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Parliament

House debates 9 provisions under Excise (Special Provisions) Act, 10 regulations under Excise Ordinance

Nine provisions under the Excise (Special Provisions) Act and 10 regulations under the Excise Ordinance were debated in Parliament, yesterday.

Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena informed House that a vote on these orders and regulations could be taken today.

Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, opening the debate, said the country is moving in a new direction under the investment promotion tax relief package and the huge incentives given to the private sector. The minister pointed out that with the end of the war during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era, new businesses were established in the North and East, adding that despite the revenue decreasing, expenses were properly managed.

However, he noted that during the tenure of the previous regime, the economy suffered severe setbacks, adding that the economy had further declined due to the Easter Sunday attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that after Independence, it was only during the Good Governance regime that the economy had suffered a decline during consecutive years. During the period of ‘Good Governance’, the Per Capita Income of the country increased by only 33 billion US dollars, he said.

He pointed out that the present government had given the people a new lease of life and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had granted a tax relief package and a debt relief package after assuming office and had reduced the loan interest rates to single digits of 8% and 9%. Accordingly, he said the country is heading in a new direction while protecting domestic production. He added that these concessions were granted to boost domestic industries and businesses, also observing that there would be greater challenges ahead.

Minister Dr. Gunawardena said that the programme to recruit 60,000 graduates is currently under way, in addition to the government’s drive to provide employment to around 100,000 low-income and Samurdhi family members who have passed the G.C.E O/L Examination. He said the government is recruiting such a large number into one State Service which is no doubt a huge challenge.


Anawilundawa Ramsar Wetlands issue

Prevention of corruption, everyone’s duty: Ratnayake

Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation C.B. Ratnayake said with reference to the Anawilundawa Ramsar Wetlands that if there is any corruption or irregularities taking place, then it is everyone’s duty to prevent such actions.

He said that the Wildlife Director-General had issued directives to the wildlife officers to strictly enforce the Fauna and Flora Ordinance and if required to obtain the assistance of the police as well.

Responding to a query raised by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation C.B. Ratnayake said that the latter had been accused of hunting for treasure since the time his father Ranasinghe Premadasa was the Prime Minister of the country.

“It is natural that politicians are referred to with various names and accused of various things, but it is prudent to inspect the truth for ourselves, which is most appropriate,” the minister said.

He noted that there were numerous reports including those circulated on social media that the extent of land under destruction in Anawilundawa.

“According to some the extent was two acres, some others said 200 acres. It is prudent that we visit the site and see for ourselves to know the truth,” the minister said. He said Ananwilundawa has been declared as a sanctuary by a gazette under the Wildlife and Forest Conservation Act and is also declared a Ramsar Wetland in the Western Dry Zone of the country.

“An extent of around 1.65 acres of the area had been bulldozed on Aug 26, 2020. Legal actions instituted by the wildlife officials and police are in progress. The matter had been reported to the Chilaw Magistrate’s Court. It is wrong to state that the area had been bulldozed for two days,” he said.

“I received a report by a five-member committee which probed this incident on Tuesday. I tabled the report in Parliament, yesterday. The government has taken every possible action to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” the minister added.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa earlier in the day raising a point of order demanded to know from the government what action had been taken so far against the destruction of Anawilundawa Ramsar Wetland. Around two acres of land coming under the area declared as a forest reserve at Anawilundawa in Arachchikattuwa, Puttalam, have been cleared using a dozer. As per the environmentalists, the area is extremely important in ecological terms as it houses and nurtures many species of migrating birds and rare fish and butterflies. The wetland has been declared a Ramsar reserve in 2001, the Opposition Leader said.


Diana raises concerns over child abuse cases that go unnoticed

Joining the debate on nine regulations under the excise (Special Provisions Act) and 10 notifications under the Excise Ordinance, SJB MP Diana Gamage, citing National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) records, stated that 5,000 children had been abused so far in 2020.

