YAHAPALANA AS A PUPPET REGIME Part 3
Posted on November 20th, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

This essay looks at five important Yahapalana activities. They are Legislation, Constitutional Council, Income tax, Land bank and Citizen Data base.

LEGISLATION

Yahapalana method of passing laws has been criticized. Important laws are passed with just a simple majority of the MPs present and voting. The Enforced Disappearances Bill was declared passed in Parliament with only 53 MPs voting in its favor.

Prime Minister presents the Bills to the Parliament with jest and banter, said Janaki Chandraratne. The Opposition, in particular, TNA and JVP are not interested in the debate and doze off in the comfy chairs, because of the inducements to support the ruling party. The Bills are then presented to a vote for the first and second readings and passed very often with 2/3 majority. The third reading is also similarly passed even though at this point, there are new amendments added to it.

Yahapalana wanted to amend socially important laws which have given protection to the citizens of the country. Yahapalana wants to scrap the relatively progressive measures introduced by previous governments, such as Philip Gunawardena’s Paddy Lands Act and Pieter Keuneman’s Rent Act howled critics.”

Yahapalana said the Rent Act, No. 7 of 1972 which limits the ownership of houses and the rent to be charged requires amendments. Paddy Lands Act, No. 1 of 1958 and the Agricultural Lands Act, No. 42 of 1973 will be amended to allow the farming of alternate crops. Shop and Office Employees Act, No. 15 of 1954 will be amended, allowing the employees flexibility in choosing their working hours,  including permitting women to work at night. In addition, reported critics, Yahapalana government brought in amendments to the Exchange Control Act, which in effect prevents any investigation into money laundering and terrorism.

Let us look at some specific laws passed by Yahapalana. A new election system was introduced by Local Government Authorities Elections (Amendment) Act No. 16 of 2017.  This Bill had been initially gazetted to correct some technical glitches in the Local Government Elections Law.  Then at the committee stage of the Bill, after the second reading had been passed, Yahapalana brought forward several totally new amendments which changed the entire electoral system.

Instead of presenting a Bill to change the system of elections and getting it examined by the Supreme Court, Yahapalana changed the entire system of local government elections by bringing amendments to a Bill at the Committee stage in Parliament, charged critics. An entirely new system of elections was brought in at committee stage, they said.  The Bill that was finally passed by Parliament was not the Bill that was gazetted and introduced in Parliament or even read the second time. It was something totally different, said Chandraprema. The Joint Opposition was not given time to read the new amendments, Yahapalana rammed the Bill through Parliament. It had the support of the UNP, SLFP (Sirisena faction), the JVP, the SLMC, ACMC and the passive participation of the TNA, said Chandraprema.

Yahapalana carried out this trick equally successfully for Provincial Council elections. There was an urgent need to change the system of elections to the Provincial Councils as well, since the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern Provincial Councils were getting dissolved in September and October 2017, observed Chandraprema. Sure enough in September 2017, just a day or two before the Councils were dissolved; the government changed the Provincial Councils elections system, by bringing in The Provincial Councils (Amd) Act No. 17 of 2017.

Once again the method in which this change was effected was by bringing sweeping committee stage amendments to a Bill that had originally been gazetted to increase women’s representation in the Provincial Councils. The Amendments moved at the Committee Stage were not there when the Bill was gazetted nor were they made available to the Members at the Second Reading stage. Members had no opportunity to study the contents of the Amendments.

Rev. Vimal Tirimanne commented on the utterly undemocratic and anti-Constitutional way in which the Provincial Council Elections Amendment Act was finally bull-dozed through the Parliament. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka too pointed out that the due Parliamentary process was not followed in passing this Act. The Act was rushed through and passed in Parliament when the Supreme Court had given a clear ruling that the extension of the terms of the Provincial Councils or a postponement of their elections would require a referendum in addition to a two thirds majority in parliament.

