Back in 2008, I had a knock-down policy debate with current Provincial Council Minister and then Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority Udaya Gammanpila (mostly in the Sinhala newspapers, so difficult to give all the links, but here is one). In the short-term he won: the two percent envi levy was not rolled back at that time. But in the long-term we won: the 2011 Budget abolished the envi levy and the dream of funding all the activities of the Environment Ministry from mobile taxes went away. In the course of the debate, Mr Gammanpila claimed that e waste could not be transported across borders and that therefore the levy was needed to fund the construction of a factory. I questioned the veracity of this claim and even challenged him to a public debate.
Sometime back we had an unconcluded debate on e-waste with Mr Udaya Gammanpila, then Chair of the Sri Lanka Central Environmental Authority. He said, among other things, that inter-country movement of e waste was prohibited. I countered that the Basel rules permitted transport, but imposed conditions on the movement. The debate that is discussed in the NYT article below hinges on the same issue. One party argues that all e-waste exports to developing countries should be prohibited because they cannot be sure that we will follow the rules.
Multiple dishes is a common sight at many Nenasalas – the ‘telecentres’ set up under the e-Sri Lanka program, funded by the World Bank. Some of them are huge – with diameters little less than 2m. Having not done a design recently, I cannot tell the prices offhand, but I do know they are expensive – one such dish (with equipment) costs few times more than the aggregate cost of the PCs and peripherals in the centre. Why a telecenter is equipped with multiple dishes? The reason is, sadly, poor planning.
Supreme Court today (Nov 01, 2008) ordered the suspension of three environmental levies imposed recently, reported Lanka Dissent. Accordingly, the levies imposed on telecommunication towers, CFC bulbs of more than 40 Watts as well as the levy imposed on vehicles in the Western Province were directed to be suspended. Should we open a bottle of Champaign? May be not. It was not LIRNEasia that took Environment Ministry to courts.
Considering five fundamental rights applications yesterday (Sept 22), the Supreme Court issued an interim order against the implementation of the Environment Tax, reported Lanka Dissent. The petitioners were Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, Ven. Kiniyawala Palitha Thera, Telshan Network and Swarnavahini. The SC ordered the immediate suspension of the gazette notification announcing the new tax, and fixed December 01st as the next day of hearing.
Government has released the 2008 second quarter economic performance data, which shows, again, that the telecom sector is growing the fastest, at 23.2 per cent (as against 21 per cent, 2007 Q2), followed by mining and quarrying at 19.6 per cent. In his weekly newspaper column in the Lankadeepa, Mr Udaya Gammanpila, the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority and the main proponent of mobile-specific taxes, has posed the question to me why the mobile sector keeps growing even as they keep loading taxes on it. For example, the mobile subscriber levy of 10 percent of every bill was in effect in 2008 Q2.
Responding to Rohan Samarajiva’s views on newly implemented Environmental levy in Lankadeepa last week, Central Environmental Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila calls it essential and the ‘first progressive tax’ in Sri Lanka. Assuring it does not burden public, he says any tax can be initially unpopular but the impact should be seen in long term. (Lankadeepa, August 19, 2008) These are his points in brief: 1. If not for the Environmental levy, the government has to find money to address environmental issues by increasing either VAT or customs charges. That will raise prices in general.
Central Environmental Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila calls the new ‘Environmental tax’ essential, pro-poor and progressive. Releasing used mobile phones and CFL bulbs to environment is dangerous, he warns, with a long list of hazardous chemicals that would perhaps put a chemistry professor to shame. He wants to collect them for recycling. The tax money will be used to build recycling plants. Not everybody agrees.
Two thousand and five hundred years ago, Gautama Buddha correlated tax collectors to bees. A righteous ruler, said he, taking the Liccavis as an example, collects tax without making it a burden on people, in the same was a bee collects honey from a flower (without damaging it). Such wise words were not always heeded. Four new levies, reported Financial Times today, will come into force this month under the Environmental Conservation Levy Act No. 8 of 2008.
The Lakbima newspaper (30 October 2007) reports that Central Environmental Authority Chairman and Jatika Hela Urumaya politician Udaya Gammanpila is advocating a “green tax” on mobile phones, tyres, electronic equipment and asbestos. It appears that the JHU has a vendetta against the 6 million plus mobile users in Sri Lanka. They originated the idea of taxing mobiles to pay for government expenses (an amended law to this effect was enacted in September 2007); and now they want to impose another tax, this time in the name of the environment. Why not on fixed phones? On computers?