Tax on abandoned lands nothing new
By Madhuri Peiris
The Western Provincial Council (WPC) has imposed a new tax on abandoned lands in the Western Province, taking another step towards controlling the dengue epidemic which has claimed 225 lives up to now. As soon as the tax was announced it had a rippling effect on both residents in the Western Province and politicians.
According to the Chief Minister of the Western Province, Isuru Dewapriya, it is not a new tax that the WPC introduced last week.
Section 247 (d) of the 150-year-old Municipal Council Ordinance imposed a tax on abandoned lands. However, the law remained almost a dead letter up to now. Section 165 (c) of the Urban Council Ordinance and Section 153 of the Local Government Ordinance also clearly mention about the tax. "So, I requested the authorities to go ahead with the Ordinance," he said.
The Chief Minister also said, "I decided to give extra attention to this tax after a small incident which took place last week. I was invited to an opening ceremony of a Dansala in Kottawa on the Esala Poya Day. On my way, I saw a funeral close by Dansala and got to know that the death had occurred due to dengue. While I was there people who gathered near the Dansala started complaining about a stubborn neighbour who had refused to clean his home garden and had even lodged a complaint with the police against those who had requested him several times to keep his land clean. I felt the anger of these people and I could imagine their next reaction.
I explained to them about the legal provisions available to settle such issues and left the area promising them a positive solution immediately. So, on the next Monday I ordered the authorities to go ahead with this 2 per cent tax."
The new move will generate a huge income to both Municipal and Urban Councils as the 2 per cent tax would be charged on the total value of the abandoned lands from their owners. Already the Urban Councils in Kaduwela and Kotte have managed to collect large amounts of money from the tax.
Explaining how it is actually going to work, the Chief Minister said if a landowner has been taxed under this category he can visit the relevant authority and request for a time period to clean the land and then avoid paying the tax. But the requested time should not be too long, he added.
Answering a question what the process they would follow to identify a land to impose the 2 per cent tax, he said if a plot of land or a home garden under any Provincial Council that is not used, whether it is for vegetation and is not maintained adequately, the tax of 2 per cent will be imposed. It will be calculated according to the land's current market value and that is why it is going to be very large, the Chief Minister added. "I am not only requesting citizens of the Western Province, but the whole of Sri Lanka, if you have a land that is not maintained and has the possibility of turning into a dengue breeding ground, to clean it before the Municipal Council or other authorities intervene, he further stated.
There are many campaigns and awareness programmes happening around the country on eradicating dengue, but still some people do not make any effort to make lifestyle changes and support the country in this epidemic situation. I hope the laws and regulations will control such people, he added.
When questioned why a former minister like Bandula Gunawardena has made a statement against the the 2 per cent tax on abounded lands, the Chief Minister said, either he didn't have a clear picture of how this tax is going to work at the time he delivered his statement or he did it purposely to get some extra attention in the media. "In fact, I inquired from him on the statement and he started laughing," the Chief Minister said. "The television channels which highlighted his statement with a voice cut of Bandula contacted me to ask for an explanation. I questioned them why they have to telecast Bandula's statement at 10.00 p.m. when it was recorded in the morning? I wanted to know why they took such a long time to contact me. This is the latest trend of most politicians.
They say something to become popular through the media and remain in the limelight every day.
I saw the same person making a statement to the media saying that there are 53 wards filled with dengue patients in the Colombo South General Hospital. However, there are only 33 wards in the hospital. Sometimes politicians just talk about various issues to become popular. I do not want to correct them through the media, the Chief Minister added. "I do not want to become a joker to the public," he said. "Some people have started saying that the 2 per cent tax was imposed by ministers with the intention to rob lands from the public. There's no truth in the statement. Municipal and Urban Councils have the legal authority to impose taxes. We have no powers to interfere. Already 15 local authorities are charging the 2 per cent tax from the owners of abandoned lands. Last week I only reminded other local authorities also to follow suit. Unfortunately, everyone started saying that I have imposed a new tax on abandoned lands."
According to the updates from the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, 80, 732 suspected dengue cases have been reported from all over the country. Around 43.22 per cent dengue cases were reported from the Western Province. The present outbreak was intensified due to the recent floods as well as the garbage disposal crisis in Colombo. The government has already deployed troops backed by Police and health officials to help combat the spread of the disease. However, the health care workers are still struggling to deal with the increasing number of dengue patients with limited infrastructure facilities. Taxing abandoned lands is just one step towards our major fight against the rapid spreading dengue menace. The government or one minister cannot do this alone. All should work together to manage our waste and keep the environment clean.
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