By Saman Indrajith
State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal, on Friday (4) assured Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Buddhika Pathirana that immediate remedial action would be taken in respect of shocking revelation that some unscrupulous businessmen produced a toxic brew in the name of manufacturing artificial toddy, and corrupt Excise Officers exploited the Technical Crime Report to deprive the government Rs. 80 billion in revenue due.
“The police and the STF commandos raid illicit toddy distilleries amidst hardships, in spite of threats to their lives. Thereafter they hand over their findings to the Excise Officers to take legal action. The Excise Officers do not take the culprits to court, and instead release them filing a Technical Crime Report (TCR). Under the TCR the racketeers only have to pay a skimpy sum by way of a composition fee.”
Pathirana said that as per Sections 49, 50 and 52 of the antiquated Excise Ordinance, the police and the STF had been barred from producing artificial racketeers and their toxic brew in courts. “After the raid, the police and STF have to hand them over to the Excise Department. Not all Excise officers are corrupt; some of them, in fact, produce the lawbreakers in court. Even in such instances the reward money for the detection and raid are not given to the police and the STF; it goes to the Excise officers who handle only the legal part of the raid.”
MP Pathirana called on State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal to amend Sections 49, 50 and 52 of the Excise Ordinance to enable the police to prosecute those engaged in producing artificial toddy.
The Minister promised that he would get his ministry officials to work on it.
MP Pathirana said that it was the third time he was raising a question on the large-scale racket. “I asked two recent questions from you in this House in the last couple of weeks related to other aspects of this scam. I gathered a lot of facts and details after studying this issue for a considerable time. I also tabled some documents and sent to you copies of them. I also know that your ministry officials are tied up with the budget process, but could you at least appoint a committee to investigate the matters I raised on those two occasions.”
“I really appreciate the hard work of the MP and I am thankful to him for raising this matter. I have instructed Excise Department officials and the Secretary to the Ministry to commence a thorough study on the matter and report to me. I assure you that I will personally attend to this matter.”
“Since I raised this some of the racketeers have got hold of some Finance Ministry and Excise officials and are working surreptitiously to do away with the mechanisms in place to ascertain information about the toddy industry. Only around one and a half litres of toddy could be extracted from a single coconut palm and it could vary slightly owing to factors such as climate, humidity and season. The amount being sold by the licence holders varies from the actual amount extracted from palms. A difference is in the region of as 60,000-70,000 litres. So, it is obvious that toddy comes from other sources.”
Reading out a document, Minister Cabraal said that it had been mentioned in it that the approved production capacity for each bottled toddy manufacturer would be the total expected toddy yield from the number of trees licensed for tapping.
It is that stipulation that they are trying to do away with. Once it is removed, we may never be able to guess the amount they had illicitly produced. Will you promise to prevent these businessmen and corrupt officials from removing that stipulation?
Minister Cabraal: I apologize for not having a detailed and complete answer today. But I will study this and inform this House of all details in the future date.
Responding to MP Pathirana, the Minister said the toddy industry was found in the districts of Kalutara, Gampaha, Puttalam, Badulla, Moneragala, Hambantota, Anuradhapura and all districts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. As at Dec 31, last year there had been 3,094 licensed toddy tappers in the country but there was no information about the number of employees engaged in the supportive services of the industry. There were 32 licensed toddy producers in the country as at Dec 31, 2019.
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam
The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.
Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.
A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.
The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.
According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.
The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.
DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.
PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners
By Norman Palihawadane
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.
Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.
The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”
Thilo Hoffman remembered
A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.
Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.
The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
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