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Bribery Commission to recruit 50 officials to expedite investigations

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya brought to the notice of Parliament that the government has plans to recruit 50 officials to the Bribery Commission under the instructions of the Constitutional Council to expedite investigations on complaints and produce suspects before Court.

The Speaker made this observation yesterday, when Parliamentarians of both the government and the opposition sides complained on the delay of taking action against corruption by the Bribery Commission.

The complaint was made during the round of questions for oral answers in Parliament yesterday.

Raising a question Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Bimal Ratnayake complained that the Bribery Commission had slowed down its investigations following the removal of the former Director General. He pointed out that a large number of investigations have been completed in 2015, 2016 and 2017, while only a minimal number of them have been brought before Court. “Therefore, the process of setting up of special courts to hear cases on corruption should be expedited,” MP Rathnayake said.

Government MP Buddhika Pathirana said the Bribery Commission had not done anything with regard to two complaints made by him in 2015 and in 2017. He added that he made two complaints in 2015 personally as a Parliamentarian and one in March 2017.

Joint opposition MP Ranjith Soysa said the Commission had not taken any action on complaints he had made against two ministers in the present government.

MP Chaminda Wijesiri said the Commission had failed to take action on complaints made by him during the time he was Mayor of Bandarawela.

JVP Parliamentarian Nihal Gallappatti said he made a complaint in 2005 and nothing had been done about it so far.

Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatilake said that the CID had failed to take action against the person who engaged in slinging mud at him on the social media, saying that he distributed bananas to flood victims. “The suspect was also found,” Minister Karunathilake said.

According to the answer given by Minister Karunathilake in response to the question raised by MP Rathnayake, the Bribery Commission had completed probes on 1,999 complaints out of a total of 3,345 received in 2014, while it had completed investigations on 2,515 complaints out of 3,913 received in 2015. Only 1,200 investigations have been carried out in 2016 though it has received 3,450 complaints. The Bribery Commission had investigated 518 complaints as at June 30, 2017 though it had received 1,322 complaints.

MP Rathnayake said the Bribery Commission would not complete investigations on not more than 1,500 this year. He also said that there are a lesser number of officials in the Bribery Commission to which the Speaker answered there was a move to recruit 50 more officials under recommendations of the Constitutional Council.

Govt. to commence new medical faculty at Sabaragamuwa

The Government would commence a new Medical Faculty next year at the Sabaragamuwa University with 75 students selected from GCE Advanced Level examination results this year, said Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella in Parliament yesterday.

Minister Kiriella said that the government had made a decision to start the medical faculty and the incumbent vice chancellor had been tasked to discuss with the University Grants Commission (UGC), the relevant ministries and officials to develop course curriculum.

He also said that if the government failed to construct the building by that time, it was planned to rent out the buildings and commence the medical faculty. He added that sufficient funds had been allocated for the purpose.

The minister made these observations in response to a question raised by UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara during the round of questions for oral answers. MP Nanayakkara queried as to why the government’s plan to enroll 125 students under three degree courses including 75 to the medical faculty in Sabaragamuwa University had so far proved a failure.

Govt. has focussed attention on development of rural economy

The government has focussed its attention on the development of the rural economy, as it provides an income source to the majority of the population, said State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Niroshan Perera.

Joining the committee stage debate on the budget 2018, under the financial heads of Industry and Commerce, Rural Economic Affairs Ministry and Public Enterprise Development Ministry in Parliament yesterday, he said the agricultural sector needed to modernized and more industrial zones be promoted. The government has proposed an economic mechanism where the country’s assets are distributed equally among all areas, he said.

“It was the UNP that introduced the open economy to the country and no matter what some may say, in reality, no one in this country would want it changed. There are certain shortcomings in this open economy which is why we have failed to do away with corruption and move forward.”

He said we need to overcome this island mentality and see how other countries have developed. “Salaries are high in this country and we have the most number of holidays. It is here that our employees take leave for unnecssarily, be it a funeral, alms giving, etc. Other countries that have worked committedly have progressed, while we are still stagnant. Hence, we need to change. I am not suggesting that every aspect of the federal system should be adopted, but we need to be open to change by observing other countries that have progressed,” he said.

Present govt. had granted relief subsidies to people as no govt. has done

There is no government in history that has granted people relief and subsidies as much as the good governance regime has done, said Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and State Minister of Mahaweli Development, Mahinda Amaraweera.

“The government has paid the victims of the recent floods and drought Rs. 38,000 million in aid alone. I too have held the post of Disaster Management and during the past five years only Rs. 2,000 million had been given to the victims. Today this amount has been increased, but we admit that the government is having certain difficulties,” he said.

