Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne presented a Private Member’s Bill to Parliament today (18 July) to amend the Special Commodity Levy (SCL) Act No. 48 of 2007.

Under the current SCL legislation, the Finance Minister has complete discretion to change the tax and simply announce it through a gazette notification. The tax change comes into effect immediately upon the Minister’s signature and is brought for parliamentary approval only much later.

But Article 148 of Sri Lanka’s constitution grants control over public finances to the Parliament. The Special Commodity Levy Act, as currently enacted, violates this constitutionally protected mandate of parliament and instead provides sweeping discretionary powers to the minister to not only change the tax rate but also to provide tax exemptions.

Even if an action taken by the Minister under this act later fails to gain the approval of Parliament, the implementation of those actions prior to their coming to Parliament cannot be reversed but only discontinued. This leaves an extraordinary amount of power in the minister’s hands and leaves room for the tax system to be abused in favour of vested interests and for huge losses to be caused to government revenue, which must then be made up through other taxes.

The amendment presented by Wickramaratne today seeks to establish parliamentary control over any changes to the SCL and prevent the Minister from abusing statutory powers, including by granting benefits to a chosen few.