Duty free car permit racket
RTI law used to expose 20 MPs, new owners

* Loss of revenue likely to exceed Rs 7 bn



By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time head of the Customs Revenue Task Force Nagananda Kodituwakku yesterday revealed that 20 vehicles which had been imported by affluent persons using vehicle permits issued to sitting members of Parliament were registered by the Commissioner General of Motor Traffic.

Appearing on Sirasa ‘Pathikada’ anchored by Bandula Jayasekera, attorney-at-law Kodituwakku said that he had obtained all relevant information pertaining to importation of the vehicles as well as their registration from Customs and Commissioner General of Motor Traffic on the basis of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Kodituwakku revealed the names of all 20 members of parliament who had sold permits as well as the buyers. He also mentioned the tax exemption received by new owners.

All members of parliament voted for the RTI Act in the wake of high profile campaign spearheaded by several NGOs.

Alleging that successive governments had allowed members to misuse duty-free vehicle permits, Kodituwakku asserted that the loss of revenue to the state could be over Rs 7 bn in case over 200 members of 225 member parliament sold their permits.

"Permits are available for Rs 25 mn in clandestine market. Each illegal import and registration deprives state of revenue amounting to Rs 33.5 mn."

Responding to a query from Jayasekera, Kodituwakku said that members of the JVP parliamentary group hadn’t so far sold duty free car permits received by them. The JVP group comprises six, including two National List members.Kodituwakku asserted that in the wake of Sirasa revelation the JVP would think twice before selling its duty free permits.

The attorney-at-law castigated all political parties represented in parliament for unashamedly abusing duty free vehicle permits at the expense of national economy. The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) could move courts against those who had abused duty free vehicle permits, Kodituwakku said.

In a separate interview with The Island, Kodituwakku emphasized that though only 20 vehicles, almost all Toyota Land Cruisers, had been registered so far, 70 vehicles were imported using duty free permits issued to members of parliament. The attorney-at-law pointed out that the identities of those who had bought the balance 50 vehicles could be revealed once they registered those vehicles.

"Thanks to RTI we can secure vital information without much trouble," Kodituwakku said.

The former top customs officer said that he had an opportunity to meet Commissioner General of Motor Traffic and discuss the issues pertaining to illegal import of vehicles.

Kodituwakku said that he had to quit Customs in late 2001 and leave the country following the detection of three vehicles imported by two senior national cricketers and an influential businessman using duty free vehicle permits issued to a hotel down South. The then administration reacted angrily and brought immense pressure on the Customs to get rid of me, attorney-at-law Kodituwakku said. The lawyer named the three persons who had imported vehicles using duty free permits issued to the hotel.

An irate Kodituwakku said that he fled the country with the intervention of the British High Commission. Kodituwakku alleged that the then administration went out of its way to sabotage the inquiry with one of the wrongdoers causing serious trouble.

Kodituwakku said that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had launched a high profile campaign against corruption. But the very government had allowed members of parliament to sell their duty free permits at the expense of the national economy.

In fact, the corrupt practice had been encouraged by successive governments to ensure members received funds to pursue luxurious lifestyles, Kodituwakku alleged.

He said the national economy needed a tremendous boost. The government couldn’t further delay taking, both short and long term tangible measures to enhance revenue to meet the deteriorating situation. There should be a comprehensive review of tax structure as well as perks and privileges given to various segments of the society, Kodituwakku said.

Responding to another query, the attorney-at-law explained ways and means of halting illegal vehicle imports when they (buyers of duty free vehicle permits issued to members of parliament) sought to open Letters of Credit at state owned or private banks.

Kodituwakku alleged that both major parties, the UNP and the SLFP as well as those who had been aligned to them were acting contrary to the laws of the country. Those who had vigorously campaigned for so called January Revolution should pressure the government to stop corruption.

Kodituwakku said that vehicles permits had been issued to MPs to make a killing as they had other means of obtaining a vehicle and in some instances two for their use.

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