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SLPP Chairman pushes for consensus with Tamil community

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GL turns bridge builder between North and South 

‘We must not be captured and dominated by the past’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Education Minister and Chairman of the ruling SLPP Prof. G.L. Peiris declared in Jaffna that they shouldn’t allow the past to prevent a consensus among the communities for the benefit of all.

Prof. Peiris stressed the need to remove artificial barriers that separated communities. The Minister discussed how the ongoing new constitution-making process spearheaded by a nine-member committee chaired by Romesh de Silva, PC was proceeding.

The Minister said that the TNA had submitted far-reaching proposals to the Committee and the SLMC had been asked to furnish its suggestions. The SLPP, too, would soon be making representations, the minister said, underscoring the need for political parties to work on areas they could agree on without being trapped in problems.

The Minister, while acknowledging the need to be mindful of the past, emphasized the importance in not allowing the past to dominate the present. Prof. Peiris recalled how he sat for direct negotiations

with LTTE representatives-Anton Balasingham and Tamilchelvam  few years after the same people tried to assassinate the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Prof. Peiris said that he too received injuries and some shrapnel still remained in his body. The Education Minister said that he did not bear any grudge against anyone responsible for the suicide attack that almost claimed his life.

The minister was referring to Dec 1999 attack on the final PA rally in Colombo.

The minister said so in speeches delivered at the Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai and Uduvil Girls College where one-time External Affairs Minister explained measures taken by the incumbent government to strengthen education and agriculture sectors. Prof. Peiris said that the government considered both sectors priority and was determined to help the community.

In his address at the Jaffna College, Prof. Peiris underscored the pivotal importance in interaction between Tamil and Sinhala speaking people at different levels, particularly the students as part of the reconciliation process. Referring to the Norway arranged Ceasefire (CFA) during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister, Prof. Peiris shared a little bit of his experience as the Chief government negotiator at the talks with the LTTE.

Prof. Peiris said that the negotiations and related activities had been structured in such a way there were many exchanges of students between the Northern Province and the rest of the country. Such exchanges helped improve relations between the two communities, Prof. Peiris said, recalling the time Tamil and Sinhala students engaged in debates.

Education Minister Peiris over the last weekend assured the Tamil community that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government would do everything possible to boost the education opportunities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

 The Education Minister’s visit (Feb 5-8) took place amidst large scale protest campaign in the Northern and Eastern Provinces organized by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led political groups and the Muslim community demanding justice for those who had been missing as a result of the conflict, release of land occupied by the military, immediate halt to excavations et al.

Prof. Peiris said that the negotiations and related activities had been structured in such a way there were many exchanges of students between the Northern Province and rest of the country. Such exchanges helped improve relations between the two communities, Prof. Peiris said, recalling the time Tamil and Sinhala students engaged in debates.

At the onset, Prof. Peiris paid a glowing tribute to the Jaffna College for the role it had played over nearly 200 years in the education sector even during the turmoil in the North. Prof. Peiris also discussed the responsibility on the part of the government to ensure all possible assistance to the North though there were difficulties.

Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP said that the recent setting up of a Research and Training Complex at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Jaffna would be a tremendous boost not only to the Northern and Eastern regions, but to the whole country. Appreciating the role played by Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Akira Sugiyama in the fruition of the Rs 2.8 bn project, Prof. Peiris said that Japan always backed appropriate projects on Sri Lanka’s request though some countries imposed programmes they were interested in.

Prof. Peiris said that following the commissioning of the Agriculture Faculty in Kilinochchi on Feb 5, he, in the company of Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera and UGC Chairman Prof. Sampath Amaratunga had an opportunity to meet Vice Chancellor of the Jaffna University and Deans of Faculties and other officials in Kilinochchi where entire gamut of issues was discussed. The Minister emphasized the importance of the Education Ministry visiting the Northern Province to explore ways and means of helping the education sector instead of the officials visiting Colombo.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought the entire education sector under one ministry as he felt the need to address the issues in an orderly manner and the ministry was successful in doing so in spite of constraints.

In his address at the Uduvil Girls College, Prof. Peiris acknowledged the extreme difficulties experienced by the northern farmer community. The minister explained how the farmers had been denied and deprived of sufficient compensation for their hard work. The Minister pointed out how agricultural produce from the provinces, including the North, go waste on the way to major markets.



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COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs

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Irregularities, lapses, corruption erode public finance

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has summoned the Inland Revenue Department tomorrow (23) for an inquiry regarding the inordinate delay in collecting taxes amounting to billions of rupees and extraordinary payments made to the officers of the Customs Department out of fines imposed on both public and private sector enterprises.

Besides, a COPA sub-committee is inquiring into revenue losses suffered over the years as a result of releasing vehicles imported for special purposes as dual-purpose vehicles. 

SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitharana heads the all-party watchdog committee. 

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake in a statement issued on April 19 through the Communication Department of the Parliament said that Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and COPA summoned four enterprises. COPE called the Sri Lanka Football Federation and the National Film Corporation on April 22 and 23, respectively. The COPA summoned the Wildlife Conservation Department and the Inland Revenue on April 21 and April 23, respectively, Dasanayake said.

COPA has fixed the meeting in the wake of disclosure of major shortcomings in the overall revenue collection process. Following COPA meeting Inland Revenue Chief H.M.C. Bandara on March 10, the watchdog committee called for accelerated measures to recover dues. The COPA pointed out that out of Rs 107 bn due to the government, only Rs 224 mn had been recovered so far, immediate measures were required to collect taxes and fines.

