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22nd November 1998

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Taxman causes panic in banks

Bankers and customers have expressed shock and alarm over a directive from the Inland Revenue Department to all commercial banks, requesting a list of names of customers who have more than Rs.100,000 in their deposits.

The tax department says the order is intended to track down tax defaulters, but bankers say it is a blatant violation of basic banking principles and could ruin the whole industry.

Bankers and customers say there are hundreds of tax payers who have genuine fixed deposits or savings accounts of more than Rs. 100,000 and they are fully entitled to the confidentiality provided in terms of traditional bank ethics. To consider all these depositors as possible tax defaulters would be an insult and an injustice while it also might drive people into the black money market.

The Bankers Association comprising all commercial banks has fired off a tough letter to the tax department, pointing out that one of the foundations of the whole industry is the principle of confidentiality with the customer.

The association's secretary general, Gaston Gunewar-dane, told The Sunday Times that he agreed there were many tax defaulters, but trying to track them down through the banks and violating basic banking principles were both unfair and unacceptable.

"We know of heavy tax evasion. But the department is trying to tackle it in the wrong way. We have protested to the commissioner general and are awaiting a favourable reply," he said.

Hatton National Bank Managing Director Rienzie Wijetilleke told The Sunday Times the department was mistaken if it thought the banks could play the role of tracking down tax defaulters while promoting banking in the country.

"By this order we will be only asking the people not to save their money. The customers will decide to keep their money at home. It will be unproductive, causing a severe blow to the country's economy and development process," said the HNB chief whose bank is acknowledged as one of the best and most innovative in the country.

A Sampath Bank official said there was unanimity among bankers that the department must withdraw this proposal before thousands of customers withdraw their savings in what could be major setback to the economy.

While bankers were speaking out strongly, the tax department is also refusing to budge.

Tax chief O M Weerasuriya told the Sunday Times that according to Inland Revenue laws the department had every right to request such information from banks.

Bank sources said they were ready to comply with such a request if it was for an individual case where some criminal activity was involved or in the greater national interest. But to seek general information on all depositors in violation of the main code of banking was absurd.

Students lose 3 days in South

By Shelani de Silva

Upto 10 schools in Matara and Tangalle were closed for three days and their furniture taken for an SLFP Convention presided over by President Kumaratunga last week, residents and officials said.

The schools including Tangalle Balika Maha Vidyalaya and Tangallle Maha Vidyalaya which are national schools were closed from November 10 to 12, provoking protest by parents and others.

Some schools were used to accommodate the large number of police personnel deployed. It is learnt that the chairs and tables taken from some schools had not been returned even by Wednesday [17] .

The Education Ministry has directed all the schools that were closed for three days to have classes on Saturdays to cover the syllabus.

Attanagalle Balika Vidyalaya principal Ms. H Amaraweera told the Education Ministry had told them to close.

She said the school was used to accommodate the police and the chairs were taken for the meeting.

Meanwhile the Socialist Students Union while protesting against the closure of schools said the Government had violated the rule which laid down that schools could be used only for national events and not for political meetings.

Not only schools, private buses also came to a standstill for the political convention.

According to an official of the Tangalle Private Bus Association on November 11 the government had deployed several CTB Buses to transport people for the meeting. Since the Private bus owners were not aware of the arrangements several buses had decided to stop services since they were running at a loss.

Principal assaulted over admission

A principal of a national school in Negombo has been assaulted and lies seriously injured in an incident which he claims is connected to his efforts to stop corrupt practices in school admission.

H. Jayaratna, (49) Principal of Harischandra Maha Vidyalaya, Negombo was attacked by two men on Tuesday close to his house at Minuwangoda as he was taking his daughter to a school van. The principal in a plaster cast at the Ragama hospital told 'The Sunday Times' he suspected that an organised group with political backing was trying to oust him from the school and appoint a person whom they wanted.

The country's main organisation for Principals the Sri Lanka Educational Administrative Service Principals' Union on Friday declared they would take a serious view of the matter and decide on action next week.

