In the absence of a suitable candidate coming forward to accept the challenge of becoming the next Commissioner General of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD), Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera told Parliament yesterday that he would not hesitate to bring a suitable person “from the moon” if necessary. Approving the appointment of Central Bank Deputy Governor C.J.P. Siriwardena to the post with effect from 1 November, the Minister stated that he would improve the efficiency of the IRD.
The Minister, rejecting the Joint Opposition allegation of depriving the Super Grade senior officers in the IRD of being promoted as the next Commissioner General due to appointments made from outside, stated that he was “not afraid of the mafia” that prevented State coffers from receiving what is due from tax evaders.
“A small group of employees at the Department of Inland Revenue has applied for sick leave protesting the appointment of Central Bank Deputy Governor Siriwardena as the new Commissioner General of the department. The department has been dysfunctional for a long time. The method followed at the IRD will make us fail as a country.
“Currently 82% Sri Lankans pay indirect taxes while the remaining 18% pays direct taxes. The poor in this country are shouldering the burden of 82% of State income. There are highly-corrupt officers at the IRD and those who should pay taxes evade payments with the help of these officers. Certain companies with billions in income evade higher payments by paying a lakh as tax with the help of these corrupt officers,” said the Minister.
Outlining the efforts the Government has put in to bring order to the tax base, the Minister said: “We introduced the new Act to put things right. We need an experienced and senior person who has the capacity to lead the program to put things in order. I appointed Deputy Governor Siriwardena for this purpose with Cabinet approval. We are willing to consider if there are suitable people currently employed at IRD, but it is a Cabinet decision and Cabinet is powerful to make a decision that seems fit and necessary by skipping their service mandates. I am not hesitant to bring a suitable person from the moon if it comes to that to enable the department to give the income the country needs.”
According to Minister Samaraweera, several rounds of interviews were held in search of a suitable candidate within the IRD. But due to threats to their lives, suitable, qualified and experienced officers have stopped coming forward and have also withdrawn their applications.
“We conducted several rounds of interviews. I know that there is a certain group of shady characters who are saddened that one of their favourites has not been appointed. Many applicants were threatened not to go for the interviews at the first round. We had only two applicants for the first round. Then at the second round of interviews we had three applicants although we started fresh. There were capable female applicants, but they had requested the interview board to withdraw the applications. We later found that they had been threatened. So, in such a situation, it is my duty to appoint the correct person to make the necessary change. He will take over on 1 November. But we must remember that there are many honest employees working there,” he added.
Endorsing the Cabinet decision, UNP MP Prof. Ashu Marasinghe revealed the agonising stories of the officers who are not willing to be a part of the power struggle in the IRD.
“This was a problem we saw for the last three years at the Public Accounts Committee. This is nothing more than a power struggle and a mafia which deprives the Government from getting the due revenues. This is public money. Some officers even spoke to us to say they were threatened that they would be attacked with acid if they take the position,” said MP Marasinghe. (AH)