Parliament

New industrial zones to rev up economic performance - PM

Over 30 investors pledge for Bingiriya EPZ already

Cement factory, oil refinery for Hambantota

Steel factory to begin work at Trinco EPZ

The country’s economic performance will make strides with the planned industrial zones in Bingiriya, Hambantota and Trincomalee, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament yesterday.

He was speaking towards the end of the Budget debate when the House took up the Expenditure Heads of the Ministries coming under his purview. Countering the claims by UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena that the golden era of the economy was under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the PM reminded the House how the income from garments and textile exports dropped sharply during the period from 2004-2014.

The PM pointed out that it was Bangladesh which got a golden era due to drop in garment exports from Sri Lanka. The PM, observing that the country was debt-ridden when he assumed duties in 2015, said that the situation has gradually been improved with much difficulty.

“Due to the restraint policies we followed, we even lost many local government bodies. This was because we told the truth during the difficult period. However, today we have a surplus in our Primary Account after 70 years. Then what is the golden era of the country, the era where the debt was increased or the era where we made a surplus in the Primary Account?” he asked.

“Despite economic woes, we increased allocations for the Health, Education and Higher Education sectors thinking of the future of the country. Today there are smart classrooms. We built houses for those without shelter and plan to give outright ownership of lands to the people. On March 4, we opened the Bingiriya Export Processing Zone, and already about 30 investors have expressed intent to put up industries. It includes an investment of USD 100 million to put up a fabric industry. Towards the end of this month, we will open another EPZ larger than Bingiriya. The country’s second oil refinery will come up in Hambantota after 1967. A cement factory will also be built and soon we will turn around Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport to be busy destinations in the region. In two-months, we will commence the EPZ in Trincomalee with an investment for a steel factory.What did the UPFA did in the golden era it claims?” he added.

“Today we can have a hope on the future. In 2025, there will be a better country. We will not give away our opportunities to Singapore, Bangladesh or Maldives,” he commented.

The Prime Minister during the course of his speech also replied to allegations made by UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara.

UPFA MP Nanayakkara posing a series of questions at the PM queried on the Central Bank Bonds scam and the sale of oil bunkering facility of the Port of Colombo operated by state owned Lanka Marine Services Ltd to John Keells Holdings.

“There was a personal attack on me by MP Nanayakkara. All I am asking him is to read the Bond Commission reports where there is nothing against me. Then he accused the Speaker, me and others over the Lanka Marine Services case. The Cabinet decision in that regard was taken on August 17, 2000 by the then Government. Neither you nor I were ministers then. The Public Enterprise Reform Commission that was in charge after we formed the Government was responsible for implementing it. We did not reverse it, that responsibility we take. The Supreme Court held that the Public Enterprise Commission went beyond the decision of August 2000. The Minister in charge was then Economic Reform Minister Milinda Moragoda. The Supreme Court has commented on the Public Enterprise Commission which was headed by non-other than P B Jayasundera. What is MP Nanayakkara talking of me or the BoI or the Port Authority or Speaker Karu Jayasuriya?” asked the PM.

“I would like to ask MP Nanayakkara if he stands by what he said about the Lanka Marine Services shares. Then why did he say ‘Sir’ to P. B. Jayasundera when he was a minister and the latter was the Secretary to the Treasury?” the PM questioned.

Referring to a report in a daily English newspaper which said that the share market has fallen because the economy was not doing well, the PM clarified that the share market and economic performances have nothing to do with each other. “Basically the share market works in a very volatile situation. As far as the economy is concerned, we are doing well. The Share Market went up when our debt went up and the EPF money was pumped into it regardless who got it. After October 26 political crisis, people have pulled out of the Share Market, but as the economy has taken a turn for the better similarly I think the Share Market will gradually pick up.We have asked the EPF to come back to the Share Market, but that will be done under strict safe guards to ensure what happened last time does not happen this time,” he explained.

The Expenditure Heads of the National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skills Development and Youth Affairs Ministry held by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was passed without a division in Parliament yesterday. The Ministry has been allocated Rs 98 billion.

The Prime Minister was present in the Chamber throughout the debate. No UPFA MP was present in the chamber towards the end of the debate.


Vasudeva wants Cabraal’s ‘report’ tabled: PM objects

PM says Cabraal under investigation in forensic audit

 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe objected to MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara wanting to table a ‘report’ by former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal in Parliament yesterday.

“Cabraal is under investigation and a forensic audit is being conducted on actions taken during his tenure and you can’t include a document in the Hansard without the authority of this House,” he said in response to MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s request to have a report by the former Central Bank Governor tabled.

The Prime Minister said he had no objection to a Supreme Court document being tabled, but his objection was against the tabling of Cabraal’s report. “We object to a report by a person who is now under investigation where the commission has said to look into the whole forensic investigation.

However, MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara in response to the Prime Minister’s objection asked, “Why are you so afraid of Ajith Nivard Cabraal’s report? None of us knew that there was an investigation being done on Cabraal.That is nothing to that effect before us or you.This report is what was presented to the Bond Commission inquiry. If the Bond Commission accepted it, how can you say it can’t be included in the Hansard?” Nanayakkara queried.