Yahapalana passed a heavily diluted National Audit Bill. The original bill had a provision to impose a fine of Rs. 100,000 on officials who furnish false information during audit queries. The fine has been brought down to Rs 5,000 by an amendment. The original bill contained provisions, enabling the commission to investigate special projects outsourced to private companies. “That provision has been removed. Similarly, the powers of the Auditor General as regards internal audits of statutory bodies including government corporations, boards, authorities have also been removed, said critics.

The Bill prohibited Right to Information requests on Audit inquiries. Audit officers could not divulge any information regarding their audits. It was an offence to do so. This also applied to ‘any person appointed to any office under this Act or any other person assisting any such person for the purpose of carrying out the provisions under this Act or a qualified auditor engaged by the Auditor General’. The information must placed before Parliament and prior consent be given in writing of the person or institution providing the information, in order for the information to be released.

Yahapalana got the Foreign Exchange Act No 12 of 2017 passed. There were petitions to Supreme Court against this Bill. MP Bandula Gunawardena stated in his petition  that clauses 2(2), 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 32 of the Bill are in violation of and inconsistent with Articles 03, 04, 12(1), 14(1)(g), 75 and 148 of the Constitution. Also that clauses 2(2), 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22 and 24 of the Foreign Exchange Bill deprive and abrogate the power of Parliament to have full control over public finance as enshrined by Article 148 of the Constitution.

The petitioner further stated that the said Bill took away the powers of the Central Bank and the Monetary Board to supervise, regulate and control matters in relation to foreign exchange including gold, currency, payments, securities, debts and import, export, transfer and settlement of property as provided by the Exchange Control Act No.24 of 1953.The Bill empowers the Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers with the authority to regulate and control matters in relation to foreign exchange and all institutions dealing with foreign exchange,” the petitioner added.

Nagananda Kodituwakku stated in his petition that the Bill needed approval at a referendum, it violated Article 83 of the Constitution, he said. Kodituwakku also briefed the court regarding the danger in abolishing existing regulatory mechanism. He warned that Sri Lanka could be a haven for those who had been engaged in money laundering operations.

Kodituwakku said the government made a deliberate attempt to deprive interested parties of an opportunity to challenge Foreign Exchange Bill within stipulated seven days by placing it on Order Paper of Parliament on Friday April 7, 2017. Supreme Court would be on vacation during second and third weeks of April 2017. The Bill could therefore be adopted by Parliament without being challenged in the Supreme Court.

The Enforced Disappearances Protection Bill   had been presented to Parliament twice and then withdrawn due to protests from the Maha sangha and the public.  Karaka Sangha Sabhas of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters had asked the government not to proceed with this legislation. The Bill w as re-presented and passed in March 2018. In the confusion surrounding the Sinhala-Muslim riots, the government rammed through the Enforced Disappearances Bill, observed Chandraprema. If not for the Sinhala-Muslim riots, this law may never have seen the light of day.

The Joint Opposition had asked for more time to debate the Bill. This had been agreed to, and the vote was not going to be taken on another day, but the Speaker had suddenly put it to the vote and declared the Bill to be passed. It has been passed in violation of the Standing Orders of Parliament.

MP Dinesh Gunawardena remarked that the Speaker had said that more time would be given to the MPs to discuss the Bill because the time allocated for the debate was not sufficient. But, the Bill was passed on the same day without any more time being given to the Joint Opposition. This is a violation of Standing Orders. MP Gajadheera wanted to participate in the debate but he was not given a chance. That was why we wanted you to postpone the debate, Gunawardena added.

In August 2016, the Office of Missing Persons Bill was bulldozed through Parliament by the UNP, the SLFP government group, the JVP and the TNA despite the objections raised by the Joint Opposition. Less than 40 minutes was allowed to debate this new law. Then a vote was taken and the Speaker declared the Bill to have been passed.  Among other matters, the Act protects members of the OMP as well as officers, servants and consultants of the OMP from Right to Information scrutiny in respect of ‘matters communicated to them in confidence’.

