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COPE demands report on imported milch cow controversy

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Ridiyagama farm lost Rs. 173 million in 2017 and 2018

The Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) has directed the Secretary to the State Ministry of Livestock and Farm Promotion and Dairy and Eggs Related Industries to review the controversial milch cow project, under the previous government, and submit a full report urgently.

Under a subsidy scheme to introduce high-yielding imported pregnant cows from Australia in 2017, the last government distributed 3,030 substandard cows, imported from there, and distributed them among dairy farm investors.

The COPE uncovered that the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) owned Ridiyagama farm that holds cattle imported in 2015 had incurred a loss of Rs. 173 million in 2017 and 2018.

The COPE has found out that feed worth Rs. 508,793,160 had been purchased for cattle, from 1 October 2017 to 30 September 2018 in violation of the guidelines given by the Procurement Committee.

The Chairman of COPE Prof. Charitha Herath pointed out that many issues had arisen due to the improper financial decisions of the NLDB.

The COPE has also instructed the NLDB to carry out its functions within the legal framework.

State Minister Susil Premajayantha, MPs Eran Wickramaratne, Premnath C. Dolawatte, and Shanakiyan Rasamanickam were present at the COPE Committee meeting, held to review the Auditor General’s reports for the years 2016 and 2017 and the current performance of the NLDB.

The COPE also said that the Annual Reports of the NLDB from 2017 to 2020 had not been tabled in Parliament. Prof. Herath said that the inability to table the annual reports at the proper time prevented the COPE from determining the progress made in more recent times. He directed the Ministry Secretary to expedite submission of the reports to Parliament.

The COPE also found that 166 vacancies had been left unfilled at the NLDB for some time. Several executive posts have also fallen vacant. It observed that the NLDB had to create a legal officer’s post.

The NLDB, by 31 December 2016, had constructed buildings worth Rs. 194,565,192 and structures worth Rs. 701,358,733 in 24 farms. Although the NLDB had been running these farms from 1974 and 1992, the land where they are located had not been formally acquired by the NLDB, the COPE noted.

The COPE also found that three institutions, the NLDB, the Mahaweli Livestock Enterprises Ltd., and Sri Lanka Poultry Development Company (Pvt) Ltd., owned 12,617.43 hectares of land. But by the end of May 2019, 2,311.35 hectares of those lands had remained unutilised.

The COPE also found that the NLDB possessed machinery capable of producing 3.75 tons of cattle feed at a time, but these machines had not been utilised properly. Farms at Menikpalama, Dayagama and Ridiyagama which keep the imported cattle cannot even cover their minimum direct expenses, the COPE has noted.

The NLDB should look into the matter immediately, Prof. Herath said.



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Crisis over fuel price hike: SLPP constituents crank up pressure on party General Secretary

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Eight lawmakers representing political parties affiliated to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to take action against SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, for challenging the government decision to increase fuel prices.

The group consists of National List MP Ven. Athureliye Rathana (Our Power of People Party), Wimal Weerawansa (National Freedom Front), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP), A.L.M. Athaulla (National Congress), G. Weerasinghe (Communist Party), Tiran Alles (United People’s Party) and Asanka Nawaratne (Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya) in a joint letter, dated June 14, have appealed for the immediate intervention of the President and the Premier in this regard.

Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Alles are among 17 appointed to Parliament on the SLPP National List.

They warned that failure to take tangible measures against such actions would result in the deterioration of public confidence in the government. The SLPP parliamentary group comprises 145 MPs.

The group of lawmakers was responding to SLPP National List MP Kariyawasam’s controversial call for the immediate resignation of Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over the sharp increase of fuel prices at midnight on June 11.

They issued the statement consequent to a hasty  meeting called at Minister Weerawansa’s official residence on Sunday.

Noting that the Presidential Secretariat, too, on Sunday confirmed that the decision to increase fuel prices had been taken on June 09 at a meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and attended by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, the group of MPs accused the SLPP General Secretary of causing a wholly unnecessary problem. The group alleged that MP Kariyawasam’s actions had caused suspicion among the electorate whether a clique was in operation in the SLPP.

Minister Gammanpila, embroiled in simmering controversy has refrained from signing the petition though he called another press conference today (15) to explain the developments.

 The group said that in view of the financial crisis that had been caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic the government was forced to increase fuel prices in spite of it being an unpopular measure.

Political sources pointed out that in February this year MP Sagara Kariyawasam caused a media furore when he asked Minister Weerawansa to apologise for suggesting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be accommodated in the SLPP decision-making body. The group that has thrown its weight  behind Minister Gammanpila also clashed with a section of the SLPP lawmakers over the government bid to allow Indian investment at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port.

MP Kariyawasam did not answer his mobile phone.

In addition to MP Kariyawasam, MP Jagath Kumara (Colombo District) too strongly condemned the fuel price hike.

The SLPP MPs demanding action against Kariyawasam assured that they would soon submit a comprehensive proposal to President Rajapaksa to provide support to low income groups.

The Presidential Secretariat said that the price increase was necessitated by the financial crisis caused by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) being heavily indebted  to the Bank of Ceylon  and the People’s Bank to the tune of Rs 737 bn. Of that sum, CPC owed Rs 652 bn, the biggest single amount in any of the state sector enterprises.

The Samagi Jana Balavegagaya MP Mujibur Rahman said that Minister Gammanpila owed an explanation why he made the announcement as regards the fuel price hike as the matter came under the purview of the Finance Ministry.  Rahman pointed out that Minister Gammanpila himself subsequently admitted that only the Finance Ministry could decide on this matter. The former UNP MP said that the government’s much touted claim that the decision to increase fuel prices had been finalized on June 09 at the Cost of Living Committee was nothing but a joke. “We thought the Cost of Living Committee was meant to provide relief to the people not to increase their burden,” MP Rahman said.

The SJB spokesperson ridiculed the statement issued by a group of eight MPs. He alleged that the SLPP was staging a drama to divert the attention of the public. Their parliamentary group should take up responsibility for the current crisis having promised to transform the country overnight. Those who had voted for the 20th Amendment in October last year as well as the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill last month were engaged in a futile campaign to save the government, the SJB MP said.

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Basil R wouldn’t have allowed fuel price increase – MP

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Gampaha District SLPP MP Nimal Lanza yesterday said that if Basil Rajapaksa had been in the country, he wouldn’t have allowed the fuel price increase. He said that he strongly opposed the decision as it seriously affected the people, particularly the fishing community.

 

 

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1198 lockdown violators arrested

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By Norman Palihawadane

The Police had arrested 1,198 people countrywide for violating lockdown regulations in the 24 hours that ended yesterday morning, police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said.

A total of 32,593 persons had been arrested on the relevant charges since Oct 30, last year,  he said.

DIG Rohana said that special police teams had been deployed to continue the operations today as well to nab lockdown violators.

During the same period 3,051 persons travelling in 1,757 vehicles were inspected at 14 entry and exit points in the Western Province. Of them, 160 persons travelling in 100 vehicles were sent back for attempting to cross provincial borders for non-essential purposes, violating travel restrictions.

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