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Parliament

Government’s land policy must be reviewed: PM

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday in Parliament stressed the need to review the Government’s land policy.

The Premier made this observation in response to a question raised by UNP MP M. H. M. Salman.

“There are hardly any lands in the Colombo city to construct any more houses and that is the reason why we need to build more flats and condominiums. The population is rising in the country and we are heading to a crisis of finding lands,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said. “The government will have to rethink about the land policy,” he added, while also assuring that the government would go ahead with its election promise to provide land deeds to the landless.


No Army Commander would be jailed under Yahapalana Government: Kiriella

No Commander of the Army would be jailed under the ‘Yahapalana’ Government, Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament yesterday.

The minister made this assurance in reply to a question raised by MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena, who queried the Government’s position with regard to contradictory statements made over former Army Commander General Jagath Jayasuriya, the current Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Peru and Suriname.

The Minister, observing that the previous regime jailed the war winning Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, stated that the Joint Opposition was now shedding crocodile tears on war heroes.

MP Dinesh Gunawardena, raising a question under Standing Order 23 (2), questioned as to whether the statements made by Minister Field Marshall Fonseka, represent the current Government’s policy and if not what action it proposes to take against him.

“General Jayasuriya was actively in the forefront in the struggle against terrorism and its victory. He is being hunted by ex-LTTE and Eelamist diaspora legal teams who have brought war crimes allegations against him in Brazil and Columbia. The statement made in this regard by President Maithripala Sirisena has been contradicted by a statement made by Minister Sarath Fonseka,” MP Gunawardena stated.

MP Gunawardena, asking the Foreign Affairs Minister to place before the House the details of the above mentioned legal action being taken against General Jayasuriya, demanded the Government to articulate its precise position in that regard.

“We wish to know what action is being taken to protect General Jayasuriya any other members of the Sri Lankan Security Forces, Ambassadors, Members of the Diplomatic Community and civilians who hold or had held office in the Government. We also wish to know what action the Government proposes to take against Minister Fonseka for his statement betraying the country’s heroic forces,” he asked.

Minister Kiriella, informing the House that the Foreign Minister would reply to the question within two weeks, however clarified that Fonseka’s statement was not the Government position. “That was a personal opinion expressed by Minister Fonseka. Moreover, legal action against General Jayasuriya had not been filed by any foreign Government, but by some groups of persons,” he added.


Thirteen petitions filed against 20th Amendment to Constitution: Speaker

Thirteen petitions have been filed against the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, announced Speaker Karu Jayasuriya in Parliament yesterday.

He announced that the Supreme Court had sent him copies of 13 petitions filed against the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution provides provisions for holding elections for all Provincial Councils on the same day. However, this piece of legislation had been rejected by the North Central, Southern and Northern Provincial Councils. The Government has also suggested an amendment to the legislation under which, it had proposed a time frame of one year to hold the provincial Council election within an year.


JO’s latest demand is to once again amend Local Authorities Elections Ordinance: PM

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe pointed out that the latest demand by the Joint Opposition was to once again amend the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance which would further delay the long awaited Local Government Elections.

The Premier was responding to a question by JO MP Dullas Allahapperuma in Parliament yesterday. The Prime Minister while observing that the space to hold LG elections by the end of December or early January had been finalized, stated that bringing in more amendments at this stage would cause further delay in holding elections.

“The new electoral system may not be perfect, but let us experiment with it at the LG polls. Then only could we study its loopholes and introduce more amendments as necessary. That had been the agreement of the House. Most of the issues raised now have been debated prior to the passage of the Bill. It is up to the Party Leaders to discuss and decide whether to bring in more amendments or to go for elections as early as possible,” the Premier explained.

MP Allahapperuma taking his turn at the PM’s question round, stated that several new problems have cropped up due to certain amendments incorporated at the Third Reading of the Bill. He insisted that disqualifying a selected category of public servants (field officers) from contesting at the elections and applying this law retrospectively, are a violation of the fundamental rights of those public servants. He also objected to the removal of the 30 percent quota to the youth. He also complained against the removal of bonus seats and cut off marks and the removal of the provision to hold by-elections. The Premier, replying to these concerns, said many proposals came up with regard to the bonus seats, adding that the final agreement was to test the new system sans bonus seats at the LG polls and then take a final decision.


Minister Bandara granted three months leave

Parliament approved a period of three months leave for Public Administration Minister R M Ranjith Madduma Bandara yesterday.

The House approved three months leave for the minister with effect from September 20 this year.

Government sources said the minister has sought Parliament’s approval to stay away from sessions for three months due to ill health.


Some ministers could not function as National Govt. was formed for two years: Chief Opposition Whip

Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said the Government would make a statement on the functions of ministers in the Unity Government shortly.

The Minister also said that the government could move a fresh resolution to seek approval of Parliament for 48 Ministers and 45 Deputy and State Ministers.

Minister Kiriella made these observations in Parliament yesterday, when Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake observed that some ministers were unable to function as the two year period of the Unity Government had lapsed. He also said that there could be 48 members in the Cabinet and 45 Deputy and State Ministers. “The National Government was formed by the UNP and SLFP only for a period of two years,” the Chief Opposition Whip said. “This two year period had elapsed and therefore the Cabinet has to be reduced.”

Joint Opposition Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said some ministers were unable to function given the circumstances. He also said that there could be some UNP ministers, but others could not hold ministries.

At this stage Minister Kiriella responding said the government would make a statement in this regard shortly. “We could bring a fresh resolution to seek approval for 48 ministers and 45 deputy and state ministers,” the Minister said.


