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Call fresh tenders for security features on liquor bottles: House committee

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The Parliamentary Ways and Means Committee has recommended that the Excise Department call a fresh tender for a new security feature for liquor bottles following widespread issues over the current security sticker supplied by an Indian company.

The Committee, which presented its first report to Parliament this week, identified many issues related to the implementation of the security feature, Committee Chairman Patali Champika Ranawaka told the Sunday Times. “The security sticker is supposed to be foolproof but we found that it has been widely forged,” he said.

The Indian company, Madras Security Printers (MSP), won the contract in 2018 to supply security stickers to be printed on liquor bottles.

Acting on instructions from the Ways and Means Committee, the Excise Department has been carrying out island-wide raids over the past few weeks to take into custody liquor bottles suspected to contain fake security stickers. The scam is believed to have resulted in the loss of millions of rupees in tax revenue to the Excise Department.

As of Friday (8), 43,776 liquor bottles that were taken into custody have been confirmed to contain fake security stickers. Fines amounting to Rs. 43.4 million have been imposed for bottles that have been identified, Excise Commissioner Kapila Kumarasinghe told the Sunday Times.

The fine consists of compounding fees, defaulted excise charges and late fees.

Tests are continuing to identify whether other bottles taken into custody from the market also contain fake security stickers.

The vast majority of liquor bottles found with fake security stickers were 180ml bottles, according to officials.

The cost of a genuine security sticker is Rs. 1.80. The tax revenue that is lost to the government through a fake security sticker however, is Rs. 2,900 each for a large 750ml liquor bottle, Mr. Ranawaka said.

He noted that the Ways and Means Committee had identified several other shortcomings in the usage of the security sticker. The primary concern was that there was no homogenous identification system for all 23 liquor manufacturing companies. Four companies, including two that account for 73% of the liquor market share, are using a digital image feature while others are using the security sticker. The companies using the digital feature have argued that pasting security stickers is not practical for them due to their speedy production process. Accordingly, Cabinet approval had been granted in 2021 enabling the usage of either a paper-based foolproof sticker or digital image print in the liquor bottles.

The Committee, however, has recommended that the Excise Department take measures to include all liquor manufacturers in the system of using the security tax stamp.

The current security sticker system is also not customer-friendly, with only Excise Department officials having the technology to identify genuine stickers from fake ones. As such, the Committee has recommended the introduction of a mobile application with QR-based technology to enable customers to easily identify fake security stickers. Accordingly, a customer must be able to scan the QR code on the security sticker to verify whether the product they are purchasing is genuine or not.

Given the issues regarding delays in tax collection, the Committee has also called for the introduction of an automatic taxation system enabling immediate tax collection after the completion of the production process.

“We have made our recommendations (to call for a fresh tender). The decision is up to the Finance Ministry. If it does not call a fresh tender in line with the recommendations we have made, it will have to explain to us why,” said Mr. Ranawaka.

Meanwhile, the Ways and Means Committee has further recommended that the government expedite the establishment of an Integrated Revenue Management System (IRMS) which links different government agencies including the Excise Department.

Attempts to contact Finance State Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitya proved futile.

(sundaytimes.lk)

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Man arrested over selling overpriced Vadai to tourist

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The Tourist Police in Moragolla has arrested a man over selling an overpriced Vadai and tea to a foreign  tourist in Kalutara.

Footage of the incident had sparked public ire after going viral online.

It has been revealed that the suspect is a 60 year old residing in Kalutara and is usually seen loitering near the eatery.

Police say that investigtations have revealed that he had duped foreigners visiting the eatery many times.

He is to be produced before the Kalutara Magistrate Court tomorrow (April 19).

It is also reported that officials of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) and the Moragolla Tourist police have also arrived at the eatery, and sternly advised the owner after questioning him.

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NPP’s 7-point statement on Easter attacks, presented to the Cardinal

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The National People’s Power (NPP) today (April 18) presented to Archbishop of Colombo – Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, their 7-point statement pledging to mete out justice to the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks.

The statement included key points such as implementing law against those responsible for the attacks so as to mete out justice to those who lost lives in the attacks and family members of the victims and to take action against those who were directly or indirectly involved in the attacks.

NPP members Professor Krishantha Abeysinghe, Attorney-at-Law Sunil Watagala, President’s Counsel Upul Kumarapperuma, Rohan Fernando and Aruna Shantha Nonis participated in the occasion.

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IMF ready to support Sri Lanka’s discussions with bondholders

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stands ready to support Sri Lanka’s discussions with international bondholders and will provide a formal assessment after the parties reach a tentative agreement-in-principle, an IMF spokesperson said on Thursday.

“We hope an agreement consistent with the parameters of the IMF-supported program and official creditors’ Comparability of Treatment requirements can be reached soon, ahead of completing the second review under the program,” the spokesperson said.

Sri Lanka said it failed to reach an agreement with bondholders to restructure about $12 billion debt earlier this week, raising concerns there could be a delay in the island nation receiving a third tranche of its $2.9 billion IMF program in June.

The government said one of the main stumbling blocks had been that the “baseline parameters” of the bondholders’ plan had not matched those embedded in its IMF program.

“We encourage both parties to continue their discussions swiftly,” the IMF statement added.

Sri Lanka will consult with the IMF to assess if the latest proposals discussed with bondholders were within the parameters of its bailout program.
The island nation defaulted on its foreign debt in May 2022 and kicked off negotiations with bilateral creditors several months later, eventually securing an agreement in principle with China, India and the Paris Club last November.

Sri Lanka plunged into its worst financial crisis since independence from the British in 1948 after its foreign exchange reserves fell to record lows in early 2022, leaving it unable to pay for essentials including fuel, cooking gas, and medicine.

(Reuters) 

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