Yahapalana brought in the Active Liability Management Bill which said that Parliament may, from time to time, by resolution, approve to raise a sum of money which will not exceed 10% of the total outstanding debt as at the end of the preceding financial year, as a loan whether in or outside Sri Lanka, for moneys to be raised on behalf of the Government for the purposes of refinancing and pre-financing of public debts of the Government.

The Joint Opposition said that through the Bill, the government tried to remove public finance control from parliament. “We cannot let this be passed without any amendments”.  Also, the bill gave legal immunity to certain Central Bank officials and the subject Minister in charge of the Central Bank.

However, despite chaos reigning in Parliament once again, the Active Liability Management Bill was passed by the House in March 2018. The Joint Opposition group MPs left the Chamber in objection after a glitch in the voting. The Speaker continued with the Second Reading and Third Reading without the JO MPs, and the Bill was passed in the Committee Stage with a majority of 51 votes, reported the media. .

The government  presented a Bill in Parliament to amend the Judicature Act No. 2 of 1978 so as to make provision for the setting up of a permanent High Court at Bar to hear cases  relating to offences specified in the Sixth Schedule of the Act.

The Bill gives powers to the Permanent High Court at Bar to try a number of offences, including theft, dishonest misappropriation of property, criminal breach of trust by public servants, banker, merchant or agent and dishonestly receiving stolen property etc. Cheating, forgery, making a false document, making or possessing a counterfeit seal, plate etc, with intent to commit a forgery and offences of money laundering can also be directed to these separate courts. Bribery of judicial officers, Members of Parliament, Police officers, peace officers and other public officers also has been listed as an offence that can be tried in the permanent High court. Corruption, conspiracy and abetment to commit the offences under the Bribery Act are also an offence listed in the Bill.

There were a lot of objections to this Bill. One objection was that the Attorney-General and the Director General of the Commission for the Prevention of Bribery and Corruption, will have the discretion to selectively refer cases to the proposed permanent High Courts at Bar.  Prosecuting officers will thus have the power to arbitrarily select cases to be referred to this Court, while other cases of a similar nature will be sent through the normal courts system.

The President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka U.R. de Silva petitioned the Supreme Court against this proposed amendment, in his capacity as President of the BASL . The Executive Committee of the BASL and the Bar Council, had expressed grave concern of the Bar regarding this Bill and had unanimously resolved to apply to the SC challenging its constitutional validity.

Thus the entire legal profession in the country is now opposed to this proposed amendment, observed Chandraprema. Among the arguments put forward by the BASL was that, there is no Court known as permanent High Court at Bar in law, and thus this Bill cannot be passed. The opposition to this piece of proposed legislation, designed to ‘kangaroofy’ the existing courts system, is unlike anything we have seen in recent times, Chandraprema concluded. However, the   Judicature (Amendment)” Bill was passed with amendments in Parliament in May 2018 with a majority of 67 votes.

CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL.

The 19th amendment to the Constitution led to the creation of a Constitutional Council. There is a Constitutional Council in France established in 1958. This is its highest constitutional authority. The Council must rule on whether proposed statutes conform with the Constitution, after they have been voted by Parliament and before they are signed into law by the President. However, the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka has nothing to do with the Constitution. The Constitutional Council is not about the Constitution at all and the term Constitutional Council” is not an appropriate term”, observed Laksiri Fernando.

The Constitutional Council consists of Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament; the Leader of the Opposition, one person appointed by the President, five persons appointed by the President, on the nomination of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and one person nominated by agreement of the majority of the Members of Parliament belonging to political parties or independent groups, other than the respective political parties or independent groups to which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition belong, and appointed by the President.

The ‘five persons’ mentioned above must reflects the pluralistic character of Sri Lankan society, including professional and social diversity and those  who are not MPs must persons of eminence and integrity who have distinguished  themselves in public or professional life and who are not members of any political party.

The main function of the Constitutional Council  is to recommend the chairman and members of the following national commissions: Election Commission,  Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Audit Service Commission, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, Finance Commission, The Delimitation Commission, National Procurement Commission, University Grants Commission and Official Languages Commission.  The Council must also recommend three persons for appointment as Chairmen of these Commissions, and the President must select out of these three.

