Corruption, irregularities at Trade Ministry during last four years will be investigated afreshMinister Bandulla

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Commission to Investigate Allegation of Bribery or Corruption (CIABC) will be requested to investigate acts of corruption and irregularities that have taken place at the Trade Ministry during 2015-2019, Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena yesterday said in Parliament.

Trade Minister Dr. Gunawardena said that a forensic audit commenced on the irregularities, however, according to the forensic auditors, a number of files related to alleged transactions have gone missing.

“I am not accusing anybody of these corruptions as the investigations are ongoing. During 2015-2019, Sathosa and several other State Cooperatives have incurred large losses and therefore, they could not pay even salaries. Sathosa has to pay over Rs. 8 BN for its suppliers during the period. It has to pay Rs. 80 million for just one supplier. It was extremely difficult to find out how these irregularities have taken place. As per the forensic audit, the audit companies have informed us that many files related to trade irregularities have gone missing. We must, therefore, audit up until the period that the files have gone missing and hand the investigations over to the CID. The House will be updated on the investigations. There is no political revenge or any other political reason involved in this matter,” the Minister said.

Dr. Gunawardena was responding to MP Mohamed Muzammil regarding a gazette notification issued by former Trade Minister Rishard Bathiudeen. The gazette notification allowed mixing palm oil with coconut oil.


Programme afoot to develop football Minister Namal

A programme will be initiated to develop football in the country, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa said in Parliament yesterday. “It will include long, medium and long term schemes in this regard,” the Minister said.

He said that plans have been made to increase the number of those who are engaged in football to 2 million.

He was responding to MP Buddhika Pathirana.

Minister Namal Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka is at 206th in the world rankings and the country will be brought to the 150th position in the index.

He said that a new promotional programme called ‘Football Friday’ has been launched but the sponsorship of the sport was insufficient.

“The Sri Lankan Cricket has been ruined, he said, adding that politicisation and factionalism were the reasons,” he said.

The Minister said that he would not allow politicians to interfere in the cricket administration. He added that as a solution to the issues, a new sports Bill will be submitted to Parliament in the near future. “It has been five years since Sri Lankan cricket started collapsing. There are allegations of sectarianism in cricket. This allegation is levelled against not only cricket, but against other sports as well.

However, politicians have no right to interfere in cricket,” Minister Namal Rajapaksa said.

He added that it takes around 5-6 years to produce international level cricketers and if measures are taken to start right away, Sri Lanka could come up with an international level team by the 2023 World Cup.

The Minister said that measures need to be taken to uplift cricket technically from the under 17 level.

He said that to develop cricket technically, a committee had been appointed under Aravinda de Silva. “It includes experienced players such as Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan,” he said.

The Sports Minister made an appeal to all Parliamentarians yesterday not to politicise cricket.


BoC has followed proper procedure when granting loanState Minister Cabraal

The loan facility given to the D.S. Gunasekara Company by the Bank of Ceylon Katuwana Branch has been done in accordance with the proper procedures of the Bank, Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal said in Parliament yesterday.

Denying the Opposition’s allegations that there were discrepancies when granting the loan facility, the State Minister Cabraal said the procedures of the bank have not been violated when granting the loan.

State Minister Cabraal was responding to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa under the Standing Order 27 (2). The State Minister also said that there is no plan whatsoever to sell the main building of the Bank of Ceylon.

“The D.S Gunasekara Company that the Leader of the Opposition mentioned has been operating centering the North Central, Eastern, Central and Southern Provinces for over 62 years. Their accounts have been maintained by the Bank of Ceylon Katuwana Branch since 2015. The Company has been dealing with the Bank of Ceylon for 62 years since 1958. According to the bank’s audit accounts for the past years, it has shown an income of over Rs. 10 billion for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Based on the long-term business relationship and the company’s viability, the bank has duly approved Rs. 3.1 billion at the company’s request, but they used the money to raise Rs. 2.1 billion as debt. Examination of their documents reveals that Bank of Ceylon has been providing guaranteed loans for a long period as a policy.

In 2015, on your advice, the Bank of Ceylon gave Rs. 10 billion to Virtual Treasuries in 10 minutes .You should have asked this question then,” the State Minister said.

“Among the normal business activities of a bank, lending and interest earning are the main sources of income. The income of Bank of Ceylon as a State bank eventually joins the Treasury as dividends, strengthening the national economy.

“Therefore, it should be noted that the Bank of Ceylon has received Rs. 311 million from this transaction. This is not a 3 per cent increase in interest rates in Sri Lanka as it used to be,” the State Minister said.