On the subject of coconuts, Amaraweera said around 300,000 coconut trees had been destroyed due to the drought which contributed to the rise in coconut prices. The government had suggestions to import coconuts in order to keep the prices under control, but that was not an option as the local coconut cultivation had to be safeguarded from resulting side effects of such a measure, he said.

The minister also added that measures would be taken to produce coconut milk powder locally and coconuts are currently being sold at Sathosa outlets at Rs. 65 each. “I cannot claim that this is a complete success, but we have tried to provide coconuts to the people at a fair price.”

Meanwhile, MP Bandula Gunawardena said although the government claims to safeguard the local industry, a foreign footwear manufacturer KVC had been allowed to set up manufacture within the country and market their footwear. He requested Minister Amaraweera to look into the matter and take steps to safeguard local footwear manufacturers.

Amaraweera, while appreciating the suggestion of Gunawardena, said this is what is expected of the opposition instead of slinging mud at the government and that constructive criticism was highly appreciated. He said this matter would be discussed in Cabinet shortly and if it would have an impact on the local industry, appropriate measures would be taken.

PEB for management of public enterprises

A Public Enterprise Board (PEB) similar to the ‘Temasek’ model of Singapore or ‘Khazanah’ model of Malaysia would be set up to manage public enterprises efficiently to meet with higher performance levels soon, Public Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim said.

Speaking at the Committee Stage debate of Budget 2018 in Parliament yesterday, when the Finance Heads of his Ministry were taken up, the Minister said preliminary plans in that regard have commenced.

The minister, outlining the efforts to revitalize public enterprises, said those institutions had incurred a staggering Rs 605 billion loss from 2006-2014. “The CEB, Sri Lankan Airlines, CPC, Mihin Lanka and Sri Lanka Transport Board contributed mainly to that loss. That loss accounted for 18 percent of our GDP. It is not easy to change this plight within one or two years,” he said.

The minister said 55 State Owned Business Enterprises earned a total profit of 64 billion in 2015, but the Government had to pump Rs 94 billion the same year for loss making institutions.

The minister, commenting on Sri Lankan Airlines, said the Government had no option but to cancel the order for eight A350 airbuses as they were an additional burden to the country. “Each air bus had been ordered for a monthly lease of USD 1.2 million and this was USD 300,000 more than the market price at that time. The lease agreement contained no exit clause and therefore we were unable to terminate them without paying compensation to the tune of USD 98 million. Had we started using these aircraft, the annual loss would have been Rs 4.6 billion (USD 30 million),” he added.

The minister said the Government had to close down Mihin Lanka Airlines as its loss stood at a staggering USD 19.9 million. The Government pumped millions of rupees to it since 2006 and facilitated credit to it from state banks. It was running at a huge loss,” he said.

Corruption should be stopped to develop country’s economy

This government has to bring corrupted officers and others involved in corruption to book in order to develop the country’s economy, said JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake in Parliament yesterday.

He added that the present government did not seem to take any action against the corrupt, but instead are protecting them.

He made these observations yesterday, during the Committee Stage Debate on budget proposals for the financial year 2018 under the financial heads of Industry and Commerce Ministry, Rural Economic Affairs Ministry and Public Enterprise Development Ministry.

He pointed out that the government should create a mobile phone paying platform that would increase transactions of foreigners in Sri Lanka.

He said that 90 percent of the government’s revenue is from tax. Today, there is a concern as to why the people pay taxes when the government does not fulfill its responsibilities. He added that out of it, the majority is from indirect tax. He added that to reduce indirect tax, the government had to improve Public Enterprises of which the profit goes to the Treasury. Then only the government could reduce the tax burden on the people.

He further said that the inefficiency of politicians had caused the failure of public enterprises. He added that later on, politicians privatise them by saying those are non profitable bodies. “During the Chandrika Kumarathunga period, Sri Lankan Airlines was privatised,” MP Rathnayake said. “Then the government members as well as the UNP members spoke of a fraud behind the same transaction.”

He further said that the same was repeated during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. The Sri Lankan Airlines had fallen to the labyrinth of economic difficulty. He added that the CEO of the institutions needed to function as a pilot as well which was not acceptable.

“Politicians of parties attempt to show off as if they are entrepreneurs by birth, but the public enterprises end up in chaos,” MP Rathnayake said. “The public sector only thinks of profits. So the Government has to pay attention on development of enterprises and factories.”

After regaining GSP plus, apparel exports up by $1.67 billion - Bathiudeen

Industry and Commerce Minister Rishath Bathiudeen said after receiving the European Union GSP plus, Sri Lanka’s apparel exports to the EU from January to September 2017, compared to the same period last year had increased by 11.3 percent to $1.67 billion.