“This is just during the first nine months of this year. There is so much abuse happening to innocent children in this country and I don’t see anything being done about it,” she said.

However, she thanked Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for taking action within 24 hours to address the issue of children from birth until the age of six being imprisoned along with their mothers, which was raised by her during a television programme.

“These children are being imprisoned for no crime of theirs. Where are we heading with the new generation? We need to address this issue as it is a serious matter. Hence, I appeal to the President and the Prime Minister to do something about this issue,” MP Gamage said.

She noted that while 52% of the country’s population is women, there is only a mere 5% female representation in Parliament today.

“No government has worked towards the protection of these women. Women go through so much violence such as domestic violence and rape on a daily basis,” MP Gamage said.


NSC, Navy informed on growing Indian vessel numbers trespassing on Lankan waters: Kanchana

Fisheries State Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told Parliament yesterday that the National Security Council (NSC) and the Navy have been informed on the increase in the number of Indian fishing vessels trespassing on Sri Lankan territorial waters during the past few days. He added that measures would be taken to beef up security in the Mannar sea area and arrest Indian fishermen who encroach on Sri Lankan territorial waters.

The minister was responding to a question raised by Parliamentarian Charles Nirmalanathan regarding the Indian fishing trawlers encroaching in Mannar, Mullaitivu, and Jaffna waters and the protest by fishermen in the Mannar District, yesterday.

Wijesekara said that the Navy has been informed about this issue, adding that a large number of people had to be deployed for the special operation to douse the fire that broke out on the ‘MT New Diamond’ oil tanker during the past few days.

The minister also noted that due to the prevailing COVID-19 threat there was an issue with regard to detaining Indian fishermen who are taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Navy. However, he said that action would be taken in this regard in the near future.


Harsha questions Government expenditure from May to August

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva questioned the government in parliament, yesterday, on how they spent public money from May to August in 2020 without obtaining the approval of Parliament.

Participating in the Parliamentary debate on several regulations under the Excise Ordinance and several Orders under Excise (Special Provisions) Act, Dr. de Silva said, “The Constitution clearly states that full control of the public money comes under Parliament. Let it be a Budget or a Vote on Account, Parliament should pass it. Then the Finance Minister should sign a warrant license and thereafter the Secretary to the Finance Ministry gets the authorization to spend public money.”

“Parliament did not meet from May to August. Therefore, the Government could not have been given any power to spend public money by Parliament. The Finance Minister has not signed a warrant license either,” he added.

“Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena who spoke before me said the government is going to amend taxes. But how could they spend that money when they have not received the approval of this House?” he questioned.

In response, Dr. Gunawardena said, “According to Section 155(3) of the Constitution, the President can sign a warrant when Parliament has not presented an appropriation Bill.”

Dr. de Silva read Section 155(3) and said that if there is a warrant license signed by the Finance Minister, it should be presented to Parliament as soon as possible. However, Dr. Gunawardena was then seen leaving the Chamber.


Vigneswaran lauds Government’s move to boost inland productivity through taxation

Thamizh Makkal Tesiya Kootani (TMTK) MP C.V. Vigneswaran lauded the government’s move to give a boost to inland production partly through its taxation scheme.

“We welcome such initiative. My party, the TMTK, has enthroned self-government politically, self-sufficiency economically, as well as self-reliance individually and socially as its party’s goals,” he said.

Joining the debate on 9 regulations under the excise (Special Provisions Act) and 10 notifications under the Excise Ordinance, he said, “To work towards self-sufficiency in our economic sectors is a need of the hour. With so much foreign debt to be serviced we need to work towards self-sufficiency. We need to conserve out foreign exchange.”

“There are many theories in this regard,” he said, referring to a foreign delegate who had once told him that it was cheaper to import rice rather than produce it locally as it cost more. However, he had told the foreign delegate that the country needs to be self-sufficient in rice in order to be prepared to meet any contingency.