The Council must also recommend three names each for the following appointments: (a) Chief Justice and the Judges of the Supreme Court. (b) The President and the Judges of the Court of Appeal. (c) The Members of the Judicial Service Commission, other than the Chairman. The Attorney-General (b) Auditor-General(c) Inspector-General of Police (d) Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman and (e) Secretary-General of Parliament. These recommendations must reflect the pluralistic character of Sri Lankan society, including gender.

The Council was appointed for three years and would continue to hold office even if Parliament was dissolved. It is not a Parliamentary committee, and is not answerable to Parliament. It does not seem answerable to anybody.

This Constitutional Council has been viewed as yet another Yahapalana trick. The Constitutional Council, which is entrusted with functions of the highest importance, including recommendation for the appointment of such key personnel as the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General, the Inspector-General of Police and Chairmen of the ‘independent’ Commissions, consists of 10 members, with the Speaker as Chairman, said G.L.Pieris.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who are members ex officio, are vested with responsibility for identifying 5 other persons to be appointed members of the Constitutional Council. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, together with their 5 nominees, therefore comprise a group of 7 persons, making up an overwhelming majority of the total membership of the Constitutional Council. This would enable the government, acting through a pliable and accommodative Constitutional Council, to appoint anybody they like, overlooking seniority for instance, concluded Pieris.

The Constitutional Council has failed to live up to public expectations. It is controlled by a group of politicians bound by a common political agenda, said Island editorial. Many thought that the appointment of the so called independent commissions would put an end to political interference.

Chandraprema   commented, Yahapalana hegemons proceeded to appoint a Constitutional Council made up only of Yahapalanites and they stuffed all the independent commissions including the Elections Commission full of Yahapalanites. The Judicial Services Commission is the only body that escaped this fate because it was made up of persons already serving in the Courts system. With the Constitutional Council dominated completely by Yahapalanites, all those appointed to high posts were also Yahapalanites and they went about this with brazen indifference as to how this arrangement looks like from the outside, concluded Chandraprema.

INCOME TAX

Yahapalana passed a new Tax Revenue Act No. 24 of 2017, which came into effect on April 1 2018. The bill was a joint product of the IMF and the Government. The Inland Revenue Department (IRD) joint Trade union Committee protested saying the new Bill has been prepared without consulting IRD officials.

There was a hidden agenda in the Bill to separate the implementation of statutes and tax administrative functions of the department, they said.  Tax administration would be politicized after the enactment of this Bill. This will affect the promotional prospects, job security and benefits of IRD employees. Taxpayers will be burdened with new taxes and the government will lose, not gain, revenue by the time officers familiarize themselves with the new law and procedures.

The new Bill   gives unprecedented powers going beyond the existing statutes, to the Finance Minister.  Minister has power to inspect tax files of individuals. He also has the power to appoint teams of tax officers, ignoring the Service Minute of the Department. Further, tax officers may no longer be required to give reasons for rejecting assessments, and the Finance Minister may increase income tax rates without Parliamentary approval. There is a circular that if you need clarification on how to pay the tax you have to pay Rs 25,000 first, added Bandula Gunawardena.

This new Tax Revenue Act was intended to tax as many persons as possible in as many ways as possible. The Tax net was widened to catch hitherto untapped bases such as informal hotel, private medical practice, large scale private tuition, buying and selling and other un-registered businesses. The   Inland Revenue department was also going to look at the incomes of those who owned cars and went on foreign vacations. Several escape routes for avoiding income tax would be closed.

All citizens above the age of 18 will be placed under scrutiny for tax liability. IRD would maintain a profile of all citizens above the age of 18 and monitor their bank transactions, purchases and payment of utility bills to determine whether they should be made liable for tax payments. For this, the IRD had linked up with about 35 state institutions, including the Motor Traffic Department, banks, the Department for the Registrar of Persons, the Credit Information Bureau and the Board of Investment.

