Acting Fin Min submits letters from Govt. Printer and Attorney General to resolve dispute
Debates on the VAT Amendment Bill returned to create contention in Parliament yesterday with the acting Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena tabling the two letters obtained from the Government Printer and the Attorney General to disprove claims made by the Joint Opposition that due process was not followed by the Government.
Reading both letters, Minister Abeywardena assured the House that no violations were made when printing the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill that was presented in Parliament on Tuesday.
“We agreed to table the two letters from the Government Press and the Attorney General’s Department. Generally, the Government Gazette gets published on Fridays and supplements get published the following Friday. Even though these supplements carry the date of the published Gazette, the Government Printer as well as the Attorney General has clearly accepted this Gazette in question to be considered as a Gazette printed on the 13 September. The 14 days count there onwards and we have a responsibility during that period of two weeks. We have followed this procedure,” he said.
The Government Printer in his letter stated: “Generally the Gazette gets published on every Friday and during the next seven days the supplements get published. So, the respective VAT Amendment Bill was published on 13 September 2016 as a supplement of the gazetted issued on 9 September 2016. Therefore, the published date should be 13 September.”
However, Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya has limited his view to the legality of the contents of the VAT Amendment Bill in question. “The Attorney General is of the view the provisions of the bill are not inconsistent with the Constitution. The bill is not subject to any prohibitions or restrictions imposed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and may be enacted by the Parliament,” said the Attorney General.
Rejecting the letters and continuing to challenge the dates, Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardena said: “The Cabinet met on 12 September. So having used the date 9 September on the Gazette proves our argument that it went to print prior to obtaining Cabinet approval. We brought this to your attention. The procedures are well followed even in the District Secretariats.”
“Why did the Government obtain interpretations from the Government Printer and the Attorney General? We no longer plan to discuss the matter if the letter received from the Attorney General certifies the Gazette in question. The letter is about another issue,” added Joint Opposition MP Wimal Weerawansa.
Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare S.B. Dissanayake informed the House about the validity of printing a bill prior to receiving Cabinet approval. “A minister could send it to print well before submitting it for Cabinet approval. In case Cabinet approval was not received the respective Gazette gets cancelled. There is nothing wrong in it. On the other hand, if Cabinet approval is granted the Gazette gets executed. A minister could send anything to print with his signature,” said Minister Dissanayake.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, giving the final verdict, maintained that both letters were acceptable and Parliament had officially moved the VAT Amendment Bill. (AH)