“For the second question, it should be said that the loan amount has been given in accordance with the proper procedures of the Bank within the relevant authority limits. At the branch level, the ability to settle the customers is considered and no maximum limit has been imposed on any transaction. The Finance Ministry Secretary has attached Bank of Ceylon former General Manager K.B.S Bandara to the Finance Ministry in accordance with the Bank of Ceylon Act and on a Cabinet decision. The Bank of Ceylon makes transfers in accordance with the transfer policy approved by the Human Resource Policy Committee.

It is stated that no other procedures have been adopted for this purpose. The business needs of the Bank had to be taken into consideration while filling 17 vacancies for the 48 Executives. The bank has been rated by Fitch Ratings and Icra Lanka Limited. Although the bank came forward earlier, it went down after 2015,” the State Minister said.


Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act Draft Bill seconded

The draft bill of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act was tabled in Parliament yesterday by MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera and seconded by MP Premanath C. Dolawatte.

Making a statement under Standing Order 27 (2), MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera said that “One country, one law” is the basic election promise of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). The Thera said that it means removing all racial, religious and provincial laws that violate fundamental rights and subjecting everyone in the country to a single legal system.

“In Sri Lanka, the law is above everyone. According to Article 12 (1) of the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the Rule of law is fundamentally recognised. The Muslim Marriage Law is basically a religious law. However, this law is not implemented in many countries where Muslims live,” the Thera said.

“In Sri Lanka, 10 per cent of its population are Muslims and separate Kathi courts have been set up to hear marriage related cases, but these judges are appointed and their wages are paid by the Justice Ministry,” the Thera said.

“Moreover, in the event a person from any other religion marries a Muslim person, it is mandatory for that person to change their religion and embrace the Islam faith and thereafter live according to that law. In the event a Muslim marries a Hindu, Buddhist or anyone from another faith and if they divorce, then the divorce is done under the Muslim laws. The protection of the law must also be fair in law enforcement. Irrespective of how the Fundamental Rights of Article 12 (1) of the Constitution is stated, the law of the land applies differently. The Personal Law in Sri Lanka is enforced on the basis of citizenship, religion, place of birth and gender. Different laws apply to the Civil Law, such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, property, and adoption. This violates fundamental rights. It can be observed that obvious injustices and prejudices are taking place,” the Thera said.

“Article 16 (1) of the Constitution recognises the validity of written and unwritten laws that violate fundamental rights. There is no remedy for this situation. Therefore, these laws need to be changed through Parliament, the Thera said.

Ven. Rathana Thera questioned the Minister if he accepts that fundamental rights are being violated through the Kathi Courts and what measures he would take. He said that a marriage is a consensual binding between two people and that is done on the agreement of the mother and father or brother.

“However, according to the Muslim Law, the woman’s consent is not required. In fact, she does not even have the right to sign the marriage certificate. Therefore, under the Muslim Law, the rights of the women and children are violated. Children under 12 years could be given in marriage to older men with the consent of the Kathi Courts and those above 12 do not require the consent of the Kathi Courts. Will you take steps to change this? Are you aware that the dates of birth of both parties are not indicated in the marriage certificate? Are you aware that an older woman does not have the right to get married? Are you aware of the issues faced by children as a result of polygamy? Are you aware that women are not permitted to hold positions as lawyers or judges in the Kathi Courts?” Rathana Thera asked.

State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle stood at that time and seconded Rathana Thera’s speech.

According to parliamentary procedures, it is not required that a matter raised under 27/2 be seconded.

MP Rauff Hakeem said that the Muslim MPs had discussed these matters and had submitted amendments, which he urged be submitted to Parliament. “We have discussed the matter and have come to an agreement to amend the laws in line with the General Laws of the country and bring the marriageable age in line with the General Laws and be fair by the women. We urge the Government to take into consideration the issues raised by Rathana Thera and present the amendments to Parliament through the Justice Minister,” he said.


CPP will recommence soonMinister Lokuge

Committee on Public Petitions (CPP) Chairman Minister Gamini Lokuge said in Parliament yesterday that a decision will be made on recommencing the Committee, which has been closed for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minister Lokuge informed the House that the Committee meetings were delayed as outsiders could not be summoned to Parliament in the pandemic. State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera requested Parliament to appoint sub-committees to expedite hearing petitions that have been referred to the Committee on Public Petitions by Parliamentarians.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that the proposal will be brought to the attention of the Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions.


COVID information will not be hidden State Minister Sudarshini

The Government will not hide any information about the COVID-19 pandemic, State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle said. She was responding to MP Hesha Withanage during the Question Round for Oral Answers.

He said that the Government was disseminating false information through the media.

He accused the Government of hiding the COVID death figures.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that while new cases were being reported, those recovering were being released from hospitals. She confirmed that the reported data are accurate.

She said that the Government has taken measures to control the pandemic.


