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Pot Shots: Ranil, Mathata Thitha, Hedging

Jul 23, 2011 6:41:26 PM - thesundayleader.lk

Bouquets To RW

Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who at one time was at the receiving end of insults and criticism of the government is now receiving bouquets from the administration for his support.

Leader of the House and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva last week thanked Wickremesinghe in parliament for supporting the talks between the government and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to reach a consensus on a solution to the ethnic issue.

According to him, the Opposition Leader has supported the government’s initiative in resolving a longstanding crisis instead of opposing the move like some extremist parties.

De Silva has made these comments in response to a statement by Wickremesinghe that incidence of violence in the North in the run up to the election would have an impact on the ongoing political process.

Referring to election violence, the Minister has said that it was not possible to experience a situation where there is zero election violence although it would be the ideal situation.

De Silva has observed that inter party and intra party violence during elections were difficult to overcome.

Minister Expresses Doubts Over Mathata Thitha

A senior government minister last week expressed doubts over the effectiveness of the Mahinda Chinthana policy of Mathata Thitha aimed at curbing the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

SLFP General Secretary and Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena last week made a startling revelation when he said that the proposed amendments to the Tobacco and Alcohol Control Act is yet to receive the approval from the Legal Draftsmen’s Department after it was drafted a year ago.

Sirisena said there was an unusual delay in receiving approval for the draft amendments.

The amendments to the Tobacco and Alcohol Control Act are aimed at addressing certain weaknesses in implementation of the clauses in the Act.

Sirisena has observed that the proposed amendments have been prepared in the best interest of the public and suggestions from the tobacco and alcohol companies had not been accommodated.

According to him, he had even ignored representations made by tobacco and alcohol companies when the proposed amendments were being drafted since it was aimed at curbing the adverse impact of alcohol and tobacco use.

The Rajapaksa administration launched the Mathata Thitha programme in 2005 and has claimed to have taken stern action against the misuse of alcohol and tobacco.

Interestingly, some of the leading persons in promoting alcohol and tobacco hold high offices in the Rajapaksa administration.

Harry Jayawardena head of the Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka (DCSL) has been appointed Chairman of Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the head of Ceylon Tobacco Co (CTC) Jayampathi Bandaranayake was appointed at one time as the Chairman of the Board of Investment (BoI).

Nevertheless, Sirisena after expressing doubts over the delay in receiving approval for the amendments to the Tobacco and Alcohol Control Act, he called on the media to investigate and find the reason for the delay.

Hedging The Oil Issue 

The government last week tried to hedge a statement that was to be made in the House over the controversial oil hedging deal.

JVP parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake was initially scheduled to make a statement on the oil hedging deal in parliament last Tuesday (19).

Since most of the senior ministers including Petroleum Industries Minister Susil Premajayantha were engaged in the local government election campaign in the North, the government parliamentary group had decided on Tuesday morning to oppose and delay the statement till Premajayantha returns to Colombo.

Objections were raised on Dissanayake’s comment and Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa said he would announce his verdict after looking into the matter. The following day, the Speaker permitted Dissanayake to make the statement.

Finally the statement was made last Thursday (21).

After stating the background to the oil hedging deal, Dissanayake questioned the actions taken against those responsible for the deal and the amounts spent by the government on the deal.

While some government ministers have launched a campaign against public officials who are alleged to have been involved in corruption and fraud, Dissanayake says that action should also be taken against the politicians involved in such transactions as well.

Responding to the issues raised by Dissanayake, Minister Premajayantha said the government had not paid any money for the hedging deal as the ruling of the UK court was being appealed.

Meanwhile, UNP parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera said the monies to be paid by the government for the hedging deal could increase up to Rs. 50 billion if the other two foreign banks in the hedging deal filed legal action against the CPC as well.

Government “Servants”

Leftist politician Siritunge Jayasuriya has likened the role of Ministers Douglas Devananda and Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman to that of servants.

Secretary of the United Socialist Party (USP), Jayasuriya has said that Devananda and Muralithrana were no longer ministers of the government, but mere servants of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sinhala nationalist regime.

Speaking to the media in Jaffna, he said that despite the end of the war over two years ago, the people of the North who practically lived in an open-air prison, continue to be denied their freedom and democracy.

Jayasuriya said the government was not prepared to devolve power and resolve the national question.

He has added that military rule was visible in every part of the North and was now slowing spreading to the South.

Unoccupied Provincial Tax Officers Waste Public Money

Abolishing of business turnover tax from the budget 2011 has kept officers serving in the revenue departments of Provincial Councils, unoccupied and preventing them from engaging in productive work, is a waste of public money.

UNP MP Eran Wickramaratne questioned Minister of Finance and Planning last week  Parliament about the future of these state officers and the reason to keep them idling. “What prevents from absorbing these provincial revenue officers into the Department of Inland Revenue as per the recommendations dated March 7, 2011 of the Committee appointed under the chairmanship of the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue on the order of the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance to resolve the issue of the provincial revenue service?” he asked.

Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning Gitanjana Gunawardena said: “Although the Committee appointed in this regard has recommended absorbing these officers in the Revenue Departments of the Provincial Councils into the Department of Inland Revenue, the Trade Unions of the Department of the Inland Revenue have raised their objections for the same. However, discussions are being carried out with the relevant parties in this regard. In addition to the collection of business turnover tax, other duties assigned to the said officers are discharged as usual.”

In addition to these officers in question, some 372 staff grade graduates have been recruited recently to Provincial Revenue Departments based on the results of a competitive examination. According to Wickramaratne these recruits also waste time without any duties assigned to them.

Explaining the matters related to the 372 staff grade graduates Gunawardena said, “These officers have already been instructed to engage in productive services such as submitting proposals having conducted studies to identify the possible revenue sources within each province to increase the revenue at provincial level and to broaden the tax base of Nation Building Tax by way of conducting awareness programs to the tax payers in their respective provinces.”