The victim Mr. Jayaratna said that earlier an unidentified gang had flung a hand grenade at the school name board and damaged it. Two days after the attack unknown people also threatened the watcher of the school warning him to be careful, reports said.

Did minister get the gangster out?

By Chris Kamalendran

Has a senior minister flouted a presidential directive,by interfering in the police arrest and investigation of an underworld criminal?

Minister A.H.M. Fowzie is alleged to have sought police chief Lucky Kodituwakku's intervention to get a most wanted gang lord who was involved in a series of murders, and arms supplies to the underworld released from custody.

Two days after his arrest and detention the gangster was produced before a Magistrate's Court and released.

Minister Fowzie told 'The Sunday Times' yesterday he had only sought the IGP's intervention as the suspect had allegedly been beaten up mercilessly and as he wanted an impartial inquiry into this assault case.

In the recent past a gang self-named Maligawatte Muslim Liberation Front is alleged to have been operating with the protection of a PA Municipal Councilor. It was alleged that when this member was attending a Colombo Municipal meeting, his hidden pistol fell inside the Council but no action was taken .

The so-called front has allegedly committed more than 20 killings in Maligawatte and Grandpass Police areas during. the past ten months.

In August .this year the Grandpass Police arrested seven members of the gang and found a large cache of arms and ammunition at a hideout in Grandpass. However they were later released on the intervention of a local politician.

The ganglord was taken into custody on November 13 by the Maradana Police from a hideout at Maligawatte and was detained under a Detention Order. It is alleged that the Minister's son called the Maradana Police and told them to settle the matter. But the Police bluntly refused .

Later on Minister Fowzie had allegedly spoken to the IGP and wanted the suspect released. It's on the Minister's request that the IGP had sent a senior Police Officer from the Colombo North division to get the suspect released.Police sources said.

The suspect had made a statement to the Maradana Police that he had weapons in his possession and would show them the hideout, they added

Meanwhile the OIC in charge of the Crimes division, Sub Inspector Nalin Jayasundara who was responsible for the arrest of the seven suspects has been transferred with immediate effect . He had served in operational areas for two and half years and returned to Colombo only last year.

SC allows UNP organiser's petition

A UNP woman Provincial Council candidate who claims her rights of freedom of speech, publication and peaceful assembly have been violated, has been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in a fundamental rights petition.

This application filed by Srimani Wickramasinha, will be taken up on May 5, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled.

Ms. Wickramasinha says that on October 10 she organsied a meeting in Attanagalla as part of a series of countrywide meetings by the UNP to protest against the postponement of provincial elections.

She had written to the police asking for security but nothing was provided.

In the evening, outsiders had arrived and allegedly demanded that the meeting be stopped, on the grounds that she had no right to hold a meeting in the Attangalla electorate.

She resisted but they disrupted the meeting and assaulting her with a rubber cable, Ms. Wickremasinha says.

PA faces split: CP hits out

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

The Communist Party in an unprecedented move has called on the ruling People's Alliance to convert itself into a more democratic institution which regularly consults and sincerely respects the views of the smaller constituent parties.

The CP's tough warning came as other PA constituents such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress were also asking whether the smaller parties were only worthy in terms of votes and whether President Kumaratunga consulted them only when it came to voting.

The United Lalith Front and Lanka Sama Samaja Party have also expressed concern over the lack of consultation and the superior attitude towards the smaller parties.

ULF sources said the working committee of the party had decided not to support the PA while the SLMC is to meet tomorrow to decide what action to take regarding what it sees as indifference or the sidelining of smaller parties in the decision-making process.

SLMC General Secretary Rauf Hakeem said the PA had left his party out of many discussions.

"To the PA, small parties are only worthy in terms of votes. Only when it comes to votes does the President consult us," he complained.

Mr. Hakeem said that in recent months the PA leadership had been ignoring the socialist parties in the alliance and if that was the case they would not remain in the alliance because the SLMC shared similar views with the socialists, who make the difference between the UNP and the PA.