In response, the Prime Minister said, “I have raised the issue and finished, you can defer it to the Speaker.”

Joining the Committee stage budget debate Joint Opposition MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara raised several questions directed at the Prime Minister. “These questions I hope will be taken in the spirit I pose them with no malice but with the highest interest of the public and country,” he said.

“I wish to ask the Prime Minister;

l Whether he did not assure this House and the Bond Commission inquiry regarding the trustworthiness and credentials of Arjuna Mahendran, do you still maintain your position or do you not and are you aware that the Bond Commission observed that you should not have placed trust in Arjuna Mahendran?

l Did you not insist on Arjuna Mahendran’s appointment as Governor of the Central Bank disregarding President Maithripala Sirisena’s strong objections? And did you want the President to re-appoint Mahendran for a second term even after the Bond scam? Does this not explain why you deliberately brought the Central Bank under your purview?

lBy your assurance given to the Cabinet and the President did you not take personal responsibility for the honesty and trustworthiness of Arjuna Mahendran and did you assure this House that if necessary you would have Mahendran brought at any given time? Can you account for this statement now?

l Did Mahendran play a role from his safe heaven even in these recent days to find foreign fund resources to the Central Bank at 8% interest?

l Did you appoint the committee comprised of some lawyers known to you to go into the Bond scam who returned a verdict of not guilty regarding Mahendran, while the COPE Committee under the Chairmanship of DEW Gunasekara and later Sunil Handunnetti found Arjuna Mahendran to be thickly involved in the Bond scam?

lLater did the AG and the Bond Commission find that Mahendran was the principal actor in the Bond scam which resulted in the immediate gain of Rs.16 billion to Perpetual Treasuries which correspondingly was a loss to the public and the government?

I wish to refer to the excellent report of Ajith Nivard Cabraal the former Governor of the Central Bank in which he explains the cascading effects of the losses to the country, and which report he submitted to the Bond Commission inquiry. I would like to table this report for the benefit of those who would not have listened to the details contained in it.

l Did Sujeewa Senasinghe file a case in court at your instance to prevent the report by DEW Gunasekara being made public? This obviously was to conceal your involvement in it as the report clearly states that Arjuna Mahendran in his evidence states that he did so on your instructions.

l Are you aware that I made a complaint against you in the Bribery and Corruption Commission to the effect that you are the main suspect who colluded with Mahendran in the Bond scam and have you been questioned up to date? I suppose your answer would be No. I certainly don’t think that you did all this for personal gains for yourself. But your involvement and element of dishonesty in that involvement is presently to be explained by you even though none was for your personal gain.

l Is not Arjuna Mahendran your great and intimate friend and does he continue to be so? Do you seriously say you don’t know his whereabouts now?

l Were you not the third respondent in my petition to the Supreme Court in SCFR No. 209 of 2007 which led to the Supreme Court declaring that the sale of oil bunkering facility of the Port of Colombo operated by state owned Lanka Marine Services Ltd to John Keells Holdings was wrongful, illegal and fraudulent?

l Did you not appear through counsel to take up primary objections to this case being taken up by Supreme Court as COPE was also inquiring into the matter at that time?

l Did not the Supreme Court judgement in 2008 overrule your preliminary objections and proceeded to hear and adjudicate upon the above case?

l Had not the Supreme Court judgement in page 68 as follows; all agreements entered into between the BOI and Lanka Marine Services Ltd are declared null and void and that the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue is directed to recover all taxes due on the basis that such agreements had not been in force.

l Do you not admit that Mahendran was the then BOI Chairman who gave such illegal and fraudulent approvals to John Keells on the purchase of bunkering facilities at the Port of Colombo owned and operated by Lanka Marine Services Ltd and what influence did you have in making this decision?

l Dies not the judgement on page 3 state as follows; It is further stated that in a collateral proceedings John Keells Holdings received tax free status for its investment in Marine Services from the BOI that since the applicable regulations did not cover the agreement entered into, John Keells got the regulations amended and a fresh agreement entered into by the BOI thus it was alleged that privatisation was lopsided and moved in the reverse direction of public enterprise reform by converting a tax paying public enterprise into a tax free private enterprise and claimed a monopoly in the relevant business?

l Do you not admit that Marine Services shares had been sold to John Keells Holdings for only Rs. 1200 million which was a ridiculous valuation? The profit of Lanka Marine Services as given on page 21 of the judgement, from 2002 to 2006 was a total of Rs. 2468 million.Thereby in four years John Keells had recovered their purchase price.

l Do you admit that the Department of Inland Revenue has recovered the taxes due from John Keells as directed by the Supreme Court?

l In view of the foregoing facts do you not admit that Mahendran had been found by the Supreme Court to be a fraudulent manipulator, which important and relevant fact you had knowingly supressed from this House and before the Bond Commission which tantamount to giving false evidence? Then why did you place such credibility on the man’s conduct when you were seeking for him the appointment as the Central Bank Governor?

