Basil Rajapaksa

From TobaccoUnmasked

Background

Image 1:Basil Rajapaksa.[1]

Basil Rajapaksa, born in 1951, is a Sri Lankan politician. He had his secondary education at Isipathana and Ananda Colleges Colombo. Basil Rajapaksa has dual citizenships in Sri Lanka and in United States of America. He was a member of the Parliament from 2007 to 2015.[2].

Basil Rajapaksa comes from a family with a background in politics. His father, D. A. Rajapaksa, was a member of the Parliament.[3] As of 2019, three of his brothers, Chamal Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa are active in Sri Lankan politics. Two of them, (Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, are elected Presidents and the other (Chamal Rajapaksa), has served as the Speaker of the Parliament.[4][5]

In the general election in 2020, he was not qualified to compete as he had dual citizenship of The United States of America and Sri Lanka. The constitution of Sri Lanka was amended in October 2020 removing this restriction. In July 2021, he was appointed a Member of the Parliament through the national list of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) filling the vacancy generated by the resignation of Hon. Jayantha Ketagoda MP. Immediately following his appointment, he was sworn in as the Minister of Finance.[6].[7]

Political positions held

  • Minister of Economic Development (2010-2015)[8]
  • Member of Parliament from the national list (2007 - 2010).[2]
  • Senior advisor to the President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005 – 2010).[9]
  • Minister of Finance (8th July 2021 – present) [10]
  • Member of Parliament from the National list (7th July 2021 –present)[11]

Tobacco Related Activities

Participation in Events

Image 2: ITC Colombo ground breaking ceremony with the participation of Basil Rajapaksa (Minister for Economic Development), Y K Sinha (High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka), Y C Deveshwar (Chairman, ITC Limited), Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena (Minister for Investment Promotion), A.J.M. Muzammil (Mayor of Colombo), Ajith Nivard Cabraal (Governer, Central Bank of Sri Lanka) and Daya Ratnayake (Army Commander).[12]

Basil Rajapaksa (Minister for Economic Development) participated in the ground breaking ceremony for ITC One, the Colombo branch of the hospitality chain of Indian Tobacco Company (ITC).[13]

Influencing Tobacco Control Policies

On 20th February 2015, when the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) Act amendment on Pictorial Health Warnings (PHWs) was presented for the approval of the parliament, then Minister of Health Rajitha Senarathna revealed that Basil Rajapaksa had opposed the Pictorial Health Warnings and had not allowed the proposal to be tabled as a cabinet paper.[14]

The aforementioned amendment to the NATA Act was necessary because Supreme Court ordered to reduce the size of the PHWs to 50% - 60% of the surface area of cigarette packs when Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) took legal action against the Gazette issued by Minister of Health to implement PHWs covering 80% of the surface area of cigarette packs. CTC is the British American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary in Sri Lanka with a monopoly to manufacture and trade cigarettes in Sri Lanka]]. Please refer to our page Ceylon Tobacco Legally Challenging Pictorial Health Warnings in Cigarette Packs for more details.

Obtaining Sponsorship for Construction of Agro-wells

In 2014, during his tenure as the Cabinet Minister of Economic Development, the relevant Ministry partnered with Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) to construct 100 agro-wells under SADP Agro-wells programme. The project was conducted in Weli-Oya, an agricultural area in the dry zone in Sri Lanka, with the support of the Weli-Oya District Secretary [15][16][17]

SADP Agro-wells, launched in 2014, is a variant of the Sustainable Agriculture Development Programme (SADP), the main Corporate Social Investment (CSI) project of the Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC), the British American Tobacco (BAT) subsidiary holding monopoly of cigarette manufacturing and sales in Sri Lanka. Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) cultivates the tobacco needed for their manufacturing process domestically and is known to use various tactics to engage farmers to initiate and sustain tobacco cultivation in Sri Lanka. The CTC Annual Report 2015 (Page 93) mentioned “Construction of 100 agro wells” as one of their CSI projects (Image 3). The CTC Annual Report 2016 (Page 111) categorised the progamme under SADP Agro-wells[18][19]

Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the World Health Organization global convention on tobacco control, Articles 13 and 5.3 recommend to ban sponsorship, CSI activities and interactions of government officials and agencies with the tobacco industry.

