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Dues from companies involved in sugar scam, still not collected!

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The Committee on Public Finance, led by Dr. Harsha de Silva expressed its’ deep dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Finance and Inland Revenue Department’s failure to collect foregone taxes from major corporations implicated in the Sugar scam, as outlined in the forensic report by the Auditor General.

During the session, the Committee underscored its disappointment with the lack of action taken by relevant authorities despite a 99.5% reduction in the Special Commodity Levy on sugar imports, as stipulated in Gazette 2197/12 dated October 13, 2020. The Committee emphasized that no accountability measures have been implemented, allowing certain large corporations to unfairly benefit from the reduced tax rate at the expense of consumers.

Report within a week

Specifically, the Committee inquired about the extent of tax collection from the implicated companies and directed the Inland Revenue Department to submit a comprehensive report within one week. The Committee aims to gain clarity on the current status of tax collection related to the Sugar scam.

Further addressing the issue, the Committee highlighted its concern over the proposed reversal of the tax policy, which aims to increase the Special Commodity Levy on sugar from LKR 0.25/Kg back to LKR 50/Kg. The Ministry of Finance’s intention to collect LKR 30 billion from the average Sri Lankan while allowing implicated corporations to evade responsibility was strongly criticized. The Committee emphasized the need to hold wrongdoers accountable before imposing additional financial burdens on the general public.

Additionally, the Committee engaged with officials from the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) to address concerns about the maximum retail price (MRP) not being adhered to by distributors. CAA officials revealed that despite conducting 342 raids and imposing fines on micro, small, and medium businesses exceeding the MRP, challenges persist in penalizing wholesale distributors due to the absence of a maximum wholesale price in the gazette.

The Committee directed the CAA to conduct a comprehensive study on the imposition of MRP, considering factors such as the Special Commodity Levy and importer prices. Furthermore, the Committee requested the CAA to propose a mechanism to address the ongoing issue of wholesale distributors selling above the MRP and engaging in fraudulent activities.

Additionally, the Committee delved into the implications of the Order under Section 22 of the Foreign Exchange Act No. 12 of 2017. This order outlines provisions designed to regulate the movement of funds and foreign exchange transactions for individuals and companies in Sri Lanka, with the overarching objective of sustaining economic stability and effectively managing foreign exchange reserves.

The migration allowance, as stipulated in the order, remains at 50,000 USD, with a reduced allowance of 20,000 USD for temporary visa holders. Officials from the Central Bank apprised the Committee of amendments to the previous gazette, including provisions allowing Sri Lankan individuals to purchase share options in their own overseas companies. Additionally, individuals are now permitted to withdraw 200,000 USD for investment in listed companies and 100,000 USD for unlisted companies.

While acknowledging these changes, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) raised concerns about the feasibility of maintaining such a low migration allowance. He questioned the officials on the prevalence of individuals resorting to unofficial channels, such as Hawala and cryptocurrencies, due to these restrictions. Furthermore, the Chairman inquired whether the officials were aware of instances where Sri Lankans were converting their rupees to USDT (cryptocurrency) through various platforms such as Binance, and subsequently transferring funds abroad or investing in cryptocurrencies. Notably, cryptocurrencies were recently recognized as an asset class by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, with the approval of Exchange-traded funds just last week.

In response to the Chairman’s queries, officials present were unaware of such occurrences and committed to conducting a thorough study into the matter. They emphasized that exchanging rupees into dollars outside formal channels is not permitted, and they will investigate the potential misuse of unofficial avenues for currency exchange and investment.

Members of Parliament – Chandima Weerakkody, Madhura Withanage, Duminda Dissanayake, Sumith Udukumbura were present at the committee meeting held.

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SL wins 1st T20I by 3 runs

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Sri Lanka won the 1st T20I match against Bangladesh by 03 runs, after a thrilling game.

Winning the toss, Bangladesh invited the visitors to bat first, where the visiting Sri Lankans scored 206/3 before limiting the Bangladesh team to 203/8.

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Fuel prices revised

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The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (Ceypetco) has announced that fuel prices will be revised with effect from midnight today (March 04).

Accordingly, prices of Petrol Octane 92 and Auto Diesel have remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, the prices of Petrol Octane 95, Super Diesel and Kerosene have been reduced.

A litre of Petrol Octane 95 has been reduced by Rs. 09 to Rs.447, while a litre of Super Diesel has been reduced Rs. 10 to Rs.458. The price of a Kerosene litre too, has been reduced by Rs. 05 to Rs. 257.

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8 Lankans trafficked to Myanmar, rescued

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The Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that 08 Sri Lankans out of the 56 trapped in cybercrime centres in Myawaddy area in Myanmar have been rescued by the Myanmar government authorities and are currently in the Myawaddy Central Police Station. 

The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Myanmar is currently working on the early repatriation of the rescued Sri Lankans. As per information made available by the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Myanmar, the 56 Sri Lankans who have been trafficked are being held in four separate locations in the Myawaddy area and the rescued eight Sri Lankans were in one of these locations in an area that could be accessed by the Myanmar government, a statement by the MFA adds.

The statement further adds : 

The rescue operation undertaken by the Myanmar government follows intensified diplomatic engagements including a communication from President Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed to the Prime Minister of Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing requesting for early intervention and support to rescue and safely repatriate the trapped nationals, which was conveyed via diplomatic channels to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar on 22 February 2024. 

In January 2024, Foreign Minister M. U. M. Ali Sabry took this issue up with the Deputy Prime Minister and Union Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar Than Swe, requesting urgent intervention to rescue Sri Lankan nationals highlighting the seriousness of the situation of the Sri Lankan victims who have been enslaved in cybercriminal activities and urging that early action be taken to rescue all the affected individuals.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in coordination with the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Myanmar continues to make every effort to rescue and repatriate all Sri Lankan nationals, who have become victims of human trafficking and are trapped in Myanmar, in close collaboration with the Myanmar government authorities. 

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