JO wants govt to pay back illegally collected tax money

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The Joint Opposition (JO) on Tuesday urged the government to pay back the tax money illegally collected from the public during last two months following the Supreme Court suspension of VAT and NBT increases on Monday (11).

Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L Peiris told the media in Colombo that the government had no right to keep the tax money collected illegally by violating the constitution of the country. The money belonged to the public, he added.

Prof. Peiris said the Supreme Court suspended VAT and NBT increases till the final determination of the petition filed by Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa and four other petitioners, or the passage of relevant legislation by Parliament.

The Court on Monday said that Article 148 of the Constitution had been violated when the aforesaid tax rates-VAT (15%) and NBT (2%)-were put into force by the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue through a gazette notification, without proper parliamentary approval.

Accusing the government for practicing arbitrary rule in the country without considering the rule of law, Prof. Peiris said that the new taxing system put into force from May 2, 2016, but the VAT (Amendment) Bill was presented to parliament for the first reading only on July 8 and the Supreme Court issued an interim order on July 11.

Prof. Peiris questioned whether the government was unaware that the amendments to tax laws should be approved by the parliament.

Commenting on the VAT (Amendment) Bill, former Education Minister MP Bandula Gunawardene said the tax proposals through the budget 2016 was passed by a 2/3rd majority in parliament and therefore the VAT amendment bill could not be passed by simple majority but by the 2/3rd majority of the parliament.

He stressed the health sector and telecommunication should be exempted the VAT and all wholesalers and retailers with a turnover of Rs. 250 million to pay VAT.

Gunawardena noted that the President Maithripala Sirisena at an event in Polonnaruwa in April promised the public that he would not let the general public of the country face the implications of the increase in VAT and he even vowed to sack any economic advisers who did not give priority to the people’s interest.

Therefore the SLFPers in the government could not vote for the VAT amendment as it was totally opposed to the people’s interest as well as their party leader, he said adding that those who voted for the amendment were against the people’s interest.

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