At the same meeting, the COPA, having questioned the correctness of a list containing tax defaulters furnished by the Inland Revenue Department, emphasized the pivotal importance of rectifying the shortcomings. The COPA also raised the practicability in recovering taxes in terms of the data provided by ‘Legacy’ and ‘RAMIS’ computer systems. 

The Inland Revenue Commissioner General lamented before COPA how inordinate delay in legal proceedings thwarted their efforts to recover taxes. The COPA assured that the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry would be summoned for a meeting along with the Inland Revenue Department to explore ways and means of overcoming the issue at hand.

At a subsequent COPA meeting held late March, it was revealed that in addition to their failure to recover taxes amounting to Rs 2,670 mn due from casinos, the Inland Revenue received 6,878 dishonored cheques to the tune of Rs 2,451,465,383. COPA members present on this occasion included Dayasiri Jayasekera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Tissa Attanayake, Mohamed Muzammil, Niroshan Perera, Dr. Upul Galapatti, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Cader Mastan, S. Sritharan and Weerasumana Weerasinha.

That particular meeting was also told that the amount of collectable taxes in terms of the ‘Default Taxes (Special Provisions) Act No 16 of 2010 (certified on Dec 07, 2010) amounted to a staggering Rs 144.5 bn. 

COPA and the Consultative Committee on Ports and Shipping had also taken up on March 9 and 24 the highly contentious issue of the Customs officers taking a big share of fines imposed on tax defaulters, both public and private sector. COPA pointed out that the Customs took advantage of the provision that 50 per cent of the fines imposed on defaulters were shared among those involved in a particular detection. COPA has discussed two specific issues in this regard. COPA pointed out that the allocation of 50 per cent of a fine received from the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) for defaulting in respect of gantry cranes to Customs officers was a major problem. COPA focused on taking necessary measures in this regard after having discussed the matter with relevant authorities, including the Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle.

COPA pointed out how out of Rs 205 mn fine imposed on Lanka Coal Company (Pvt) Limited for defrauding taxes, Rs 102.5 mn (50 per cent of the total amount) had been distributed among Customs officers as rewards and Rs 41 mn for their welfare (20 per cent) thereby leaving the government with only Rs 61.5 mn. COPA has directed Treasury Secretary Attygalle to conduct a fresh inquiry into this and take tangible measures to prevent similar malpractices in the future.

COPA investigations have also revealed massive racket in the registration of ‘dual purpose’ vehicles. It revealed that as a result of corrupt elements since 2013 registering vehicles imported for special purposes as ‘dual purpose’ vehicles the Treasury lost taxes amounting to Rs 220 mn.

In addition to that the Treasury had been also deprived of taxes amounting to Rs 1.300 mn by not imposing Rs 3 mn each on 443 special vans brought to the country during 2010-2019 period.

COPA also stated that the Customs perpetrated another massive fraud by allowing the import of 10 vans and 414 lorries as special purpose vehicles during 2010-2014.

COPA reported the Customs imposing Rs 1.5 mn tax on a super luxury car instead of legitimate Rs 56 mn.

It revealed the loss of revenue to the tune of Rs 6.1 bn during 2013-2016 period due to the Customs adopting wrong procedure in respect of large quantities of palm oil imports by two enterprises. The watchdog committee has instructed the Customs to expedite measures to recover the dues from those companies.

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India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security

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India has reiterated her support for Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. The assurance was made on the second anniversary of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. The following is the text of statement issued by the Indian High Commission yesterday: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay attended the solemn ceremony at St. Anthony’s Church on 21 April 2021 to mark the second anniversary of the dastardly Easter Sunday attacks. He lit a candle in memory of the victims of the attack and prayed for the recovery of those who are still suffering from its aftermath.

“It may be recalled that the High Commissioner had paid homage to the victims at the Church also on 23 May 2020, the first day after the completion of the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, subsequent to his arrival to Sri Lanka on 8 May 2020 on a special flight carrying a gift consignment of essential medical supplies from India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also paid his respects at the Church during the solidarity visit to Sri Lanka in June 2019.

“St. Anthony’s Church was one of the multiple targets of the Easter Sunday attacks, which also took away the lives of 10 Indians. These Indian victims fell prey to the perpetrators at Shangri-la, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand Hotels.  

India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely in all aspects across the security spectrum. India stands firmly with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the fight against terrorism and also collaborate on curbing various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, narcotics, etc. “

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Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port

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A ship that made an emergency call at the Hambantota International Port on Tuesday night (20) carrying Uranium hexafluoridea–a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons–has been asked to leave.

Chandula Rambukwella, Senior Manager, Commercial & Marketing, Hambantota International Port, issued the following statement yesterday: “M.V. BBC Naples sailing under the flag of “Antigua & Barbados” entered the port of Hambantota on 20th April at 2100 hrs, while en route from Rotterdam to China. The ship made an emergency call at the port for some urgent repairs. Agents for the vessel in Sri Lanka, Ms. Barwil Meridian Navigation, had not declared to the port authorities that there was dangerous cargo on board, prior to the vessel entering the port.

It was later found that they were carrying a cargo of Uranium Hexafluoride via investigations made by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Port Authority. The vessel was required to leave the port no sooner the facts were verified.

The SLPA, Navy, and Customs officials had approved all the necessary documentation prior to berthing of the vessel, based on the declaration made by the agent. The Navy and Customs were present at all times to ensure that there wasn’t any cargo unloaded onto the Hambantota International Port premises.”

 

 

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