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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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Cabraal: Prez appoints members to Port City Economic Commission

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatta

The President of the country would always appoint members to the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, entrusted with running of that city under the proposed CPCEC Bill, State Minister of Money & Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, yesterday, told the media, in Colombo.

State Minister Cabraal said that most critics of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill had not even read it.

“Sri Lankans don’t need to obtain a visa to enter the Port City as some claim. The Port City will be administered by the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and the Bill we have presented details how the area will be governed,” Cabraal said responding to a question posed by a journalist.

The State Minister said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had asked him to counter the misinformation and fake news that was being spread about the Bill. Once people have read and understood the Bill, most who criticise it would have to change their tune, the Minister said.

 

Journalists also questioned the State Minister on the allegations levelled by MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakse. The State Minister said that Rajapakse had not even asked a question about the Bill during the Parliamentary Group meetings.

“As I said earlier, the Port City will be administered by Colombo Port City Economic Commission. All members are appointed by the President. The Chairman of the Commission too is appointed by the President. The President can get rid of them anytime he wants,” Cabraal said.

The State Minister added that no one would be allowed to withdraw money or assets from Sri Lanka and invest in the Port City. “This is a special economic zone. We need to attract foreign direct investments. We need to have ease of doing business in this zone and we have to make it an important financial hub in the region.”

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Two hotels to be built obstructing elephant corridor in Sinharaja – MONLAR

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Forest land being cleared for the construction of a hotel

By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Bowitiyatenna elephant corridor, used by elephants in Sinharaja to travel to Dellawa – Walankanda forest had been obstructed by two businessmen by clearing a section of the forest to build hotels, Sajeeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said.

“One hotel is being constructed in the Dolekanda Grama Niladari area after clearing seven acres of forest land. The Kalawana Divisional Secretariat has approved the construction of the hotel ignoring environmental regulations. Right now, forests are being cleared, land is being prepared and buildings are being constructed using heavy equipment.”

Another hotel was being built at the Bowitiyatenna Elephant Corridor, situated in Godakawela Divisional Secretariat area by a businessman from Godakawela. He has cleared around eight acres of forest land, the environmentalist said.

The two hotels were obstructing the elephant corridors used by the remaining two elephants in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. Now, the the people of Rambuka, Thanawela, Ellagama, Handiyekade, Kajugaswatte, Pothupitiya, Kopikella and Cypresswatte would have the elephans marauding their villages, the environmentalist said, adding that the residents of those villages would lose property and lives due to the hotels being constructed by obstructing the elephant corridors.

“Most of the forest areas surrounding the Sinharaja are to be annexed to the Forest Reserve because they are an important part of the forest network. These unscrupulous businessmen and politicians supporting them are attempting to carve out as much land as possible before these areas receive protected status. They are also doing their best to delay the declaration of these lands as protected areas.”

Chamikara said that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had the power to take action against those who carried out such illegal activities.

According to Section 23 (a.) (a.) of the National Environmental Act, when a project is carried out without environmental clearance, the CEA can produce such people before a magistrate’s court. If found guilty, a person can be fined up to Rs. 15,000 or imprisoned up to two years or subjected to both.

Chamikara said: “According to Article 27(14) of Chapter VI of the Sri Lankan constitution the state shall protect, preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community.” However, the CEA seems to have no interest in taking action against those who are building these hotels illegally. This is CEA’s attitude to almost all major environmental destruction that seems to be taking place these days.

“The government is silent when the Sinharaja forest is degraded and elephant corridors are closed by businessmen. The right to land seems to be a right reserved only for businessmen. We have the right to oppose these under article 28. (f) of the Constitution which states that we have a fundamental duty ‘to protect nature and conserve its riches.’ Article 28. (e) states that we also have a fundamental duty ‘to respect the rights and freedoms of others.’ Thus, we, the citizens have the right to oppose the illegal use of natural resources by powerful businessmen. If we do not oppose these moves as citizens, powerful businessmen will take over all our natural assets like they are doing at Sinharaja.”

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RDHS predicts Coronavirus spike in Jaffna over the weekend

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By Dinasena Ratugamage

There might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna this weekend, A.

Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday. Dr. Kethiswaran made the prediction after 26 new cases were detected in Jaffna.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported from Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be locked down, he said.

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