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Wimal accuses UN of playing politics

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, yesterday (15) accused the UN of playing politics with the controversy over the cremation of all those who died of COVID-19.

Minister Weerawansa said so when The Island sought his opinion on the UN recently requesting Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to do away with the existing restrictions.

Minister Weerawansa emphasised that there couldn’t be justification whatsoever in UN intervention as the situation took a turn for the worse over the past several days.

With the death toll now beyond 50 and positive cases over 16,000 the country couldn’t risk a further deterioration, lawmaker Weerawansa said. Responding to another query, Minister Weerawansa pointed out that UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo Ms Hanaa Singer wouldn’t have intervened without consulting New York.

The NFF leader said that Ms. Singer copied her Nov 12 dated missive to Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. Minister Weerawansa questioned the UN’s assertion that ‘negative consequences of not allowing burials seem to outweigh any potential epidemiological benefit, the country has gained.’

The NFF has six MPs among 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

“I fear that not allowing burials is having a negative effect on social cohesion and, more importantly, could also adversely impact the measures for containing the spread of the virus as it may discourage people to access medical care when they have symptoms or history of contact,” Ms Singer said, claiming that she intervened in this matter after receiving many appeals within and outside the Muslim community that the current policy is discriminatory.

Minister Weerawansa compared the UN Resident Coordinator’s claim of having received ‘impassioned appeals’ with moving Geneva resolution on the basis of unverified war crimes accusations. If the UN was so concerned wouldn’t it better for them to make inquiries instead of releasing letters to the public, Minister Weerawansa asked.

Minister Weerawansa alleged that the UN had conveniently forgotten the restrictions affected all communities regardless of faith. Unfortunately, the UN raised the issue with Premier Rajapaksa as if restrictions only affected the Muslim community. The NFF leader said that many an eyebrow was raised recently over the UK condemning the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday attack suspect, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. Minister Weerawansa said that the contentious issue has been raised at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), while the matter was pending before the country’s highest court.

The Cabinet also discussed the British government criticism of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the 30/1 accountability resolution and current human rights situation in Sri Lanka et al.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly difficult operating environment.

A British statement quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Minister Weerawansa said that unless the government successfully countered the latest UN move, Sri Lanka’s corona health guidelines, too, could end up a subject matter in Geneva.

Asked whether the cabinet of ministers discussed the Ms Singer’s letter, Minister Weerawansa said that

Premier Rajapaksa’s Office received the letter after last week’s cabinet meeting.

Minister Weerawansa reiterated that the cabinet could discuss anything though decision on health guidelines was certainly not the prerogative of the cabinet.

“We are in such a crisis, no sane political leadership will pursue political agenda at the expense of the well-being of the country,” lawmaker Weerawansa said.

Minister explained that the UN’s intervention should be examined against the backdrop of the global health community yet to reach conclusive decisions on rampaging coronavirus. The bottom line is that in the absence of consensus on how to tackle the epidemic, Sri Lanka shouldn’t under any circumstances adopt measures that could endanger the overall response to the unprecedented viral threat.

Minister Weerawansa emphasized that the discussion pertaining to the possibility of burying bodies in some isolated spot was absurd. “The health administration, security forces and the police are working overtime, under extremely difficult conditions to bring the situation under control while a section of the population demanded burial rights. This is not fair.”

Minister Weerawansa said that with some parts of the highly populated Colombo district under severe threat with the majority of deaths being reported there, the government would have to further tighten counter measures instead of appeasing opportunists.

The outspoken Minister called for an inquiry into recent claim by the Ceylon Thowheed Jamaat that the government authorized burials as it was denied. Colombo District MP attorney-at-law Premanath C. Dolawatte recently lodged a complaint with the CID in that regard. Claiming that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa never promised to do away with cremation of all corona victims lawmaker Dolawatte requested an inquiry

Minister Weerawansa said that in the wake of UN the intervention, various other international groupings such as the EU, too, could issue statements in that regard. Asked whether he felt a section of the international community adopted a policy hostile towards post-war Sri Lanka, lawmaker Weerawansa alleged those who couldn’t stomach eradication of the LTTE were still campaigning against the country. The return of the war winning administration to power was a headache for some, the minister alleged.

Minister Weerawansa emphasized the pivotal importance of the government addressing this issue in one voice without conceding to what he called politics of religious extremism.



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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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