Parliamentary directive disregarded
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Amidst ongoing protests against the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s controversial tax regime, which is expected to to meet revenue targets set by the IMF, Parliament has revealed that the Inland Revenue Department, Customs and Excise Department disregarded a specific directive issued by parliamentary watchdog COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) way back in 2016 to enhance revenue collection.
This was revealed at a meeting jointly chaired by Chairman COPA State Minister Lasantha Alagiywanna (SLFP) and Chairman Committee on Ways and Means Patali Champika Ranawaka (SJB) last week as the government explored ways and means of improving tax collection. Both Alagiyawanna and Ranawaka were in the yahapalana government at the time COPA issued the directive. The Ways and Means Committee established last year has been tasked with recommending a tangible action plan to streamline tax collection.
Public sector trade unions have announced a strike today (03) calling upon the government to reverse its tax proposals.Following the finalisation of the IMF bailout package, the government has come under heavy pressure to streamline tax collection.
Parliament Director Legislative Services and Acting Director of Communication H. E. Janakantha Silva, quoted COPA Chairman Alagiyawanna as having expressed his displeasure at the failure on the part of the government’s revenue collecting institutions to take necessary measures to prepare an information technology system by integrating all relevant government agencies in order to collect and improve the state revenue.
Among those the MPs present were State Ministers Mohan Priyadarshana Silva, Chamara Sampath Dasanayake and MPs Niroshan Perera, Jayantha Ketagoda, J.C. Alavathuwala, (Major) Pradeep Undugoda and Sanjeewa Edirimanna.
Responding to The Island queries, State Minister Alagiyawanna said that the inordinate delay in setting up a joint mechanism involving revenue collecting institutions, the banking sector and all other related establishments was deliberate. There couldn’t be any other explanation, an irate minister said, adding that the government was deprived of revenue by Alagiyawanna explained that he himself as COPA Chairman gave the directive in 2016 and was quite disappointed to know that absolutely nothing had been done during the past eight years.
Pointing out that the much touted Revenue Administration and Management Information System (RAMIS) that was acquired by Sri Lanka at a tremendous cost years ago had been simply left to rot, MP Alagiyawanna said those responsible owed an explanation. The State Minister said that Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremeratne’s declaration at a meeting of the watchdog committee last year that the Inland Revenue Department repeatedly refused to share its agreement with the Singaporean company that supplied RAMIS underscored the need for total overhaul of the revenue collection system.
“We are in such a desperate situation though institutions directly responsible for the revenue collection seem pursuing an agenda of their own,” the State Minister said.
Subsequent to the meeting jointly chaired by Alagiyawanna and Ranawaka, the parliament announced the setting up of a new technical committee representing 4 major government agencies for the process of setting up a modern IT system.
The committee will be represented by a representative from the Presidential Secretariat, Secretaries of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Technology and the Chairman of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA).
State Minister Alagiyawanna said that overall the situation remained extremely chaotic due to officials’ failure to take necessary action. Asked to explain, the lawmaker said that billions of Rupees in revenue was lost due to corruption at every level. “If you go through reports released by watchdog committees, culprits can be easily identified and dealt with,” the State Minister said.