Will not import, Finance Ministry reiterates
Allow LCs to expire or auction vehicles on arrival: AKD
By Buddhika Samaraweera
Despite allegations made by various parties that the relevant Letters of Credit (LCs) have not been cancelled even though the Government has decided to suspend the importation of 225 luxury vehicles, including sports utility vehicles (SUVs), for Members of Parliament (MPs), the Ministry of Finance has reiterated that the importation of said vehicles would not take place.
When contacted by The Morning yesterday (14), Finance Ministry and Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle said the 225 vehicles in question would not be imported and that the Ministry hopes to issue a detailed statement in this regard.
However, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake alleged last week that the relevant LCs had been opened without obtaining the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. He also alleged that there was a huge fraud behind the Government’s move to import these vehicles, adding that the importation of this vehicle consignment would cost about $ 18 million and could instead be used to import about 3.6 million Oxford-AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines.
“We ask the Government to stop this importation. What the Government states now is that the LCs can’t be cancelled. However, when the Government suspended the importation of vehicles earlier, a large number of LCs were allowed to expire, following which they were cancelled. Therefore, the Government can allow these LCs to expire too. The next suggestion is to sell the vehicles at a public auction after importing them, if the import cannot be stopped. Using the income that can be earned by selling these vehicles, loans can be repaid. Some of it can also be given to the businessmen whose businesses collapsed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We, as the JVP, will not use these vehicles and will announce later on what to do with them,” Dissanayake said, addressing a press conference.
The JVP has filed a case before the Supreme Court in this regard.
Meanwhile, Samagi Jana Balawega (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, issuing a statement in this regard, requested the Government to take steps to import 112 ambulances to replace the vehicles that are to be imported for MPs if the LCs could not be cancelled.
The Cabinet in April decided to import a certain number of vehicles in order to boost the efficiency of the Government’s development drive. The decision to import said vehicles was made following a cabinet memorandum submitted by Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
At the time, the Government took a decision to suspend the issuance of duty-free vehicle permits, and to provide a solution to the issue of MPs not being given duty-free permits to import vehicles, a decision was taken to import a total of 375 vehicles, including 225 luxury jeeps, 50 ambulances, 50 water bowsers, and 50 cabs under a Rs. 3.7 billion leasing facility offered by a state bank.
In this context, the Cabinet, on 24 May, decided to suspend the import of even a limited number of vehicles. The decision was taken when the Cabinet, chaired by the Premier, convened online. The Government is now, however, to go ahead with the importation of the said ambulances, bowsers, and cabs.