Communist Party Secretary Raja Collure told The Sunday Times that the party was concerned of the manner in which the affairs of the alliance were conducted.

'Look at what we are, not where we came from'

By S.S.Selvanayagam

Any people living legitimately in this county are entitled to full human rights and dignity whether they be indigenous people or immigrants, Minister and CWC leader S. Thondaman has said.

He was referring to President Kumaratunga's recent comments on South African television where she said the Tamil people were not originally from Sri Lanka. The comments have set off a heated debate with several Tamil leaders attacking the President.

"Why should we bother about what she said when we are strong and as long as we are on a good wicket?" Mr. Thondaman said.

Mr.Thondaman who is a cabinet minister in the PA government was commenting on President Kumaratunga's controversial statement made in the course of an interview to two South African TV channels during her visit in September.

He told The 'Sunday Times' that the Tamil people in the North and East are indigenous and are not immigrants like us and stressed that people who are living legitimately in this country are entitled to human dignity.

"Whether they are indigenous or immigrants, it is immaterial and once legitimacy is given, the people should be given equal rights," he said.

"Today we are talking about human rights. That means every human must live with dignity. We can't have two standards for human rights," said Mr. Thondaman adding that when a passenger gets into a railway carriage he has every right as the other passengers. He said that it is immaterial as to whether the passenger got into the carriage first or last.

Proposal to raise MPs' allowances coming again

By M. Ismeth

With little relief in the budget for the common man, the oft-criticised hike in allowance to parliamentarians and Ministers is likely to be granted, sources said.

Most government and opposition MPs have welcomed the move, saying such an increase was long due. If passed by parliament, Ministers and deputy ministers would get an increment of Rs. 17,000 while MPs would get an allowance increase of about 8,500.

The salary increase proposal would give Cabinet Ministers and the Speaker a monthly allowance of Rs 29,815 which is an increase of Rs 12,315.

The present allowance is Rs 17,500. The Deputy Speaker, Deputy Chairman of Committees and deputy ministers will receive a monthly allowance of Rs 28,750-an increase of Rs 11,750. The monthly allowance of a MP will be increased from Rs 13,500. To Rs 22,100 an increase of Rs 8,600.

UNP General Secretary Gamini Atukorale told The Sunday Times UNP MPs were the least privileged group which deserved an increase the most because other opposition members who supported the governmnet received all the perks a government MP got.

LSSP Parliamentarian Vasudewa Nanayakara told the Sunday Times he considered the proposal to be abhorrent. In 1970 the ratio of an MP's salary to that of a government servant was 1:3. The proposed increase would make the ratio 1:8., he said.

New Ramayanaya in Seetha Eliya

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

A modern political episode in the ancient Rama-Sita epic is being enacted in an area named after the mythical princess.

Controversy has erupted over the building of temples for Rama, Seetha, and Hanuman in Seetha Eliya in the Nuwara Eliya district.

The Sunday Times learns that the Ministry of Hindu Cultural Affairs, the Tourist Board, Minister S. Thondaman and the Army chief are competing to build temples for the three Ramayana figures in a 35 acre protected forest area at Seetha Eliya.

The Hindu Cultural Affairs Ministry and the Tourist Board with the assistance of the Indian High Commission are constructing temples of Rama and Seetha for a religious festival to be held shortly with the participation of 500 Indian devotees. Afterwards, the temples are to be used as a tourist and cultural site in Nuwara Eliya.

At the entrance to Nuwara Eliya in the Waverton Estate of Minister S.Thondaman, he has put up another temple for Hanuman. Some observers say the building of this temple is connected to Mr. Thondaman's recent initiative informing a broad coalition of parties representing the plantation people of Indian origin. According to Tamil politicians, the project is also funded by a prominent Indian temple.

Meanwhile, Army Commander Rohan Daluwatte is also constructing a temple for Hanuman reportedly to fulfill a vow , but army sources were declining any further comment on it.

These projects have not been welcomed by some Buddhist prelates and residents who feel that personal and political reasons are taking preference over spiritual matters.

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