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SJB accuses govt. of trying to reward crony with new liquor production licence

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Also exposes Excise shenanigans

Minister Cabraal assures a probe

By Saman Indrajith

The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), yesterday, accused the government of trying to issue a new liquor manufacturing licence to one of its cronies notorious for tax frauds.

SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana told Parliament that he had information of an attempt to issue a new liquor licence through the Excise Commissioner General without following the proper process of spot inspection, etc., in a transparent manner.

“This licence is to be issued on Friday (4). The government is in a mighty hurry to do so.”

He said that currently there were 25 liquor production licences in the country. Five of those licence holders accounted for around 93-95% of total revenue of the government through liquor production.

Pathirana said that he had received information that one of the tax evaders who currently produced a wine brand had got hold of some government politicians to secure a liquor manufacturing licence. “The process has been fast tracked in a suspicious manner. As per the alcohol percentage, he should pay taxes on the basis of Rs 3,200 per litre but he has managed to convince the Excise authorities he is producing an indigenous brand of wine. He pays only Rs 900 per litre. The state has lost around Rs. 80 billion as a result. Now, the government is going to give him a liquor manufacturing licence!”

State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal promised that he would conduct an inquiry into the matter and inform the House of its progress.

MP Pathirana said that the tax evading businessmen and their tax lawyers were making use of the age-old provisions of the Excise Ordinance and deprived the government Rs 2,300 from each litre of wine being sold in the market.

MP Pathirana said that artificial toddy producers avoided arrest thanks to the spot-fine system introduced by the Excise Department.

“When the Excise officers visit an artificial toddy factory and issue a receipt for a spot-fine, police cannot raid that place on the same day because one cannot be punished for the same offence twice. I have media reports that during recent raids on five such licenced toddy plants, the Excise Department found 50,000 litres of artificial toddy in one place, 40,000 litres in another plant, 30,000 litres in another factory and 60,000 litres in another site and imposed spot fines on them. By doing so they deprived the government of Rs. 9.5 billion. So, this is how the officials work. I request the ministers to read the newspapers. I also request Justice Minister Ali Sabry to look into this issue and assist the police to raid these breweries.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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