab back in action



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The rapid testing PCR lab at the Bandaranaike International Airport, which was non-operational for several weeks, resumed accepting samples yesterday (27.)

Earlier, the Director General of Health Services authorised the PCR lab, SASL Hospinorm, to operate.

The lab can provide a PCR test report within three hours.

Those who test positive for COVID will be sent to quarantine centres.

Since passengers can get PCR report in three hours, they need to arrive at the airport six hours before departure. Passengers are provided with all facilities until the reports are issued.

The first passengers to benefit from the lab were those who arrived in QR 668 of Qatar Airways. The flight landed at 2.15 am yesterday (27).

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