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Duty on sugar to be kept at 25 cts. a kilo



Faced with shortage, govt. throws open sugar market to competition

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanne yesterday (01) said that the duty on white sugar would remain at 25 cents a kilo for the time being to ensure the control price remained the same.

The Lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether the duty would be revised in the wake of the government lifting restrictions on the import of sugar as stocks diminished rapidly. The wholesale price of white sugar is at Rs 116 and retail Rs 122.

Responding to another query, the State Minister estimated the available stocks of white sugar and locally produced red sugar needed to be replenished quite urgently to ensure the red sugar is priced at Rs 125. According to the State Minister the stock available, included the white sugar variety used for other than domestic uses.

Asked whether it was fair to continue with 25 cents duty on a kilo of sugar at a time both government as well as Opposition lawmakers criticised the unprecedented duty slash, SLFPer Alagiyawanna emphasised that there was no basis for such criticism. The State Minister stressed that the position taken by the Committee on Public Finance (CoPF) as regards the duty reduction didn’t actually reflect the situation on the ground. The CoPE’s criticism was unfounded, the Gampaha District MP said.

CoPA Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa is on record as having said that the duty reduction didn’t benefit the consumer at all. Lawmaker Yapa called for a report from the Finance Ministry in that regard.

MP Alagiyawanne said that price controls were imposed on sugar in the wake of kilo of sugar going beyond Rs 230 or 240 in the market. The State Minister said that the Finance Ministry had abolished the license system to enable any interested party to import sugar.

The Finance Ministry on Oct 13, 2020 issued a gazette notification pertaining to the much debated unprecedented duty reduction from Rs 50 to 25 cents a kilo.

Those who found fault with that didn’t realize how the price mechanism worked, the State Minister said, tangible measures were being taken to prevent shortage of sugar in the market.

The lawmaker said that revision of duty couldn’t be contemplated at the moment under any circumstances. According to the State Minister, as sugar hadn’t been imported into the country in the recent past the available stocks were diminishing quite rapidly.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in terms of emergency regulations declared at midnight August 31, took tangible measures to ensure sufficient supply of rice, sugar and other essential items. The President also appointed Maj. Gen. Senarath Niwunhella as the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) to work in unison with the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) to reign in the traders’ Mafia. In a series of recent raids, authorities seized nearly 30,000 tonnes of sugar imported by four companies.

However, the government has again opened up the sugar market close on the heels of rescinding the price controls on both paddy and rice.

Meanwhile, SJB lawmaker Mujibur Rahman said that contrary to government claims the whole supply system was in tatters. Declaring that the government couldn’t suppress the actual situation by media gimmicks, the former UNPer said milk powder, rice, sugar, cement, garlic and almost all essentials were in short supply. The top SJB spokesperson said that the government owed an explanation as to how it intended to sustain basic requirements as the national economy fast deteriorated.

The MP asked whether in spite of repeated threats directed at those accused of hoarding and manipulating the market, any action was initiated against them. The decision to rescind the gazette on the price of rice revealed the government lacked even basic strategy to ensure market stability, the MP said.

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No immediate hike in fuel prices – Udaya



Finance Minister rules out bailout package for CPC

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has told Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila that the Treasury is not in a position to assist the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). However, there would not be a fuel price hike in the short term, the Minister of Energy told the media yesterday.

Minister Gammanpila said that if a fuel hike was on the cards, he would announce it publicly.

“This is what I did last time also. This time around, I have told the people that we are facing a serious problem. We incur a loss of Rs. 15 on a litre of petrol and a loss of Rs 16 on a litre of diesel. The Chairman of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) has asked for a price increase,” he said.

Gammanpila said he told the Chairman of the CPC that they should first seek assistance from the Treasury. Given that prices of all essential items had increased, a significant increase in fuel prices would cause great inconvenience to the people, he said.

“At the last Cabinet meeting, I asked the Finance Minister for assistance. He said it was hard to provide assistance and was non-committal. I will again take the matter up at the next Cabinet meeting,” he said.

The government was discussing the possibility of obtaining a 3.6 billion US dollar credit line for fuel from Oman. Sri Lanka spent around USD 300 million on oil imports per month and the credit line would allow for a year of fuel supply at concessionary rates, the Minister said.