Sri Lanka’s private sector professionals are set to lose a large portion of their take-home pay after a PAYE tax hike to 24 per cent from 16 per cent came into effect. Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Administrative Officers, top level accountants, and senior executives as well as senior managers and technical officers, will be taxed at 24 per cent of their take-home pay following the imposition of the new PAYE tax.

The Rs. 50,000 tax free vehicle allowance which was there prior to the budget has now been made liable to PAYE. Any private sector official having a company vehicle will have to pay an additional sum of money as PAYE tax. Non cash benefits (vehicle, driver and fuel) would also be added the taxpayer’s person’s salary before calculating PAYE.

Under the old rates a person earning Rs.100, 000 and a transport allowance of Rs.50, 000 had to pay Rs. 1500 as taxes. A transport allowance of up to Rs. 50,000 for a car and petrol was tax free. Under the new tax rates, the employee deemed to be earning Rs. 150,000 will be taxed at Rs.2000 a month while a person earning Rs. 150,000 and a transport allowance of Rs. 50,000 would be taxed Rs. 5,501 a month.

All those who received services for a fee from all state agencies will have to pay 15 per cent more than what they have been paying three years ago, Until April 1 2018 the first vehicle was exempted from the tax. But now they will consider it for taxation.

The 300% deduction of expenditure incurred by any entity registered with the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) for standard skills development training recognized by the TVEC, was withdrawn.”

Doctors complained at length that they were discriminated against. They were not a favored category. Even their poorly paid disturbance and availability & transport allowance taxed 100% as. .

This has deepened the anomaly we faced as medical specialists (who are SL 3 level) on our transport allowance. We are only paid Rs 35,000 as DAT allowance which is paid to cover disturbance, availability and transport all together. This is far below the transport allowance we are entitled as SL 3 officers. Furthermore, this meager allowance is also subjected to 100% PAYE tax. This is outrageous and frustrates the medical specialists as government did not revise the DAT allowance and failed to give any tax relief to both DAT allowance and extra duty payments, “said the Association of Medical Specialists.

“Recent tax act doubled the tax doctors had to pay by increasing the tax from 12 to 24%. Though this was for all professionals, specialist consultants got singled out as only their income is transparent. Changes in the new tax act to give major tax relief to Ministers and higher officials of the government showing clear double standards, the AMS said.

Irrespective of the number of vehicles used, the tax is calculated only for one vehicle, giving Ministers to have any number of vehicles, drivers and fuel without having to pay taxes for the extra vehicles. Even for the single vehicle they had to pay taxes, the value of each vehicle has been brought down by substantive amount. Earlier the value of an above 3000 cc vehicle per month was added as Rs 75,000, a driver as Rs. 20,000 and fuel as 40,000 for taxable monthly income in calculating PAYE, but this is now reduced to only Rs. 35,000 for the vehicle, 10,000 for driver and 30,000 for fuel.”Relief is also given to all other government officers who are provided an official vehicle as non-cash benefit (though most have only one vehicle) by substantially reducing the value of this facility for taxing the AMS concluded.

All pension funds, including the EPF, above a total lump sum payout of Rs. 2 million will be subjected to taxes of 5 to 10 per cent.  All other employee payments, including employee compensation, termination allowances and other imbursements will also be taxed.

Sri Lanka’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) is now compelled to pay a staggering 28 per cent tax. This was highly unreasonable as private sector employees were solely dependent on their EPF benefits for the rest of their lives after retirement, critics said. This would result in a drastic reduction in the interest paid to the EPF beneficiaries. Earlier they were paid 10.5 percent interest by investing the EPF monies on Treasury bills and bonds. But with the new Act it had been decided to reduce the interest rate to nine percent.

The new Act slapped unprecedented taxes on artistes and their creations. Majority of artistes spend their own funds for producing films, teledramas and dramas. Returns on their investment are low and now the government plans to tax them, the artistes complained. There had been a 50 per cent tax concession for dramatists during the first year of their dramas. That, too, has been removed by the new tax law.

However, Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera had opened a special VAT refund counter at the Katunayake International Airport departure terminal to serve international travelers. This was for the re-payment of 15% VAT to foreign tourists on departure, for goods purchased during their stay in Sri Lanka.

IMF sources said introducing amendments to the Tax Bill is unacceptable as it was prepared through extensive collaboration with the Sri Lankan authorities over the past year and incorporates feedback from local experts. However, Yahapalana announced that several amendments would be made to withdraw taxes imposed on savings accounts of small children and local artistes. The 5 per cent withholding tax imposed on children’s bank savings accounts under the age of 18 will be removed after passing the amendment in parliament and issuing the necessary circular towards this end to all commercial banks, Yahapalana said in August 2018.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Inland Revenue Bill, saying some of the fundamental features of the present legal regime under the Inland Revenue Act No 10 of 2006 have been omitted in the new Bill and that this is in direct contravention with Articles 3 and/or 4(c) or 4(d) or 12(1) and/or 14 (1)(a) and/ or 148 of the Constitution.

The petitioner claimed that Section 163(3) of the Inland Revenue Act No. 10 of 2006 makes it a mandatory requirement for the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue to give reasons for the rejection of a return filed by the taxpayer. This fundamental requirement has been omitted in the impugned Bill thus rendering the said Bill inconsistent with the Constitution. His petition states that the disclosure of reasons for rejection of the return is a mandatory precondition for taxpayers to determine whether an appeal should be lodged.

The new Bill has omitted some sections of the Inland Revenue Act No. 10 of 2006 (as amended) ,sections which conferred exemptions on the sources of income such as; interest gained on money lying as credits in foreign currency in any commercial bank accounts, or any interests on money lying in foreign currency in a bank account in Sri Lanka or profits and income earned in foreign currency from outside Sri Lanka, by any resident individual, resident company or any partnership of Sri Lanka from services rendered outside Sri Lanka.

The proposed Bill fails to impose time limits on the Inland Revenue Commissioner General to exercise certain powers, the petition continued. While claiming that certain clauses of the bill violate the rights of taxpayers under the Constitution, the petitioner notes that in addition to the serious prejudice to tax payers, it will have an adverse effect on the country’s tax framework by causing ambiguity and uncertainty. Some clauses of the said bill are not referable and are in violation and or in excess of the provisions of Article 15 (7) of the Constitution.”The petitioner states that he learned from media reports and information available in the public domain that the bill is based on a similar model introduced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Ghana in 2015 and now the same lending institution wants it introduced in Sri Lanka.

LAND BANK

The Government will be introducing legislation establishing a land bank,   said Governor, Central Bank, Indrajit Coomaraswamy. This will address a major constraint in the business environment by identifying pre-cleared land which will be available for private investment projects. Land titling is another issue which is receiving attention. Other land-related issues under consideration include the removal of archaic laws and the need for a comprehensive review of land use/crop mix, he concluded.

Movement for Land and Agricultural Reforms (MONLAR) said that the government had been attempting to establish a ‘land bank’ since 2016 to bring all state lands, under various institutions together. ” Yahapalana is attempting to make 981,368 acres of land, under Land Reform Commission, available to investors, “Now they are finalizing this process.” MONLAR called on the public to oppose this decision to establish a land bank.

Certain other Yahapalana decisions relating to land deserve mention here. There is considerable planned takeover of lands. Villagers in and around Akurela, Ambalangoda protested against a proposed tourist zone using   50 acres of marshy land. They complained that they would get meager compensation and the Galduwa monastery too would be removed.