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the need to be self-sufficient in our food production requirements. We must produce more than merely to make ourselves self-sufficient. We must export the excess. We must value-add to our production. It is the government’s duty to facilitate the production granting us many subsidies and relevant production auxiliaries and requirements and also advice towards value-addition and help to export our products,” MP Vigneswaran said.

“Our party in the North has started popularizing home gardens. More and more of our people are now growing at least some of their daily requirements of vegetables in their home gardens. I for one, before being forced into politics, in my retirement used to grow a lot of vegetables on my roof garden at my Colombo house,” the Parliamentarian said.

“A journey towards self-sufficiency would help our war-affected people immensely. To a country faced with innumerable economic set-backs ensuring such journey towards self-sufficiency is the ideal way forward,” he added.

He said giving a fillip to inland production would also generate employment to the people. He said that unemployment in the war-affected areas had exceeded 10%, while the national average percentage of unemployment is less than 6%.

Hence, he added that immediate steps were required to reduce unemployment in the war-affected areas. The MP suggested that at least one family member in war affected families need to be granted employment in order to ensure reduction in employment.


Thalatha rebuffs Premalal’s ‘tea-plucker’ comment

Ratnapura District SJB MP Thalatha Atukorale yesterday made several observations concerning MP Premalal Jayasekara’s speech in the House last Tuesday following his swearing in as an MP.

Raising a privilege issue, MP Atukorale said that she was from landed gentry and her family members have been land-owning planters for more than 100 years.

“MP Premalal Jayasekera stated in this House that I had once wagered to become a tea-plucker if our government could not give him the death penalty. That is not true. I never wanted to be a tea-plucker and I never will resort to that level. I did not make such a wager,” she said.

“MP Jayasekera is a death-row convict; I can understand his mindset. Under such a mindset, he could make statements to entice public sympathy, but he should not be permitted to breach the privileges of other MPs,” MP Atukorale added.

Responding to the speech by newly-sworn-in SLPP Ratnapura District MP Premalal Jayasekara who stated that she had played a hand framing him for murder, MP Atukaorale said, “The incident that resulted in his case took place in 2015. Jayasekera, who had been sentenced to death by the Ratnapura High Court for murdering an Opposition activist in 2015, hinted that his political opponents in the district had been behind a ‘conspiracy’ to frame him for a crime he did not commit.”

“Jayasekara also accused me of being involved in the death of one of his relatives in 2001. He has continuously served in this Parliament since 2001. Until 2014, he was a Government MP. I have been an MP since 2004. Rather than hurling baseless allegations hiding behind MPs’ privileges, why didn’t he push to have his government investigate these allegations and take legal action?” she queried.

MP Athukorale also said Jayasekara was coming out with the allegations some 20 years later in an attempt to earn sympathy and rebuffed claims made by the SLPP MP that as the Justice Minister of the Good Governance Government, she had once stated that she would “resign and go pluck tea leaves,” if she failed to have him sentenced to death.

“I became Justice Minister on August 25, 2017. At this time, this case was still ongoing. The judges and officers of the Attorney-General’s Department will bear witness that I never brought up this case with them at any time,” she pointed out.


Swearing-in of MP Premalal Jayasekara

Kiriella says Speaker ‘did not recognize him’ when raising Point of Order

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Kandy District MP and Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella said yesterday that the Speaker of the House did not recognize him when he attempted to raise a Point of Order prior to the swearing in of MP Premalal Jayasekara.

Kiriella pointed out, “Yesterday, I tried to raise a Point of Order on behalf of the Opposition. It was not for anything personal I wanted to speak. However, the Speaker did not recognize me, and the Secretary office ignored me as well. It was only after the swearing in was completed that I was allowed to raise the point of order. That is wrong.”

“The tradition of the House is when the Chief Opposition Whip raises a Point of Order, you have to recognize me and give an opportunity to talk. After I spoke and heard, you could have taken whatever the decision. You gave me the chance only after the swearing in. That is against Parliament tradition,” he added.