“If we get this credit line, we should be able to weather this storm. Otherwise, I will ask the Cabinet for relief. While people are suffering, we can’t also let the CPC go bankrupt. If CPC goes bust, the People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon will be in deep trouble too,” the Minister said.

Gammanpila added that there was no point in queuing at fuel stations because a decision to increase fuel takes a few months to be approved. For example the previous hike in June was first proposed in April. “If takes a few months for such a proposal to be approved and implemented. I was told that people were queuing at fuel stations last Monday and Wednesday.”

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JVP calls for multi-agency probe into Rs. 4 bn. Gin-Nilwala scam



Ex Prez can assist inquiry

By Shamindra Ferdinando

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake says a comprehensive multi-agency investigation is required to get to the bottom of what he called the massive Gin Nilwala scam perpetrated in 2012 and 2015.

In spite of disclosures in that regard, both in and outside Parliament, over a period of time, absolutely nothing had been done so far, lawmaker Dissanayake told The Island.

The government owed an explanation why over Rs 4 bn had been paid to a Chinese firm, in Dec 2012, and on January 7, 2015, as the project was yet to get off the ground, MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that he felt the need to highlight the Gin Nilwala scam against the backdrop of the Pandora Papers exposure of former Deputy Minister Nirupama Rajapaksa’s husband, Thirukumar Nadesan, as the Chinese company, allegedly involved in the Gin Nilwala project had moved money to a foreign account, in Hong Kong, held by the businessman.

Asked whether the Gin Nilwala scam, too, had been dealt by Pandora Papers, MP Dissanayake said as far as he knew Pandora Papers’ disclosure didn’t include the Gin Nilwala project.

Responding to another query, lawmaker Dissanayake said that though the then President Maithripala Sirisena questioned the Gin Nilwala project, the yahapalana government never investigated the issue properly.

MP Dissanayake said it wouldn’t be a difficult task to establish the transferring to a foreign account of Rs one bn in Dec 2012 and the over Rs. 3 bn on January 7, 2015, the day before the presidential election. Since the release of Pandora Papers, the video footage of former President Sirisena, now an SLPP MP, on the Gin Nilwala project had gone viral, the MP said.

The JVP leader said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should inquire into the matter as part of the ongoing examination of matters relating to Thirukumar Nadesan in respect of Pandora Papers.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Oct. 06 instructed CIABOC to inquire into Sri Lankans mentioned in Pandora Papers. Nadesan, too, also on the same day, asked President Rajapaksa to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations by appointing a retired Appeals Court Judge for the task. The CIABOC has recorded Nadesan’s statement in this regard.

MP Dissanayake alleged that successive governments had conveniently turned a blind eye to major cases of corruption. The very basis of parliamentary control over public finance was under threat, MP Dissanayake said, urging the government to take remedial measures or face the consequences. “Billions of rupees had been moved around, misappropriated and squandered. Those responsible for ensuring the proper practices are accused of exploiting the system. What is happening now is tragic,” MP Dissanayake said.

The JVPer said that examination of proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Finance) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) since the last general election revealed a frightening situation. The reports before the last general election were no exception, the parliamentarian said, the level of corruption in the public sector and the private-public sector joint ventures was horrifying. The national economy was being mercilessly exploited by persons holding office, the JVP leader said, the CIABOC could examine proceedings of the parliamentary watchdog committees if it was genuinely interested in stamping out corruption.

MP Dissanayake said that the national economy was in such a desperate situation thanks to decades of waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence on the part of political parties in power. “Today, we are seeking finance assistance from various countries. Recently, Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed he discussed ways and means to overcome financial crisis with the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary,” he said.

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Inter-provincial travel restrictions extended to Oct 21



Inter-provincial travel restrictions have been extended to October 21, the Presidential Media Division (PMD) said issuing a press release yesterday.

The PMD added that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed the security forces to strictly enforce the inter-province travel restrictions during the weekend.

The decision was taken at the COVID-19 Prevention Committee meeting held Friday (15) morning.

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