The Island.lk: Sri Lanka: Saturday, April 08, 2017.
In spite of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed people’s right to information, in addition to the much touted Right to Information (RTI) Act, Supreme Court had to be moved recently to obtain data pertaining to duty free vehicles imported by politicians, petitioner attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku told The Island yesterday.
After having failed to secure relevant information twice late last year, the petitioner sought the Supreme Court’s intervention in accordance with Article 126 of the Constitution. Kodituwakku has, in his petition, alleged that denial of information as requested by him violated Article 14A of the Constitution and Section 3 of the Right to Information Act No 12 of 2016.
Sri Lanka adopted the 19 A on April 28, 2015 whereas the RTI came into effect on Feb 3, 2017.
Those who had recently commended Sri Lanka for securing third place in the RTI global rankings should inquire into ongoing efforts made by those in authority to withhold information, Kodituwakku stressed.
The former head of the Customs Revenue Task Force was commenting on Canada based RTI watch-dog Center for Law and Democracy (CLD) declaration of latest rankings.Mexico and Serbia secured first and second places, respectively.
Kodituwakku said that the AG had been made a party to the application in terms of Article 134 of the Constitution.
Kodituwakku said that information that had been obtained with Supreme Court intervention was brought to the notice of the apex court by way of motion ahead of the next hearing into a case against the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). The petitioner has alleged that for want of tangible measures on the part of the CIABOC following a complaint lodged in Aug 2015 the state suffered losses in revenue.
The case is scheduled to come up, before a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Priyasath Dep on May 9, 2017.
Among those who had availed the duty free facility were President Maithripala Sirisena, twice president Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. Kodituwakku said that in his petition, as he had reserved the right to furnish further material relevant to the case an authenticated document issued by the Director General of Customs regarding vehicles imported on tax-free car permits issued from 01-Jan-2016 to 05th April 2017 was submitted to the Supreme Court.
Kodituwakku commended the Commissioner General of Motor Traffic for cooperating with him in terms of the 19 A and the RTI.
The petitioner has alleged that issuance of tax-free car permits to members of parliament and their transfer to third parties have caused a colossal loss to government revenue running into several billions of rupees, while ordinary people had to bear unbearable tax burden imposed on almost every commodity, including water.
Documents recently obtained in terms of the RTI revealed that the six member JVP parliamentary group had received tax exemption amounting to Rs 30 mn (Rs 500,000 each) whereas other members received tax relief ranging from a staggering Rs 30 mn to Rs 44 mn. The following 45 members had transferred their vehicles to third parties: S. Sridharan, S. Gnanamuttu, Sisira Jayakody, S.C. Muthukumarana, Chamal Rajapaksa, S. Sivamohan, Buddhika Pathirana, Janaka Tennakoon, Vasantha Senanayake, W. L. Aluvihare, K.S.N. Perera, Ramesh Pathirana, D.T. W. W. Dissanayake, Nishantha Muthuhettigamage, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Kanchana Wijesekera, Mohan Lal Grero, Palitha Thewarapperuma, H.M.P.N. de Silva, Imran Maharoof, I.P.R.K. Wijerathne, D.V.C. Dinushan, Ven Athureliye Rathana, Vijayakala Maheswaran, Vaidivel Suresh, Lakshman Kiriella, S. Senathirajah, P.M..K.A.S. Jayarathne, Dilum Amunugama, Lohan Ratwatte, Udaya Gammanpila B.H. Wijepala, S. Premarathne, P.S. Fernandopulle, Lakshman Seneviratne, G.V. Wijithmuni Zoysa, Kabir Hashim, Shehan A. Semasinghe, Nimal Lanza, P. Wanniarachchi, R.D. Priyantha Asoka, B.A. Wijitha, B.P. Ranaweera, M.S. Thowfeek and N. Sivasakthy. The document made available by the Commissioner General of Motor Traffic contained names of new owners.
Kodituwakku said that the actual number of members of parliament who had sold their vehicles was certainly higher than 45. According to him, many vehicles could have been sold without transferring the ownership.