CHP approves four Ministry Secretaries, two Ambassadors

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake said that Secretaries to Four Ministries and Ambassadors for two countries have been approved by the Committee on High Posts (CHP).

The Secretary General of Parliament said that the approvals were given after calling the nominees before the Committee on High Posts chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday for examining their qualifications.

Mapa Pathirana has been appointed as the Secretary to the Labour Ministry, R.M.I. Ratnayake to the Fisheries Ministry, Anuradha Wijekoon to the Youth Ministry and Sports and Major General Sanjeewa Munasinghe to the Health Ministry.

The Government’s proposal to appoint J.M.J.P. Bandara as the new Sri Lankan Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Shrimal Wickremasinghe to Seychelles have been approved by the Committee on High Posts.

Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, Ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Sudarshani Fernandopulle and Vidura Wickremanayake and Parliamentarians W.D.J. Seneviratne, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Rishard Bathiudeen were present.


EPF - the largest fund in AsiaMinister Lokuge

The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has become the most significant and largest fund in Asia, Transport Minister Gamini Lokuge said in Parliament yesterday.

Minister Lokuge made was starting the debate on the provisions under the Employees Provident Fund Act.

The EPF Act was presented to Parliament by the Labour Minister on January 20, 2021. Minister Lokuge said that the EPF is one of the most important funds in the country and has been set up to ensure that non-governmental semi-public and private sector employees spend their post retirement without any difficulties.

Minister Lokuge said that the EPF has become the strongest fund in Asia due to several important decisions made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during his tenure as the Labour Minister.

The Minister said that due to the bankruptcy of certain companies, employees could not obtain their EPF and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed to formulate new laws to resolve such issues.

Minister Lokuge said that all the major institutions in the country are members of the EPF and it contains Rs. 1 trillion.

He said that if a 16-year-old begins employment, he can earn a large amount of money as EPF. “Therefore, this Bill will be introduced for the working people and requested the House to pass it.


Government will not allow anyone to shun estate workers’ rightsMinister Siripala de Silva

The Government will not allow any plantation companies to curtail the privileges of the plantation workers, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said in Parliament yesterday. He said that the Government will take every measure to protect the workers’ rights.

Labour Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said that the Government was not able to reach a collective agreement with the plantation companies regarding the wage issue. He said that the only option left was for the Wages Board to approve the daily wage of Rs. 1,000.

The proposal made to increase the daily wage to Rs. 1,000 was approved by a majority vote yesterday (8), Minister De Silva said.

“The previous government could not increase the wages of workers but today we did increase it. We fulfilled our national duty and responsibility for these workers. The Government does not allow employers to work according to their whims and fancies. We protect workers’ rights,” the Minister said.

Minister De Silva said that the Cost of Living allowance must be paid to the workers. He said that even though some workers have a monthly salary of over Rs. 30,000, most labourers do not, and that a number of laws are being drafted to protect these workers.

Minister De Silva said that the Government is concerned about the welfare of the estate workers and the measures taken to uplift their living condition is not political propaganda.

“If the employers are unable to pay the proper daily wages of the workers, the estates will be taken over by the Government and the wages will be paid properly,” Minister De Silva said.


Migrant workers’ PFs to Lanka’s EPF

Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said in Parliament yesterday that the Government is planning for a new agreement that would allow crediting the Provident Fund of Migrant Workers directly to the Provident Fund of Sri Lanka.

Minister De Silva said that a large number of Sri Lankan workers are working in various countries such as India and Bangladesh and that their Provident Funds were credited to the Provident Funds in those countries.


Minister De Silva said that he will inform the Cabinet about the concept and sign a special agreement with those countries so that their Employment Provident Funds (EPFs) be credited directly to the EPF in Sri Lanka.


‘MPs not allowed to visit Ranjan’

MP Dillip Wedarachchi, raising a privilege issue in Parliament yesterday, said that they had visited the Angunakolapelessa Prison on January 19 to see MP Ranjan Ramanayake, but they were not allowed inside.

“I spoke to the Head of the Prison by phone and requested him to allow us inside. But he refused, claiming that the Director General had banned anyone from entering the prison. I tried to call him, but he did not answer. At that time, Ranjan Ramanayake was taken inside by the prison bus. I told Head of the Prison I had undergone the PCR test and had the report in hand. A MP has the privilege to visit a prisoner. Ranjan Ramanayake had also undergone the 14-day quarantine procedure,” he said.

“Generally, when the Chief Prison Officer is notified by an MP that he wants to visit a prisoner, that MP is taken to a special room and the prisoner is brought there. “Therefore, as this prison is one of the best in the world, I request that available technology be used and steps are taken to allow MPs to meet prisoners,” he said.