l Do you not admit that you as the then Prime Minister had pressurised the Chairman of the Ports Authority Parakrama Dissanayake to sign the above agreement for the sale of Lanka Marine Services?

l Do you not admit that the monopoly clause in the agreement had been struck down by the court of appeal as illegal, while the Cabinet paper had been submitted by the then Minister Karu Jayasuriya who was the second respondent in my case?

l Do you admit that the fourth respondent in my case was former President Chandrika Kumaratunge and that she had signed an illegal transfer of 8 ½ acres of the Port Authority Land for Rs. 1199.4 million, but which money had not been received by the Treasury although she had confirmed under her signature that this money had been paid? The Treasury has replied in response to a query by the COPE that this money has not been received.

l Up to now the forensic audit has not even commenced by the Central Bank which is under your purview and we like to know why?

lWhat will the AG do in view of all this evidence I have placed before the House? Will the Speaker report the Prime Minister before the Privileges Committee for lying to this House deliberately and being dishonest which will impinge on the dignity of this House?”

Nanayakkara wanted all the documents he had on this matter to be tabled and included in the Hansard to which the Prime Minister objected. Prime Minister said this is not a matter to be included in the Hansard.


Foundation laid to build knowledge based market - Dr. Harsha

As the National Policies, Economic Affairs Minister, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has laid the foundation to change the entire economic structure of the country.That is why we have taken measures to build a competitive knowledge based market as the hub of the Indian Ocean, Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Non Cabinet Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said.

He made this statement during the committee stage budget debate yesterday.

National policies, economic affairs, resettlement and rehabilitation, Northern development, vocational training and skills development and youth Affairs expenditure heads were taken up for debate yesterday.

“The economic growth rate in 2012 was 9.2% and by 2013 it had crashed to 3.5% and it is still at around 4%. The country is stuck in a middle income trap and much has to be done to come out of it. Therefore, In order to equip the younger generation to face the future we have initiated a loan scheme for those who want to continue their higher studies amounting to Rs. 1.1 million payable in 12 years. They don’t have to pay anything for two years after they obtain their degree,” he said.

Responding to MP Bandula Gunawardena he said while the previous regime had taken loans for the development of Hambantota at 6.3% while the current government had taken a loan to build the light rail service and the loan to construct the Kelaniya Bridge at only 0.1%. “The problem here is that loans are taken on bullet payment, ISB, Syndicate commercial loans. In 2005 during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, commercial interest loans stood at US$ 238.5 million, but by the end of his tenure by the end of 2014, it had shot up to $5024 million by the time we took over. Which means it is 21 times more. This was the outstanding by December 31, 2014. By the end of 2019, the outstanding will be US$ 11,994 million. Over the past four years it has increased by 2.3% in comparison to the increase of 21% during the previous government’s tenure.”

Similarly, he said there is a lot of work which is being undertaken by the National Policies Ministry, adding that the Northern Province would be developed and more lands will also be released. The government has also taken measures to build more houses, while the Kankesanthurai harbour will also be developed. He noted that the Jaffna water supply project and the Valachchenai Paper factory and several other programmes would also be carried out.

He noted that prior to the elections Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa spoke much about an electric chair and how if Maithripala Sirisena is elected as the President, he would be taken to the electric chair. “Now he need not worry about is as we have resolved the electric chair matter.”

He said instead of looking through coloured glasses all citizens should be accorded similar rights. “That is what our government stands for.”


Pornography racket, abuse ,violence rampant in North - JVP

There is a pornography racket in the Northern Province. Women and children in the Northern Province are being subjected to this sinister racket of producing pornography films sponsored by members of the same community who live overseas and return to the country, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Bimal Rathnayake said.

“This is a tragedy. Remember the rape and murder of a school girl in Punguduthivu? That was not just a rape. The rapists filmed the brutal incident and they got paid for it. Incidents similar to that are happening in the Northern Province and it is an open secret now.The real tragedy is that this racket is sponsored by the members of their own community who live abroad and return to the country occasionally. They sponsor people to rape women and children and to film the incidents. Then they sell those video tapes as pornography and earn heavily,” Rathnayake revealed.

Rathnayake who participated in the Committee Stage Debate of the Appropriation Bill 2019 on Ministry of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skill Development and Youth Affairs on behalf of the JVP, said the land issues of the Northern people has become an issue that has gained international attention.

Highlighting the plight of the widows in the North, the JVP MP pointed out that the government’s definition of a ‘war widow’ is not correctly classified. “It is recorded that in the North there are 90,000 widows and 38,000 of them are from Jaffna. When I consulted a women’s activist in the area she said that at least 50,000 of them are below the age of 40.They are undergoing great hardships and sexual harassment every day.During the years of the bloody war both man and women got married at a very young age, to avoid being recruited to fight in the war.”

There are shortcomings in this definition by the government. Most of these people did not have time to register marriages and obtain marriage certificates during the war. Therefore, they did not have proof of their. It is the same in divorce where after the war ended, many men have left their wives and children and moved on.

 

 

 

 



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