Uva Wellassa People Rights Protection Front staged a protest over the plan to give     62,000 acres of Uva land to a Singaporean company. The march was led by a group of bhikkus. Petitioners from Ridimaliyadde in Uva Wellassa protested against Yahapalana taking over their lands for a sugar cane farm. They signed the petition with thumbprints using their    blood. (Derana news 15.9. 18)

Farmer organizations in the Anuradhapura district, representing Mahakanadarawa, Rajangane, Padaviya, Wahalkade, Nachchaduwa, Nuwarawewa and Galenbidunawewa, wanted the conditions in relation to the Bimsaviya land alienation scheme be revised and the surveying and other fees be reduced. The majority of land being surveyed for issuing Bimsaviya ownership certificates belonged to low-income group farmer families and it was not fair to levy a sum of around Rs. 75,000 per allotment for surveying, they said.

CITIZEN DATA BANK.

In August 2017, the media reported that the Department of Registration of Persons was going   to build a central database containing comprehensive information on every citizen, containing entire family trees.  The information to be held in the database will contain full name, date of birth, NIC of father, mother, guardian, spouse and siblings, children and adopted children and their civil status,

The data base will also carry information on vehicles, phone numbers, houses and    other property owned. It will hold information on the person’s employment history, EPF and ETF  information, bank transactions, credit cards,  savings, fixed deposits, investments, Income tax file, registered businesses and directorships held, share market trading accounts, travel details, airline tickets and visits to hotels.

In addition, the heads of all public institutions are obliged to provide whatever information requested to National Registry of Persons. This will enable databases within such institutions as the Inland Revenue, Land Registry, RMV, EPF/ETF, Stock Market, Registrar of companies, to be linked to the National Registry of Persons providing a comprehensive database of citizens and their families.

The database can be accessed by the Defense Secretary and other officials without a court order, which critics warn is taking the country speedily towards a surveillance state. The regulations were issued under a law already passed in Parliament, which gives the Defence Secretary powers to examine the record of any citizen, even those who had not committed any crime, without a court order.

The regulations sought data on the person, his family, children, spouse, building an entire family tree in a central database, the media said. It will include divorce case files and email addresses. It will be a single registry with information on family structure and economic characteristics. It will contain comprehensive data, profiling every citizen, and giving virtually unrestricted access to any information concerning any citizen recorded with any public authority”.

Some of the data contained in the current paper ID also rests in various Government departments but they are held separately. No one department has a complete profile of a citizen. The registrar of births has details of births and the parents/grandparents. The land registry has details of property, the RMV has details of vehicle ownership and the Inland Revenue has details of income and tax. These records are maintained within various departments for administrative purposes only. They are never issued to outsiders except by court order.

Any person trying to extract a profile of a person would need to be armed with multiple court orders and spend a lot of time going from department to department collecting data. It is a very time consuming and cumbersome exercise which cannot be undertaken lightly and is subject to many checks and balances. Apart from the requirement for court orders, internal administrative procedures within each department will need to be followed before information is issued.

Now details are to be held in a central database that is freely and legally accessible to a wide variety of officials with no necessity of recourse to court orders. Being automated, anyone can easily build a full profile of a person and it is not difficult to imagine the extent to which this can be misused.

The potential risks with this are vast. Quite apart from unauthorized access, the data is widely accessible: to any public officer” or authority in the interests of national security or for the prevention or detection of a crime. The term public officer” could include most categories of public servants.

The term prevention or detection of a crime” is also extremely broad; no crime needs to be committed, a mere suspicion of any potential crime, however remote or improbably linked to a person is ground to access the data. The bill pays little attention to the handling of this sensitive data, once legitimately accessed.

Sri Lanka has presented regulations in parliament to create a, database on citizens which can be accessed by the defense secretary and other officials without a court order, which critics warn is taking the country speedily towards a surveillance state.

Regulations which will eventually make it possible for authorities to create an electronic ID a data base of personal and family information including biometric data was presented to parliament. The administration has not even made pretence that inclusion in the database will be voluntary. In addition to personal and family data, the law also provides for unspecified ‘other information’ to be collected and stored, making it an open-ended Pandora’s Box, critics say. An E-NIC data base is an irresistible target for hackers, both domestic and foreign, which in industry parlance is referred to as a ‘honeypot’. (Continued)

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