Opposition to the proposed surcharge tax of 25 percent on workers’ social security and welfare funds is growing with a collective of trade unions representing several sectors alleging that workers are not taxed in any decent society to compensate for the loss of government revenue due to financial mismanagement and lack of clear economic policy.
Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary, Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union has issued the following statement on behalf of Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees’ Union (FTZ & GSEU), Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya (SLNSS), Ceylon Mercantile and Industrial Workers’ Union (CMU), Ceylon Federation of Trade Union (CFTU), Intercompany Employees’ Union (IEU), Ceylon Bank Employees Union (CBEU), Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union (LJEWU), National Union of Sri Lankan Seafarers (NUSS), Jathika Seva Sangamaya (JSS), Ceylon Estate Staff Union (CESU), United Federation of Labour (UFL), and the Joint Plantation Trade Union Centre (JPTUC): The Government’s decision by way of a gazette notification issued on 07 February 2022 for a bill to be presented in pPrliament to levy a “one-time” Surcharge Tax of 25 per ent on the gross income of over Rs.02 billion during the revenue year 2020 April 01 to 2021 March 31, will include both the “Employees’ Provident Fund” (EPF) and the “Employees’ Trust Fund” (ETF) as provided for under “Division III: Trusts and Unit Trusts” of the Inland Revenue Act, No. 24 of 2017.
This we say is both immoral and unethical as social security and welfare funds of employees and also the poor are never taxed in any decent society to compensate for the loss of revenue for the State due to financial mismanagement and lack of clear economic policy.
It is calculated the EPF alone would be taxed around Rs.62 billion once again on its already taxed income for the revenue year 2020-2021 that concluded almost a year ago. This massive amount of money that could be taxed from the EPF alone, with more tax from the ETF too is money that should be divided among 2.9 million employees who are active contributing members of the EPF and 19.4 million members in all.
We wish to note, the previous government too imposed a one-time tax levy on the EPF in 2016 that was promised as never to be repeated. Sadly, it is coming back again as another “one time only” Surcharge Tax that now becomes a precedent for all governments in the future for “easy revenue”.
EPF is a social security and welfare fund for private and semi-State sector employees with no monthly retirement salary to tide over their last years out of employment. This fund needs to be further strengthened for the private sector and semi-State sector employees with health benefits and other emergency welfare services. It is disgusting therefore to have governments compensating their inability to manage national finances efficiently, squeezing off large chunks of money from employee benefits, instead.
As a collective of trade unions in the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC), we wish to demand from this government to immediately withdraw all provisions in the proposed bill gazetted on 07 February (2022) in levying any tax by any name, from employee social security and welfare funds, be it the EPF, ETF or any other and request the government to seek more progressive measures in collecting required revenue for the State.
Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI
Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.
Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.
Unions predict end of energy sovereignty
By Rathindra Kuruwita
A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.
“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”
Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.
“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.
Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue
The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.
Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.
“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.
“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”
Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.
However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen
Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”
But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.
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