‘Why tax public to recover losses caused by MPs?’

Duty-free vehicle permit racket"


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Public litigation activist Nagananda Kodituwakku has alleged that the government has imposed as much as 300 per cent tax on the cheapest Indian car to offset massive loss of revenue due to controversial duty free car permits scheme issued for the benefit of members of Parliament.

Kodituwakku has drawn the attention of the Supreme Court to the injustice caused to those wanting to procure cheapest vehicles when the apex court heard a petition seeking its intervention to ensure a credible CIABOC (Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption) probe into members of parliament abusing duty free car permit scheme.

Kodituwakku sought the SC’s intervention on Dec 19, 2016 on the basis of his complaint to CIABOC made during President’s Counsel Additional Solicitor Gen Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe’s tenure there as Director General and not inquired into.The bench comprised Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, Anil Gooneratne and Upali Abeyratne.

Kodituwakku has asked whether the deplorable practice should be allowed to continue any further. The lawyer underscored the responsibility on the part of the judiciary to take remedial measures to prevent excesses by the executive and the legislature.

Senior Deputy Solicitor General Viraj Dayaratne has reassured the court that the CIABOC would certainly inquire into the Kodituwakku’s complaint received by the institution on Aug 19, 2016. Dayaratne reiterated CIABOC’s commitment on behalf the Attorney General.

Kodituwakku has reminded that the people had the right to move SC against the CIABOC if the institution failed in its primary responsibility.

The former senior Customs officer said that people had lost faith in CIABOCm especially in the wake of the institution filing bogus corruption charges in Colombo Chief Magistrate court against the then Chief Justice, 43, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake during the Rajapaksa administration. After enabling the Rajapaksa government to use the unsubstantiated corruption allegations to impeach Dr. Bandaranayake, the CIABOC withdrew accusations.

Kodituwakku called for specific SC directive to CIABOC in respect of probe into MPs’ duty free car permit scheme as it was the most corrupt in the country.

Kodituwakku said at the time he lodged a complaint with the CIABOC on Aug 19, 2016, only two members had sold their duty free vehicles. For want of tangible action on the part of the CIABOC about 100 vehicles imported under the same scheme had been sold causing a revenue loss of over Rs 3 bn, the former head of the Customs Revenue Task Force said.

The lawyer urged the SC to examine the losses caused by parliamentarians against the backdrop of the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake asserting in his budget speech in Nov 2015 that the issue of duty free permits including to members of parliament caused a staggering revenue loss of about Rs 40 bn.

Unfortunately, the same government had made available duty free car permits to all members in January, February and March 2016 without following proper procedure, lawyer Kodituwakku said, adding that the former FM Karunanayake issued the relevant gazette notification in May 2016 after he (Kodituwakku) raised the issue.

Kodituwakku explained that the government had acted contrary to the Section 148 of the Constitution. The parliament couldn’t deprive itself of the responsibility in levying of taxes as well as exemption of levies, Kodituwakku said, pointing out that in the absence of relevant gazette notification the permits issued to members of parliament weren’t worth the paper they were written on.

Kodituwakku further alleged that members had sold their vehicles in contravention of the Excise (Special Provisions) Act (No 13 of 1989) much to the detriment of the national economy. The law expressly prohibited those who had received tax benefits from selling vehicles before they repaid the entire benefit received from the state, Kodituwakku said. The lawyer also explained the failure on the part of those responsible to adhere with the Fiscal Management (Responsibility) Act (No 3 of 2003) and the deterioration of state financial sector.

The SC was told how President Maithripala Sirisena and his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, had imported vehicles in Oct and Sept, 2016, respectively on invalid permits issued in early 2016. However, Messrs Sirisena and Rajapaksa hadn’t been among politicians who had transferred their vehicles according to records obtained by Kodituwakku from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles (RMV) on the basis of the Right to Information Act. The list of members who had sold their vehicles was submitted to SC judges during the proceedings.

Kodituwakku also pointed out how UNP Chairman Kabir Hashim had sold his vehicle after publicly assuring that the party wouldn’t tolerate corruption.

Pleading for SC intervention, Kodituwakku said that judiciary was duty bound to protect, vindicate and enforce people’s judicial power under Section 105 of the Constitution.

The lawyer revealed how a Deputy Minister (UNP) recently met him in his chambers to explain how he sold duty free vehicle for Rs 22.5 mn and spent part of that money for some public projects.

Kodituwakku also revealed how the government used corruption accusations made by him against Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe for refusing to investigate duty free permit racket to target her. Additional Solicitor Gen Sarath Jayamanne succeeded Wickramasinghe after the latter quit in protest against President Sirisena’s outburst. Kodituwakku explained how members of parliament representing all political parties brazenly abused laws for their benefit.

Having listened to Kodituwakku’s submission, Chief Justice Dep rejected the petition on the grounds that the SC wouldn’t issue directive to CIABOC as it had given an undertaking to have the complaint investigated.

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