Image 1: Excerpt of the image of the CTC Annual Report 2014 reporting “Construction of 100 agro-wells”.[17]

Alcohol Related Activities

Parliamentary statement on duties of the Excise department

On 7th September 2021, Hon. Minister Basil Rajapaksa made a statement in the parliament referring to “making healthy addictive substances available to the public” as one of the functions of the Excise department. He further mentioned that the closure of alcohol sales outlets in the COVID-19 lockdown period negatively affected the tourism industry, led to a reduction of government revenue from excise tax and to an increase of illicit alcohol production.[20] This is a misinterpretation of the functions of the Excise Department as stated in the Excise Ordinance while the statement indirectly promoted alcohol as a “healthy product”. None of the addictive substances, especially alcohol and tobacco, are healthy in whatever form or way they are marketed.

It is a well-established fact that governments have a net economic loss with regards to excise tax from alcohol. A study revealed that the total direct and indirect economic and social costs of alcohol were LKR 119.66 billion in 2015.[21] According to the Annual report of Ministry of Finance of the same year, the government revenue from the excise tax on alcohol was LKR 105.23 billion. This comparison shows that overall it is a net loss to the government even though the taxes from alcohol accounted for around 7.2% of the total government revenue.[22]

Impact

Media reports quoted the speech of Minister Rajapaksa in the Parliament highlighting the loss of government revenue from the excise department due to the COVID-19 lockdown (Image 4).[23][24]

Image 4: Media reporting the loss of government revenue due to COVID-19 lockdown [23]

Several health promotion stakeholders in Sri Lanka publicly criticised the speech of the Finance Minister on public and social media platforms. Centre for Combating Tobacco issued a press release on 11th September 2021 urging the Sri Lankan Government to be more attentive in making such statements in the future. CCT also pointed out that the government needs to employ an evidence-based rational tax policy in order to increase the government revenue while making alcohol control more effective in Sri Lanka (Image 5).

Image 5: Press briefing issued on the statement of Finance Minister on the duties of the Excise Department

Tobacco Unmasked Resources

Other relevant TobaccoUnmasked entries:

TobaccoUnmasked_Sinhala
TobaccoUnmasked_Tamil



Notes

  1. M Aravinda. Basil Rajapaksa Turning the wheel of change, Business Today, October 2009, accessed December 2019
  2. 2.0 2.1 manthri.lk. Basil Rajapaksa 2013-2015, accessed January 2019
  3. The Famous People. Mahinda Rajapaksa Biography, undated, accessed March 2019
  4. Facebook. Basil Rajapaksa, undated, accessed November 2019
  5. Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Biography, undated, accessed November 2019
  6. Sunday Island Online. Basil’s Labours, 8 July 2021, accessed September 2021
  7. The Island online. Will Basil return to Parliament?, 22 June 2021, accessed September 2021
  8. Business Today Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa visits Central Bank of Sri Lanka undated, accessed January 2019
  9. U Amarasinghe, T Kahandawaarachchi. Basil Rajapaksa Turning the wheel of change, Business Today, October 2009, accessed December 2019
  10. Economy next. Basil Rajapaksa sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new Finance Minister, 8 July 2021, accessed September 2021
  11. Presidential Secretariat. Basil Rajapaksa sworn-in as Finance Minister, 8 July 2021, accessed September 2021
  12. Department of Government Information. Ground Breaking Ceremony of ITC Colombo One, News.lk, 21 November 2014, accessed May 2018
  13. ITC. Ground Breaking Ceremony of ITC Colombo One , 19 November 2014, accessed January 2019
  14. Parliament of Sri Lanka Hanzard: Parilament of Sri Lanka 20 February 2015, accessed January 2019
  15. Daily FT. CTC and Ministry of Economic Development to construct 100 agro-wells, 08 October 2014, accessed July 2020
  16. Sunday Observer. CTC to build 100 agro-wells, 05 October 2014, accessed July 2020
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC. Annual Report 2014, 2015, accessed July 2020
  18. Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC. Annual Report 2015, 2016, accessed July 2020
  19. Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC. Annual Report 2016, 2017, accessed July 2020
  20. SL News Today.Statement by Basil Rajapaksha | Today Parliament News Sri Lanka | SL news Today, 7 September 2021, accessed September 2021
  21. National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol, World Health Organization, Country office for Sri Lanka, Expert Committee on Tobacco, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs -Sri Lanka Medical Association, Health Intervention Technology Assessment Programme – Thailand. Economic and Social Costs of Tobacco and Alcohol in Sri Lanka 2015, 2016, accessed September 2021
  22. Ministry of Finance. Annual Report 2015, 31 March 2016, accessed September 2021
  23. 23.0 23.1 C. Nathaniel and A. Mallawaarachchi. Government lose Rs. 1,600 Bn revenue due to COVID, Daily News e-paper, 7 September 2021, accessed September 2021
  24. S. Indrajith. Loss suffered by country due to pandemic Rs.1,600 billion so far this year, The Island online, 8 September 2021, accessed September 2021