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Govt. loses tax revenue due to foreigners’ on-field gem purchases

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It was disclosed at the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Sustainable Development that there is a tendency of the government being deprived from receiving the expected tax due to the Chinese and Thai nationals illegally buying local gemstones at very low value from the market. It was further discussed that due to this, injustice is being done to gem businessmen who run their business fairly by paying taxes to the government.

This matter was taken into discussion at the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Sustainable Development as it met to discuss issues related to import, export and re-export in the Gems and Jewellery sector recently in Parliament under the Chairmanship of MP Ajith Mannapperuma.

Representatives of business associations engaged in the Gems and Jewellery sector, officials including the Chairman of the Gems and Jewellery Authority, officials from the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilization & National Policies, officials from the Sri Lanka Customs and the President’s Senior Additional Secretary (Agriculture and Environment) were called before this Committee.

MP Ajith Mannapperuma, Chair of the Committee, pointed out that the main expectation of these discussions is to work to restore the prestigious name of Sri Lankan gems among foreign countries and to get foreign exchange from the export and re-export of gems.

2.5% social security tax scrapped
Officials representing the Ministry of Finance pointed out that an amended Bill has already been submitted to Parliament to exempt the process from the 2.5% social security tax imposed on the importation of gems for re-export, and the relief is to be given to businessmen in the future. It was also revealed that even if you have to pay a tax of 2.5% while importing gems for re-export by courier, you can bring a lot of precious gems as hand luggage by paying only 200 US dollars. The businessmen also asked gem traders to consider the possibility of levying 2.5% on turnover from the 30% income tax levied on profits on gem exports.

In order to avoid the tax levied by the government on cash transactions of more than Rs.500,000/=, the gem businessmen in the field are often tempted to carry out such high value cash transactions in cash and as a result, the businessmen who transact money fairly through banks and pay taxes properly to the government have to leave the field. The Chair of the Gems and Jewellery Authority told the committee that policies are currently being formulated to regulate the encroachment of foreign nationals into the gem industry in the country, and the committee emphasized the need for immediate implementation of the relevant policies.

The jewelers demanded that the import of gold be allowed tax-free through a license based on 30% of the exporter’s previous years’ export earnings or foreign exchange earnings. Officials representing the Ministry of Finance pointed out that there is currently no import hurdle for businessmen registered with the Board of Investment to obtain a permit for temporary importation of gold for export processing. Only import of 24 carat gold jewellery has been stopped, they said.

Sri Lanka Customs officials who were present said that under the TIEP Scheme (Temporary Import for Export Processing), gold can be imported into Sri Lanka without tax by registering with the Ministry of Industries as a raw material required by jewellery businessmen. However, due to the complexity of the process, businessmen expressed their reluctance to do so.

The Committee also focused its attention on the proposal received from gem businessmen regarding the establishment of a Sri Lankan bank in China or the establishment of a Chinese bank in Sri Lanka to facilitate their business activities. The official representing the Central Bank of Sri Lanka said that “Bank of China” has been operating in Sri Lanka since 2018 and establishing a Sri Lankan bank in China is difficult in view of the economic crisis that Sri Lanka is currently facing.

MPs Akila Ellawalaa and Waruna Liyanage, were present at this Committee meeting held. 

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Draft constitution for Sri Lanka cricket board presented to president

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The draft constitution for the Sri Lanka Cricket Board, prepared by the Judge Chitrasiri Committee, was presented to President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat today (15). 

The draft was handed over by Committee Chairman, retired Supreme Court Judge K.T. Chitrasiri, alongside other committee members.

The initiative to address challenges faced by Sri Lanka Cricket and provide suitable recommendations led to the appointment of a Cabinet Sub-Committee on November 6, 2023. 

Chaired by Minister of Foreign Affairs and President’s Counsel Ali Sabry, the sub-committee included Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekara, Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara, and Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles.

After extensive discussions with stakeholders involved in cricket, the sub-committee presented its report to the Cabinet on January 8, 2024. 

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Possible extension of president’s term by one year discussed

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The “Maubima” newspaper has reported ongoing discussions about the possibility of extending the term of office of the President by one year through a two-thirds majority in Parliament, without the need for a referendum.

According to the report, parties loyal to the President have consulted legal experts, who believe there is a legal pathway to extend the presidential tenure from five to six years. 

This mirrors the constitutional change made by the 19th Amendment in 2015, which reduced the presidential term from six to five years without a referendum.

Pratibha Mahanama (lawyer), a former professor at the University of Technology Jamaica, has been cited in the news paper report, stating that just as the term was reduced without a referendum in the past, it can now be extended with a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, Article 83(b) of the Constitution stipulates that any bill extending the term of office of the President or Parliament beyond six years must be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and be subjected to a referendum.

The newspaper further mentions that if the President fails to secure a two-thirds majority, the extension could still be put to a national referendum as a matter of significant national importance.

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IMF acknowledges progress in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that there is sufficient progress for Sri Lanka’s Debt Restructuring process to move forward.

However, the IMF further said Sri Lanka’s economy is still vulnerable and the path to debt sustainability remains knife- edged hence the country need to sustain the reform momentum.

Meanwhile, joining the IMF press briefing on Sri Lanka’s second review of EFF program held virtually this morning (14), IMF Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka Peter Breuer stated that the IMF fully respect the democratic process for elections to take place in any country and they adapt to the relevant process.

Furthermore, he mentioned that the elections may affect the timing of IMF’s missions they conduct in order to discuss compliance with the programme and reforms going forward.

“We of course fully respect the democratic process for elections to take place in any country and we adapt to that process. So, this may affect a little bit the timing of our missions that we conduct in order to discuss compliance with the programme and reforms going forward”, he said.

“The elections have not been called yet. We will await that and discuss with the authorities how we can adapt our schedule to that of the elections”, Mr. Breuer added.

In response to a question raised by a journalist whether there is scope to adjust the programme and reduce taxes by a newly appointed government following the elections, the IMF Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka expressed that it is significant how the reduction in government revenues had contributed to this very severe crisis in Sri Lanka.

He further said: “I just pointed you to these two charts [in the IMF report] to tell the story how the reduction in government revenues had contributed to this very severe crisis to this very severe crisis in Sri Lanka. Re-building these revenues is an important objective of the programme in order to allow Sri Lanka to emerge from the crisis.”

“Of course here we should bring revenue closer to the expenditures that the government is facing to reduce the gap between expenditure and revenue, and that will help to make the debt sustainable again and force Sri Lanka to be able to finance itself at interest rates it can afford and the debt are sustainable.”

“More broadly speaking, we are willing to listen to different views of how the programme objectives can be reached. These need to be realistic and achievable within the time frame of the programme”, he added.

Moreover, the IMF representative also stated that the ‘Public Financial Management’ law has now been sent to Parliament, which will help to strengthen the fiscal framework and enhance fiscal responsibility.

Mr. Breuer highlighted that the law will help to ensure that the funds are being spent by the government as intended.

(adaderana.lk)
(Except for the headline, this story, originally published by adaderana.lk has not been edited by SLM staff)

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