The government promised a broad-ranging environmental levy in the last budget speech. Some sensible people inside government appear to have defanged what could have been a very nasty piece of legislation.
The Bill that is scheduled to be debated in Parliament on the 19th of March makes provision for the levy to collected by telecom operators and paid to the Telecom Regulatory Commission and then to the Environmental Conservation Levy account of the Consolidated Fund. The other levy collector is the customs. The removal of the complex collection procedure mentioned in the Budget Speech is definitely an improvement.
As is common with present-day legislative drafting, this is a very poorly crafted bill. For example, it includes a definition of a motor vehicle that excludes two-wheel vehicles, even though the defined term is not used anywhere in the text. Its true danger lies in the vagueness of the provisions.
Pretty much any good manufactured in or imported into Sri Lanka, or any service provided in Sri Lanka, or any household, can be subject to this levy by an Order made by the Minister in charge of the subject of Finance in consultation with the Minister in charge of the subject of Environment. No controversy, no fuss, just wait for a moment when we’re all excited about winning a cricket match and quietly slap a levy on whatever you please. If Parliament lets this bill go through, it is voluntarily, and possibly unconstitutionally, giving up its control of finance.
The pernicious implications of slapping additional levies on telephones and telecom services have been previously discussed. The temptation to milk the goose that lays the golden eggs is irresistible, it seems.