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Transport minister says public can force tuk-tuk fare drop

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By CHANKA JAYASINGHE AND NESHELLA PERERA

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans can force a drop in tuk-tuk fares by refusing to hire threewheelers to reduce demand, Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena said, a suggestion that tuk drivers say is nonsensical as they stick to their guns despite a reduction in petrol prices. Speaking at the weekly cabinet press briefing on Wednesday October 26, Minister Gunawardena said when prices are decided by the market, consumers are the ultimate authority in price control.

“Consumers have the power to revise prices based on their consumption. There was a hike in vegetable and fruit prices recently. There was a drop in buyers and, since vendors are unable to keep non-perishable goods for long, the prices came down,” he said.

“Similarly, if the public can’t afford extreme threewheeler fares, they have the right to be informed, to be protective and to make a choice.”

Earlier in the week, President Ranil Wickremesinghe approved a proposal to increase the weekly fuel quota allocated to threewheeler drivers to 10 litres from the current five-litre limit with effect from November 05.The first phase of the quota increase will commence in the Western province and threewheel drivers will be required to follow a registration process that will commence on November 01.

The All Island Threewheeler Drivers’ Association, however, is refusing to budge.The association’s chairman Lalith Dharmasena said his union will not reduce tuk taxi fares despite the doubling of the petrol quota. Their demand is for a weekly quota of at least 30 litres.Though there have been a reduction in tuk fares overall since the height of Sri Lanka’s fuel crisis, due to increased living costs and spare part prices, fares have remained at a significantly higher level despite the recent drop in petrol prices. Consumers complain that many drivers charge them arbitrarily decided fares, while tuks associated with Dharmasena’s association charges 100 to 140 rupees for the first kilometre and 110 to 130 rupees a kilometre from the second kilometre onwards.

Responding to Minister Gunawardena’s remarks, Dharmasena said the government should appoint a fare revision committee instead of distracting from the issue with what he called ‘crazy talk’. (Dharmasena’s actual words are too colourful for publication).

“[Opposition MP] Kumara Welgama in 2013 was the first person to gazette a fare revision committee. In 2017, [then minister] Nimal Siripala de Silva amended this proposal twice and the gazette which was to be implemented in 2013 was reversed in 2017 and there were no fare review committees after that,” said Dharmasena.

“The National Transport Commission is only in charge of private buses. We have been asking for years for the proposal to be accepted but there has been no response,” he added.

Dharmasena said the income of families of commercial threewheeler drivers has reduced since early this year with people reducing the use of threewheelers for transportation due to inflation hitting everyone hard.Due to the absence of a fare revision committee, he said, different rates can be seen among tuk drivers, driving consumers further away from the service.

“The government should step in and set a rate, but instead they are making obnoxious statements,” said Dharmasena.

Ride-hailing platforms like Uber and PickMe do not have price issues because they have a set rate that people trust, he added.Dharmasena also claimed that import controls imposed by the government are useless due to the cut paid by local Uber drivers to the Uber headquarters overseas, which he said is an outflow.

“When things go south because of their own decisions, the government tells the public to reduce threewheeler demand. I’d like to see how they win the election this year,” he said.

“If that’s what a leader is supposed to say, then all I have to say is there are no leaders in the country. Since we gained Independence, we haven’t had leaders. We only had rulers. Not everyone is a leader, because even a shepherd is a leader,” he added.



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Rs. 773 bn arrears: Go after massive tax dodgers before imposing new taxes – GMOA

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=AG alleges Inland Revenue withheld info citing Constitution

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) yesterday (02) asked the government to explain its continuing failure to recover as much as Rs 773 bn in taxes, penalties and interest against the backdrop of unprecedented new tax hikes to bridge the record deficit.

GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge told The Island that the disclosure made by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) on Nov 28 exposed the overall effect ofthe failure byparliament to meet its obligations pertaining to public finance.

The government should have gone flat out to recover taxes, penalties and interests owed by various entities before new revenue generation measures were proposed, Dr. Aluthge said, demanding that the government to come clean on the issue.Responding to another query, Dr. Aluthge said

that what transpired at COPA meeting chaired bySamagi Jana Balvegaya(SJB) MP Kabir Hashim on Nov 28 exposed how successive governments conveniently allowed the situation to deteriorate. Former Minister Hashim succeeded Prof. Tissa Vitharana in the wake of the re-opening of parliament followingitslast prorogation.

The COPA disclosure was nothing but an indictment on the government, Dr. Aluthge said, urging the Finance Ministry and other relevant institutions to address the issue at hand. Why the entire population should suffer due to utterly corrupt and incompetent lot neglecting their responsibilities?Dr. Aluthge asked.

Referring to the statement issued by the Director Legislative Services on Nov 29 consequent to COPA meeting on the previous day, Dr. Aluthge pointed out that the Inland Revenue Department had been summoned by the parliamentary watchdog committee to examine whether COPA recommendations given on March 24, 2021 were implemented.

The top GMOA official said that he was quite baffled that theburningissue hadn’t been given priority in spite of the financial crisis that caused an unparalleled explosion of public anger.

COPA meeting that had been chaired by MP Hashim were attended by State Ministers Mohan PriyadarshanadeSilva, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Kader Mastan, (Dr.) Suren Raghavan and Diana Gamage as well as MPs Tissa Attanayake, Ashok Abeysinghe, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, Major Pradeep Undugoda and Weerasumana Weerasinghe.

Dr. Aluthge said that according to figures released by COPA, the total arrears as at June 30, 2022 amounted to a staggering Rs 773,957,856,618 inunpaidtaxes, penalties and interests. The GMOA official pointed outthatCOPA had acknowledged that out of that amount Rs 201,400,855,198 could be collected as there was no legal impediment whereas the recovery of the remaining Rs 572,557,001,420 was on hold temporarily due to various reasons.