Before the GSP plus was received from January to September 2016, apparel imports to the EU had only increased by 2 percent, compared to the same period in 2015. He said as a result of the Department of Commerce (DOC) work to regain the GSP plus from the EU, the facility was received in May this year and based on meetings held with the Inter-Ministerial Sub-Committee on regaining the GSP plus facility, a comprehensive report was made with respect to the 27 UN and ILO rules. He said so joining the committee stage debate of the Budget 2018 under the financial heads of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Rural Economic Affairs Ministry and Public Enterprise Development Ministry in Parliament yesterday.

“From January to July this year, Sri Lanka exported $2.16 billion under GSP, $256 million under ISFTA, $87 million under APTA, $32 million under GSTP, $38 million under Pakistan FTA, $5.26 million under SAFTA and $2.5 million under SAPTA. Further, over 70 percent of the expenditure on development activities of the Industry and Commerce Ministry upto August 2017, was spent on Small and Micro industries leader and Entrepreneur projects (the SMILE 111 project) aimed at SMEs,” he said.

Local dairy to get a boost, while promoting liquid milk consumption

The Minister of Rural Economic Affairs P. Harrison said that measures would be taken to improve the local dairy industry, while promoting the consumption of liquid milk.

The Minister said so in Parliament yesterday, during the Committee Stage Debate on the budget proposal for the financial year 2018 under the financial heads of Industry and Commerce Ministry, Rural Economic Affairs Ministry and Public Enterprise Development Ministry.

However, he said that although the country had many animal husbandry projects and farms, due to the lack of proper facilities, this area had not seen any significant development. “In fact, although we have 31 farms under the Livestock Development Board, we did not even have legal ownership to these farms. We also have some issues with regard to carrying out development of these farms. However, today we have managed to bring most of these farms into a profit making state, with the exemption of just a few. We have now imported a large number of high quality cows and we intend to increase the milk production of these farms. Further, these farms would also provide calves bred at these farms to villagers, so that they could improve their livelihoods as well,” he added.

Minister Harrison also said that coconut production in the coconut triangle had also received a boost by the government. He said as the prices of coconuts is currently high, the Livestock Development Board had taken measures to provide coconuts at a reasonable price of Rs. 65 each, which is being distributed islandwide.

He said that today the poultry industry was facing many issues and through the Livestock Development Board, provisions have been made to supply chicks to small scale farmers, as well as supply eggs to the country at a reasonable price.

Meanwhile MP Bandula Gunawardena raised a question that due to the reduction in taxes for imported powdered milk, it had a huge impact on the local dairy farmer and why the relevant minister did not discuss with the Finance Minister and reach a solution that would save the local dairy farmer.

Responding to his question, Minister Harrison said during the time Gunawardena was the subject minister, a metric ton of milk powder in the market was $2,800, but today it has increased to over $399. He said at present the government intends charging the tax again in the future.

He said while taking measures to uplift the local dairy industry, the government intends to also promote the consumption of liquid milk among the people. With that motive, the government provides 400,000 school children liquid milk daily through MILCO at a concessionary rate.

As a result, he noted that liquid milk consumption at the time this government took over which was at 20 percent to 22 percent, had now increased to 46 percent currently.

Ceylon Ceramics Corporation’s production up by 108.7 percent

The Ceylon Ceramics Corporation has increased its production by 108.7 percent this year, said Public Enterprise Development State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena in Parliament yesterday.

He also said that the Bank of Ceylon had been able to come within the 14 best banks in the world. He added that the well established bank in the country was the Bank of Ceylon. He also said that the People’s Bank had launched the Swashakthi Loan Scheme.

He made these observations yesterday, during the Committee Stage Debate on the budget proposal for the financial year 2018 under the financial heads of Industry and Commerce Ministry, Rural Economic Affairs Ministry and Public Enterprise Development Ministry.

Minister Abeywardena said the public enterprises would not be able to be run smoothly had they been interfered with unnecessarily.

He added that some of the government institutions that incurred losses could be revived after 2015. Some of those institutions were a burden to the nation. “We cannot develop the economy without bringing in foreign investments and managing those public enterprises and institutions,” Minister Abeywardena said. “We should have an identity for the national airline. A country could not profit only through airlines. A country should have various services to gain profits.”

The minister further said that there was a rumour among the people that Srilankan Airlines was to be privatized. “Srilankan Airlines have recorded the fifth place in the world,” Minister Abeywardena said. “However, we have to reduce the losses incurred by the Srilankan Airlines. We have to support it. We could not be a burden to the Treasury.” 


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