Speaker to review vote on tax bills
Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara is to reconsider the fate of the five financial bills passed in Parliament under controversial circumstances on Thursday.“I need time to study the fate of the five bills before signing them,” Mr. Lokubandara told The Sunday Times yesterday throwing open the possibility that the Bills intended to raise taxes on mobile phones, tobacco, and vehicles, may have to go back to Parliament’s Order Paper.
He said he had acted according to his conscience on Thursday and believed that the bills were passed with a majority vote, before he made the announcement of approval.
Opposition UNP and JVP MPs questioned the voting procedure and accused the Speaker of bungling. They maintain that none of the five bills imposing direct and indirect taxes on the people was duly passed.
The Speaker said he would never be biased towards the opposition or the government, but had admitted he was under pressure from both sides of the House.
Meanwhile, the main opposition UNP is to write to mobile phone
companies, distributors of air conditioners, washing machines, paints, tobacco, cigarettes and vehicle importers saying the proposed tax increases are illegal as proper procedures had not been followed in passing the bills.
Opposition Chief Whip Joseph Michael Perera told The Sunday Times the letter would be sent out to companies within the next few days and the party would take further action till the bills were taken up again for voting in parliament.
This came after Speaker Lokubandara told the UNP and the JVP on Friday that he was willing to discuss their proposal of taking up the five bills again, despite on Friday declaring in Parliament that the Bills were considered to have been passed.
Mr. Perera said there was still an opportunity to follow the proper procedures to pass the bills, if the Speaker had not placed his signature on them and therefore the party hoped the dispute could be taken up and sorted by party leaders.
Mr. Perera said the bill to increase taxes on mobile phones had been passed through a process of electronic voting which was not tested for accuracy while the other four bills were not taken up for a second reading as required by standing orders.
He said standing orders needed to be amended before the electronic voting system was used.
The crisis and confusion were further confounded when a dispute arose as to whether the tax imposed on mobile phones was 7.5 per cent or 10 per cent as Telecommunication Minister Rauff Hakeem was due to move an amendment on the proposed increase, but did not do so.
The JVP also is taking up the position that the bills are not legally valid as proper procedures were not followed. It has called on the Speaker to reconsider his stance.
JVP parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayaka told The Sunday Times the party was also planning to propose amendments, but they did not get an opportunity to do so as the bills were passed hurriedly.
The party would also launch a campaign against the taxes.
Defending the government, non-cabinet finance minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said that all five bills had been duly passed and would be implemented after the Speaker signed them.
Asked about the UNP’s move to write to mobile phone and other companies telling them that the taxes were not legal, the minister said all companies would have to abide by the law.