Referring to COPA proceedings, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General had quite clearly asserted that the total amount due to the Inland Revenue was Rs 773,957,856,618 in terms of RAMIS (Revenue Administration Management Information System) and Legacy Systems.How could a bankrupt government be so irresponsible?Dr. Aluthge asked.

The GMOA Secretary also faulted the media for not providing sufficient coverage to the issues dealt by parliamentary watchdog committees. The waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement that had been exposed by these watchdog committees over the years proved over and over again the parliament was responsible for the current unprecedented crisis, Dr. Aluthge said.

The shocking disclosure made by the Auditor General that the RAMIS system installed at a staggering cost of over Rs 10 bn to ensure smooth collection of revenue was yet to be fully and properly operational painted a bleak picture, Dr. Aluthge said.

Referring to COPA proceedings again, Dr. Aluthge said that the Auditor General was on record as having said that though deficiencies of RAMIS system had been brought to the notice of COPA on several occasions remedial measures were not taken.

“The parliament owed the public an explanation. The parliament cannot absolve itself of the pathetic and reckless handling of public finance that finally led to Sri Lanka tagged as a bankrupt country,” Dr. Aluthge said.

Dr. Aluthge said that the GMOA sincerely believed the parliament would at least now hear what the Auditor General told COPA of his efforts to get to the bottom of RAMIS installation.

Janakantha Silva, Director Legislative Services and Acting Director Communication in a statement that dealt with COPA meeting chaired by MP Hashim quoted the Auditor General as having said that the Inland Revenue Department declined to release the RAMIS agreement and related payments, the agreement barred the Inland Revenue from releasing the information sought by him. The Auditor General has further alleged that the Inland Revenue Department withheld information pertaining to the RAMIS agreement claiming the release of the agreement violated the Constitution.

How could the Auditor General be deprived of an agreement entered into by the Inland Revenue on behalf of the government? Dr. Aluthge asked.COPA Chairman Hashim has declared that an audit would be conducted on the RAMIS deal if the report sought from the Inland Revenue within a month in respect of the same was not satisfactory.

Dr. Aluthge said that he couldn’t believe that action hadn’t been taken in respect of 4,831 return checks worth Rs 2,488,003,615 (2.4 billion) received by Inland Revenue as at June 30. According to COPA 3,817 of these returned cheques worth Rs. 1,429,356,750 rupees were more than 3 years old. The Inland Revenue has said that the department lacked the authority to take legal action.

Pointing out that COPA Chairman has advised Inland Revenue to inform him of the action in this regard in consultation with the Attorney General , Dr. Aluthge said if the parliament bothered to inquire into what was happening in the revenue collection set up the current crisis could be easily explained.

Dr. Aluthge recalled comprehensive tax proposals submitted by Prof. W.D. Lakshman during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term were never implemented. In fact, the library of the parliament didn’t have a copy of it, Dr. Aluthge alleged, urging the parliament to address the issues at hand without further delay or prepare to face the consequences.

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Record number of students visited parliament on 01 Dec.

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A record number of students had visited Parliament yesterday (02), Serjeant-at Arms Narendra Fernando said, adding that it was the highest since the country gained Independence in 1948.Permission had been given to over 5,000 students from 32 schools representing different areas of the country to visit the Parliament on 01 December, he said.

More than 25,000 students have visited to observe the Parliamentary debates after the Public Gallery reopened for schoolchildtrn from 19 September 2022. For over two years the gallery was closed due to COVID-19.

He also mentions that steps are being taken to provide a free glass of milk to each student who visits the Parliament from January 2023.

He added that it is a decision taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business chaired by the Speaker and with the support of all the party leaders including the Leader of the House,Chief Government Whip and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Serjeant-at Arms said that it should be specially highlighted that the President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, has decided to provide the necessary financial support for it.

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TNA MP vows to send China packing

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By Saman Indrajith

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Batticaloa District MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam yesterday vowed to lead ‘China Go Home’ protests if Beijing did not restructure Sri Lanka’s debt expeiditiously.Speaking in parliament yesterday, Rasamanickam said that China was a 20 trillion US dollar economy and the total Sri Lankan debt to China is 7.4 billion dollars.

“We owe three billion US dollars to China Development Bank and 4.4 billion US dollars to EXIM bank. If China, who has

nearly 20,000 billion dollar economy is truly Sri Lanka’s friend it can write off our debt. We are not even asking for that, we are asking China to expedite the debt restructuring. Offering 9 million litres of diesel or half a million kilos of rice isn’t real help,” he said.The TNA MP added that China lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars knowing well that the country’s economy was in shambles.

“China has built a 20 trillion dollar economy. They are smart. They are not stupid. They knew we were in trouble but kept on lending to ensnare Sri Lanka in a Chinese debt trap. So I ask China to do the right thing. Sri Lankans might be divided over ethnicity and religion but when the country is really in trouble, we all come together. Everyone came together under ‘Gota Go Home’ banner to get rid of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If China doesn’t help us restructure our debt, people will come onto the road demanding ‘China Go Home’ and I will lead them,” he said.

Rasamanickam said said debt destructing is Sri lanka’s prime objective and the government’s priority should be to secure the IMF package.

“The main problem is that china is not willing to restructure. I spoke of this in Parliament before and the Chinese embassy Twitter handle has commented on this. They are tagging me on Twitter all the time. I am speaking on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I am not talking on behalf of some embassy. Them tagging me on Twitter and commenting on what happens inside is an attack on our sovereignty. If the Chinese embassy wants a Twitter war, I am ready,” he said.

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