Replying Kiriella Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena pointed out, “Swearing in of any MP is an honourable and important moment. It is not appropriate to raise questions during an occasion like that.”

Kiriella added, “You did not know what I was going to say. It was a Point of Order.”

However, during the incident, Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out that as per the Standing Orders, the MPs could not raise Points of Order when the Speaker was making an announcement.

Following Kiriella’s countering, the Speaker questioned as to what kind of a Point of Order could be raised when an MP is taking oaths. Following the Speaker’s observation, SJB MP Harin Fernando expressed his concerns on the Opposition’s protest against MP Premalal Jayasekara taking oaths yesterday (08).

“We did not talk about a judgement; it was you who read out the judgement. All I did was to read out the rest of the judgment to the House. After that, Minister Mahindananda requested you to remove those parts from Hansard. I don’t think that is necessary,” he said.

“We spoke as per the Standing Orders. We hope you will protect all MPs in the House. We hope that what we spoke in the House concerning this matter would not be removed from the Hansard,” he added.


Government will achieve in 1.5% economic growth by year’s end: Shehan

The government will be able to achieve a 1.5% economic growth rate by the end of this year, Minister Shehan Semasinghe said in Parliament, yesterday.

Minister Semasinghe said that despite Opposition’s allegations that the government would not be able to meet the debt requirements; the government has already taken steps to repay debts Rs.2.045 trillion, which includes both interest and loan.

Observing that the Opposition is jealous of the achievements recorded by the government during a short period of time, the minister pointed out that some Opposition MPs who kept quiet when the Easter Sunday terror carnage took place are now seeking justice.

Samurdhi, Household Economy, Microfinance, Self-Employment, Business Development and Underutilized Stat Resources Development State Minister Shehan Semasinghe made these observations joining the debate on 9 regulations under the excise (Special Provisions Act) and 10 notifications under the Excise Ordinance in Parliament, yesterday.

Semasinghe noted that the government has received a revenue of Rs.1.525 trillion while its expenditures amounts up to Rs.3.085 trillion.

“However, most importantly, this expenditures include payments not done by the Good Governance Government for various projects during 2019. Now, the Opposition is saying that decreasing VAT is not a good policy decision. Such claims are utterly baseless,” he said.

“We were able to not let country’s economic growth drop to a minus even when the whole world is suffering from shocks of a global pandemic. But the Good Governance Government, which had no such affects, could not manage the economy,” he added.

In reply to some concerns raised by the Opposition MPs during the debate, he said, “Now the Opposition is asking as to what will happen to graduates who were recruited recently. What does the Opposition means when it asks such a question? Our Premier has clearly pointed out that these graduates will be absorbed to government service at the completion of their one year probationary period. They will be regular government employees in the elapse of one year.”

Minister Semasinghe also denied Opposition’s allegations that the allocations of monies by the President during the time from dissolving of Parliament up to election of a new House, are illegal. “Every step taken by the President during this period was done in accordance with the Constitution. When we present a proper Budget in 2020, we will present a separate appropriation bills for 2020 and 2021,” he noted.

The minister observed that the Opposition does not credit the way in which the government is handling the country’s economy during a pandemic. “We activated the ‘Sapiri Gamak’ project and allocated Rs.2 million to each Grama Niladhari Division. We commenced 36,231 projects that worth Rs.27.002 billion. These projects will stabilize the country’s economy,” he said.

Minister Semasinghe also observed that it will keep stable policies in order to encourage foreign investors. Referring to a statement made by SJB MP Kavinda Jayawadena regarding the investigation on the Eastern Sunday terror carnage, he noted that correct information regarding the terrorist attack is now surfacing.

He said, “It is surprising that the very people who protected culprits of the attack are now asking as to what is happening with the investigation.”

“These people kept their mouths shut during this incident as they were afraid that they would lose power. They do not have a moral right to question about the investigation,” he asked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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