Uproar Over Inferior School Uniforms
An adjournment motion on school uniform material was taken up for debate in Parliament last week where all speakers expressed their concern over inferior quality and delayed distribution.
Moving the motion Democratic National Alliance Member of Parliament, Ajith Kumara stated that most schools haven’t received the necessary uniform materials although the first term is finished and the second term has also started. “These uniforms are given to school children in support of their education and it gives some relief to the parents. However, we have noticed serious irregularities on quality as well as the distribution method during the past several years,” he said.
“We expect the respective authorities to assess the cost and the number of students including the monks eligible to receive the free uniforms in advance. We understand that necessary funds are already reserved. But the government should have a proper plan to meet this requirement. So, what is the issue that prevents timely distribution of school uniforms? We urge the Government and the respective Ministers to get involved in this to find a suitable solution. Adding more to this, inferior uniform materials are already distributed,” said DNA MP, Ajith Kumara.
UNP MP Buddhika Pathirana joining the debate stated that late President Ranasinghe Premadasa started the free school uniform programme in 1993 and it should be continued without fail. “I have disclosed the inferior quality of the school uniforms in this House by showcasing a sample. The House took measures to find out how I brought a sample into Parliament rather than finding the reasons for distributing inferior school uniforms to almost four million school children in this country. When I was asked by the duty police officers at the members’ entrance, I told them that the sample was brought in by myself by strapping it to my body and was later taken off inside the dressing room. This is not what you should have looked for but reasons for supplying inferior school uniform materials,” he said.
“I agree that we need to uplift our domestic producers. But it should not be at the cost of poor quality. When you distribute inferior quality products, parents tend to build a perception that all local products are inferior, which is not true and harmful for our country. So, you should inquire into this issue to see any involvement of foreign influence,” added Pathirana.
Minister of Water Supply and Drainage and Chief Government Whip, Dinesh Gunawardena in response to the allegations of inferior quality and delayed distribution stated that the Minister of Education will provide a detailed explanation during the next session on May 3.
Government thrives on cigarette and alcohol revenue – Ravi Karunanayake
Increased revenue from cigarettes and alcohol were among the key issues that heated the house last week. United National Party Member of Parliament Ravi Karunanayake charged the government of using cigarette and alcohol prices as a mode of income for state coffers.
“You are using ‘Mathata Thitha’ (an end to the drug menace as stated in the Mahinda Chinthana Political Manifesto) as a mode of income by increasing the overall taxes to 25% and 30%. Apart from that you are levying hybrid cars as well as the trishaws. This is against what was decided during the recent budget,” thrashed Karunanayake.
According to industry sources, a tobacco tax of Rs.10 per kg, value added tax of 12%, nation building tax of 2% are already imposed on cigarettes. In addition to these taxes Rs.15,000, Rs.12,108, Rs.9,811/Rs.6,973, and Rs.3,465 are also imposed on 1,000 cigarettes based on its size that exceeds 84mm in length, 84mm, 72mm, 67mm, and 59mm respectively. There is an excise duty of Rs.863 per liter of local liquor and Rs.1,003 per liter of locally manufactured foreign liquor brands on top of 12% value added tax, nation building tax of 2%, and economic service charge of 1% from the selling price.
Responding to questions for oral answers, Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning Gitanjana Gunawardena tabled a document that contained a detailed list of tax income on cigarettes and alcohol. During the last 10 years the government has received Rs.162,104 million as revenue from alcohol on each occasion, owing to the increase over the previous rates.
Minister Gunawardena who disagreed with comments made by Ravi Karunanayake stated that he is not responding to questions on the tax on hybrid motor vehicles. “During your time former Finance Minister K.N. Choksy issued a Gazette notification in February 2003 authorising all super markets to sell alcohol within 24 hours,” said Minister Gunawardena in response.
Housing project for state employees discontinued
Nila Sevana, a housing project for state employees got cancelled due to the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation changing its decision, disclosed Minister of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Wimal Weerawansa last week in Parliament. According to Minister Weerawansa, the initial plan was to use some five acres of land in Ragama owned by Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation for construction of Nila Sevana, which could have been an exclusive housing scheme for government employees.
However, during a later stage deviating from the original plan Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs, which is another stakeholder of this project, had decided to include houses for the middle class in Nila Sevana. Based on a disagreement between the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs the housing project has now come to a standstill.
“A joint cabinet paper was presented by the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs and Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply in July 2006. A subsequent cabinet subcommittee meeting for economic promotion held at Temple Trees in May 2008 approved the transfer of the five acre land owned by Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation for construction of Nila Sevana,” said Minister Weerawansa. “However, writing to Defence Secretary in May 2010, Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs has informed its intension to include middle class houses in the Nila Sevana project further to a cabinet paper submitted in October 2008. An agreement between the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and Wincone Company was also stated in it.
The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation did not agree to pursue the matter having cited the plans to include the middle class houses in the Nila Sevana as a public – private partnership. In the absence of a suitable land in Ragama area the project is discontinued,” explained Minister Weerawansa in response to a question for oral answers raised by Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga.