The fear of taxing the super rich has worsened Sri Lanka’s debt crisis, says SLPP MP Prof. Tissa Vitarana, leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP).
Speaking in Parliament during the recent Vote on Account debate, Prof. Vitarana said he was glad that speakers from both sides of the House appeared, at least now, to accept that the country was faced with a severe economic crisis. This did not seem to be the case when promises were being made during the recent General Election campaign. But now when the money has to be found to fulfill the promises made, both sides of the House came out with the same solution, more and more loans, i.e. both local and foreign borrowing, the MP said.
“This is inadvisable as it would deepen the debt crisis facing the country and the people”, he cautioned.
Now, and in the November Budget, Prof. Vitarana called for a different approach to obtain the money the country requires. Wasteful expenditure, both local and foreign, should be minimized. In order to cut Sri Lanka’s foreign debt, instead of increasing it, strict import restriction together with increased export earnings is essential to achieve a positive trade balance. But the latter would take time as it requires proper planning, full mobilization of all the required resources and firm committed action based on science and technology by the government.
As the former Minister of Science and Technology, having established 263 Vidatha resource centres at divisional level across the country and helped to produce over 12,300 micro, small and medium entrepreneurs (17 exporters and 64 suppliers to the food chains and 57 to hotels – refer IPS report), Prof. Vitarana said that he would have liked to make a contribution when the country is facing a difficult time. However, it would appear that there are more capable people available.
“I wish them all success in the national interest. In the interim, less reliable short-term funding solutions, like tourism and repatriated incomes are being promoted, but alas they too have fallen and will take time to revive in the context of the deepening global crisis of capitalism aggravated by Covid-19”, he noted.
Internally, as the Treasury is averse to deficit financing, taking money from the Central Bank, for fear of inflation etc., other ways have to be found to increase government revenue. Rather than taking more loans and getting deeper into debt, Prof. Vitarana suggested that the government should raise the required money by increasing the tax on the super-rich. This was the way out of the debt crisis for the country and the government and the next logical step now that the government has returned to the correct policy of developing the national economy by reducing, and where possible banning, the import of foreign goods.
This was done when Dr. N. M. Perera was the Finance Minister in the SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government led by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike after it came to power in 1970, the MP recalled.
In Sri Lanka, the upper limit of direct taxation on individuals, mainly the super-rich is one of the lowest in the world, a mere 18%, while the average in Europe is around 45%. In some Scandinavian countries that provide their citizens with a welfare state, the money required is obtained through a higher direct tax with an upper limit of about 60%, which targets the super-rich, he said.
When faced with the severe triple crisis (debt, oil and food) Dr. N. M. Perera as the then Finance Minister in 1970 enabled the country, when faced with a severe global food scarcity, to avoid the deaths of thousands due to starvation, unlike in most other Third World countries, by raising the upper limit of direct taxation to 75%. The funds generated enabled him to provide a measure of rice free and all essentials at low prices through the excellent cooperative outlets, Prof. Vitarana further said.
He was able to not only to balance the Budget but also to produce a budget surplus. This enabled him to cut foreign loans and get the country out of the debt trap. Not only was the foreign debt reduced to the lowest level in the country’s history, he also achieved the economic stability that was required for development, Prof. Vitarana further recalled.
The IMF promotes indirect taxation, like VAT, as the main source of government revenue and in the recent past, 87% of tax revenue was obtained this way. Only 13% was obtained through indirect taxation, and as the upper limit was lowered to 18%, the class of the super-rich (a mere 1% who some estimate as having 30% of the total personal wealth in the country) were practically unaffected and did not contribute their share to the burden, he said.
At this time of crisis, Prof. Vitarana proposed that the government should increase the upper limit of direct taxation to 70% so that while the required funds are obtained, the import of luxuries and non-essentials would drop. It would also narrow the huge gap between the super-rich and the poor, which not only has a bad psychological demonstration affect, but also leads to more crime and social instability. Globally economists have warned of this danger, he added.
COPA questions lion’s share of fines going to Customs
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.
India reiterates commitment to Sri Lanka’s security
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. “
Explosive cargo: Ship carrying compound used for enrichment of uranium asked to leave H’tota port
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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