Granting of vehicle permits to Govt. Servants and Foreign Service reintroduced: Finance Minister

The granting of vehicle permits to public servants and to those of the foreign service has been reintroduced, said Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday.

He said he was pleased to reintroduce the vehicle permits that had been cancelled through the 2016 Budget proposal, although after a delay considering the many requests that had been made to the government.

“This relief was reintroduced for the enhancement of those services, but not for turning it into a business,” Minister Samaraweera said. “The 50 percent tax relief that had been granted to public servants had also been increased to 60 percent.” He added that the Gazette had already been issued.

He made these observations in Parliament, while moving three orders under the Excise (Special Provisions) Act and a regulation under the Stamp Duty (Special Provisions) Act.

Minister Samaraweera said that under these regulations, the government attempted to grant vehicle permits that were cancelled through the 2016 Budget. He said the relief granted was beneficial to the Northern Province that faced a three decade war. The Northern Province economy had drawn back gravely and still it was one of the poorest areas in the country.

“Although the Provincial Council system had been introduced in 1987, the Northern Province could not bare fruit until 2013 due to the conflict,” Minister Samaraweera said. “However, until our government was elected, the people in the Northern Province were not treated well. Now they enjoy democracy.”

The Minister also said that the grant of vehicle permits to Provincial Council members had been cancelled, but was reintroduced to provide relief, specially to Members of the Northern Provincial Councils. He added that they had not been granted a single vehicle permit.

“The members in the Northern Provincial Councils should be granted the same relief enjoyed by Members of other Provincial Councils. He also said that those members in the Northern Provincial Council, play a pivotal role in preventing the resurrection of another terrorist movement.

They should be provided with facilities, while the area should be developed.

“There was a vehicle permit for those in the Foreign Service to import their personal vehicle to Sri Lanka,” the Minister said.

“There were requests to reintroduce the same. So the Cabinet decided to re-introduce it by increasing the tax relief that was 50 percent to 65 percent.”

The Minister also said that the government moved to amend the stamp duty on leasing. He added that it had been amended in 2006.

He also added that if it had not been amended, the government would be deprived of revenue.

He added that this duty exclude vehicles such as tractors. He added that the government has taken measures to reduce the tax burden on low income people.


BOI consulted AG to ascertain any violation of agreement pertaining to Steel Factory: Trade Minister

Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama yesterday, told Parliament that the Board of Investment (BOI) had consulted the Attorney General to ascertain whether there had been a violation of the agreement pertaining to the Steel Factory acquired by businessmen Nandana Lokuvithana.

The Minister, stressing that the BOI would act according to AG’s instructions if there had been a violation of the BOI agreement, assured that neither he nor any Ministry official intervened into the said matter.

The Minister also reminded that the steel factory had been acquired by Lokuvithana in 2011 during the former regime led by Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Samarawickrama making a special statement, defended the much talked-of investment for setting up of an export oriented tyre factory in Horana.

“The setting up of an export oriented tyre factory in Horana was perfectly legal and the agreement was signed by the BOI after Cabinet approval was granted. Only the tax concessions available at the time the proposal was received, have been granted and no special concessions have been provided by the BOI to this company. Originally, the investment was said to be US$ 45 million, but we are now aware that the company would invest US$ 125 million within two years and a further US$ 125 million within four years. A force of around 3,000 would be employed, while the export turnover would be over US$ 400 million on completion of the project. This is one of the largest investments in recent times in the manufacturing sector,” the minister stressed. The Minister also refuted the claims of undervaluing land provided for the project, stating that it was a diabolical lie. “It has been reported in some newspapers that the land for the project was given for 1US$.

It is a complete distortion of the truth. The land belongs to the BOI and a value for the land had not been fixed and no infrastructure had been provided by the BOI. In zones such as Katunayake, Biyagama, Koggala, etc., the infrastructure is provided and therefore the land value is regulated and gazetted. For the land for this particular project, the BOI received a valuation from the Chief Government Valuer which was the price the investor was requested to pay.

In fact, the BOI further negotiated the price with the investor and received 40 million more by agreeing to provide some services which in fact, did not cost 40 million. The total amount paid by the investor is Rs 210 million,” the Minister explained. Samarawickrama made a ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday with the aim of refuting allegations levelled at him by a private electronic media organization.


Supplementary allocation submitted in House seeking more than 20B for disaster relief

A supplementary allocation was submitted in Parliament yesterday, seeking more than Rs. 20 billion to be spent on disaster relief

The supplementary allocation was submitted by Leader of the House, Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella.

The approval was sought to spend for the reliefs to the drought and flood affected people and also for those who were affected by the Meethotamulla tragedy and landslides. They were sought to provide reliefs to the people in Kegalle, Ratnapura, Galle, Kalutara, Matara, etc.

In addition, an allocation of Rs. 134 million was sought to pay Rs. 100,000 per month to each parliamentarian to maintain an office.

Each MP is entitled for an allowance of Rs 100,000 to maintain an office and all MPs receive Rs 22,500,000 every month from Parliament. The allocation is intended to reimburse payments that had already been made. The Cabinet decision had been made on December 07, 2016, to pay the allowance.

The estimate also sought the approval for a sum of Rs. 98 million (98,938,310) to cover the expenses of purchasing a vehicle for the Minister overseeing the Department of Project Management and Monitoring of the National Policies and Economic Affairs, to renovate the houses of Minister of Public Enterprise Development and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Department of Project Management and Monitoring comes under the purview of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs. A sum of Rs 43,000,000 has been sought to cover the expenses of acquiring a vehicle for the minister, a sum of Rs. 17,638,310 to renovate the house of the Minister of Public Enterprise Development and a sum of Rs 21,500,000 to renovate the residence of the Leader of the Opposition.


 

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