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Hambantota Port construction: those who did not wish to divulge economic damage disrupted debate: PM

A group that did not wish to divulge the economic damage caused by the construction of the Hambantota Port and also development programmes of the government, disrupted the debate on the Hambantota Port Agreement on July 27, 2017, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday.

The Premier further said the government was in the process of taking a decision to make amendments to clauses of the agreement inked between Sri Lankan Government and China Merchant Holdings considering the constructive proposals made during the debate.

He added that although the agreement had already been entered into, the government was ready to give a debate over the matter.

“The government was also deciding to even postpone the agreement being inked for 48 hours had the debate on the previous day come up with constructive proposals,” Premier Wickremesinghe said. “But those of the opposition who did not need to have a debate on the matter, disrupted the debate. The government also had decided to hold a Cabinet meeting the same night to make amendments to the agreement if there were such constructive suggestions. But it did not materialize.”

The Premier made these observations yesterday, in response to a question raised by JVP Parliamentarian Nalinda Jayathissa during the round of questions to be raised from the Prime Minister.

Premier Wickremesinghe also said the agreement inked between the Sri Lankan Government and China Merchant Holdings to develop the Hambantota Port includes a clause that enabled further amendments to the same. The Premier added that although there was such a clause, it is needed to determine the amendments that are needed to be adopted.

The Premier further said CPC Trade Unions did not raise any issue on the agreement, but only wanted to handle oil bunkering. But the Ports Authority did not agree to it. He added that although the CPC trade unions needed it, the CPC had not made such a request.

"The operating loss from the Hambantota Port, to this date is Rs 9,814 million, while the overall revenue had been Rs. 7,119 million. The overall loss to this date, has been Rs 51,530 million. The total amount paid as debts to date is Rs 40,813 million. We could not leave this burden to the future generation. It would be possible to provide much needed employment opportunities for the younger generation," the Premier added. “However, Trade Unions of the Colombo Port had requested the government not to use the revenue generated from the Colombo Port for the maintenance of the Hambantota Port.”

Code of Conduct for MPs to be taken up in Parliament soon: Speaker

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday, observed that the Bill on the Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians to maintain the dignity and decorum of Parliament, would be taken up for debate very soon in Parliament.

The Speaker made this observation when presenting the final draft of the code of conduct for MPs.

He added that it had been prepared with opinions and suggestions from local and foreign experts.

The Speaker also sought the cooperation of all MPs to ensure the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians to maintain the dignity and decorum of Parliament.

“The code had been formulated with the intention of ensuring the protection of dignity and decorum of the House and to rebuild public trust on MPs who would be required to maintain the highest standards of conduct," the Speaker said. "The draft is now ready for the passing of it in Parliament on a future date. This presentation of the draft could be considered a historic moment.” He also said that a draft of the code had been given to each MP and later their suggestions to improve and amend some sections of the code took place and the final draft has been prepared by Legal Draftsmen.

All imported rice stocks poison free: Govt.

The Government yesterday, assured that all rice stocks brought into the country in the wake of the drought, are free of harmful chemicals and thoroughly checked before being released to the market.

Rural Economic Affairs Minister P Harison made this assurance when queried by MP Dullas Allahapperuma in Parliament.

The minister said the prolonged dry spell had led to the loss of approximately 50 percent of the paddy harvest and the Government had decided to import rice to avoid any shortage of staple food. All the imported rice stocks are regularly being checked by the Health Ministry and Food Commissioner’s Department.

"We guarantee that all the imported rice stocks are poison-free,” he noted.

Govt. will accommodate Opp. MPs proposals to new Inland Revenue Bill: Malik

The Government would accommodate the proposals of Opposition MPs to the new Inland Revenue Bill at its Committee Stage debate in Parliament, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said.

The minister made this observation in Parliament yesterday, when JO MP Bandula Gunawardena proposed the Government not to remove tax exemptions and concessions provided to the gem industry. “The gem industry enjoys considerable tax relief. However, the new Inland Revenue Bill has removed all these tax concessions and exemptions facilitated to the Gem Industry. This is detrimental to the gem business,” he said.

Minister Samarawickrama said necessary amendments could be presented to the Bill during the Committee Stage debate once taken up in Parliament. The minister said the Government is in the process of finalizing Amendments to the Bill. “The Amendments are being discussed with the Finance Minister,” he added.

MP Gunawardena requested the minister to give them a copy of the Amendments the Government intends to bring into the Bill at the Committee Stage.

The Supreme Court determined that several Clauses in the Inland Revenue Bill are inconsistent with the Constitution. The Government said it would duly amend the problematic clauses as per the determination of the Supreme Court.

The Government presented the Inland Revenue Bill in Parliament for first reading on July 5. The Bill is to provide for the imposition of Income Tax for any year of assessment commencing on or after April 1, 2017.

The Bill, among other things, introduces a new income tax structure and is aimed at closing existing loopholes in revenue collection.

Maha Illuppallama Seed Farm not for sale: Duminda

Agricultural Minister Duminda Dissanayake yesterday in Parliament, denied claims that the Government was planning to hand over the Maha Illuppallama seed farm to a foreign company.

The Minister was responding to a question by Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake as to whether the Government intends to lease out 300 acres of the Maha Illuppallama seed farm to a Bangladesh private company named ‘Lal Teer’ for a period of 50 years.

However, the Minister said a draft agreement has been prepared to obtain foreign technology to produce hybrid vegetable seeds within the country. “Each year we spend Rs 1.4 billion to import hybrid vegetable seeds to the country. Our attempt is to save this money in the country and help our Agriculture Department to produce hybrid vegetable seeds with the support of our farming community. Seed paddy production has not been allowed under this agreement,” the minister explained, while also tabling a copy of the draft agreement.

MP Dissanayake, raising a question under Standing Order 23 (2) in Parliament on a previous day, alleged that the local seed production could collapse if the deal is inked.

“This deal not only vests the right of local seed production to a foreign company, but also grants it the authority to import seeds and obtain patents for local seeds. This may pave way for bio-piracy. The Government has not discussed this move with any stakeholder,” the MP charged.

Withdrawal of five NFF MPs: No impact on legality, CA proceedings: Speaker

The withdrawal of five National Freedom Front (NFF) Parliamentarians led by MP Wimal Weerawansa has zero impact on the legality and proceedings of the Constitutional Assembly (CA), Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced in Parliament yesterday.

MP Weerawansa asked the Speaker’s position over the letter submitted to the latter late last month informing the withdrawal of NFF from the Assembly. “In our letter, we stated that the CA would no longer be valid with our withdrawal, because the resolution adopted in Parliament states that the CA consists of all 225 members. We would like to hear the Speaker’s opinion on this matter,” Weerawansa said. The Speaker observed the NFF pulling out of CA has not given rise to any problem. “I obtained legal advice before coming in to this conclusion,” he added.

Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella observed that all 225 MPs need not necessarily take part in CA sittings.

“If there is quorum, the CA can go ahead with its work,” Kiriella said.

The CA was formed following a resolution passed unanimously in Parliament in March last year to formulate a new Constitution. It has so far conducted four sittings.




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