Price controls done away with, levy of Rs. 65 per kg on imported rice reduced to 25 cents
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The government has allowed emergency regulations imposed several weeks ago to ensure an uniterrupted supply of essential commodities such as rice, sugar and other consumer goods, to lapse. As a result the post of Commissioner General of Essential Services held by Maj. Gen. M. D. S. P Niwunhella has been abolished.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promulgated emergency laws after having named serving officer Niwunhella, the head of his security as the Commissioner General of Essential Services. The President’s Office made the announcement as regards Maj. Gen. Niwunhella’s appointment on August 30, 2021.
As per the powers vested in terms of the section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance, President Rajapaksa declared emergency regulations formulated as per the section 5 on essential food supply, with effect from midnight August 30, 2021.
The declaration of emergency regulations triggered protests from the Opposition with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) warning the move could lead to a state of repression. The civil society, too, protested against the move.
Authoritative sources told The Island that with the change of government strategy in respect of price controls, the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had refrained from seeking parliamentary approval required to extend emergency regulations. The Parliament on Sept. 06 passed emergency regulations that authorized Maj. Gen. Niwunhella to seize food stocks, confiscate warehouses and vehicles used to transport such items.
Emergency regulations were passed by 81 majority votes with 132 lawmakers voting for and 51 against in the 225-member legislature where the SLPP enjoys a near two-thirds majority.
Sources explained that the original strategy had been for the newly appointed Commissioner General of Essential Services and Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake, to work in close coordination to seize hoarded food stocks.
Against the backdrop of ceasing of emergency regulations meant to prevent hoarding and the termination of the Office of Commissioner General of Essential Services, the government yesterday (4) removed the retail price cap on several essential commodities through a gazette notification. The retail prices of dhal, sugar, sprats, green gram, potatoes, big onions, canned fish, chickpeas, wheat flour, full cream milk powder, dried fish, coconut, chicken and maize have been removed with immediate effect.
The new gazette notification has also removed the maximum price limit of Rs. 1,500 for a 400g packet of sausages and Rs. 1,500 for a kg of mackerel. In addition to that the Special Commodity Levy of Rs.65 per kg of imported rice has been reduced to 25 cents for the next six months.
Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has made these tax deductions with effect from November 2 in accordance with the powers vested in him under the Special Commodity Levy Act.
The duty on imported sugar, too, remains 25 cents a kilo since Oct 13, 2020 when the Finance Ministry slashed Rs 50 duty on a kilo of sugar.
The government brought in emergency regulations close on the heels of a spate of raids on warehouses from where authorities took 29,000 metric tonnes of sugar into custody. Having repeatedly vowed to maintain prices, the government recently allowed sharp increase of milk powder and liquefied petroleum gas. Interestingly, local producers also matched the increase in the price of imported milk powder.
Trade Ministry sources yesterday told The Island that price controls had been done away with as part of a new scheme to allow the market to decide prices. However, the government would make necessary interventions to prevent the importers from exploiting the consumers, sources said, adding that the second consignment of Nadu from India would arrive at the Colombo harbour today (5).
Since the cabinet recently authorized the importation of 100,000 metric tonnes of rice to meet the shortfall, the Trade Ministry imported 15,000 metric tonnes of Nadu from India. With the arrival of the latest stock, the total amount of Nadu imported from India would be 22,000 metric tonnes. According to the Trade Ministry, they are planning to procure about 40,000 metric tonnes of rice from India, Pakistan and Myanmar.
NGO to move SC against acquittal and discharge of first accused
Welikada Prison killings
‘The BASL should make its position clear now’
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, says his outfit will soon move the Supreme Court against the acquittal and discharging of Inspector Neomal Moses Rangajiva, the first accused in the Welikada Prison killings.
The civil society activist, in a brief interview with The Island, over the weekend, said that the relatives of those who perished in the violence in the Welikada Prison compound on Nov 09 and 10, 2012, had requested him to pursue this matter.
Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar last Wednesday (12) sentenced to death ex-Welikada Prisons Chief Lamahewage Emil Ranjan over the Welikada killings. He was the second accused in the high-profile case, whereas Rangajiva, at that time attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), was acquitted and released from all charges.
Lawyer Perera said that as the verdict had been given by a Trial-at-Bar, the appeal would have to be made to the Supreme Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court judges Gihan Kulathunga (President), Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakarathna was unanimous in its decisions.
The Trial-at-Bar said that the prosecution failed to prove its case against the PNB officer beyond reasonable doubt.
Responding to questions, Senaka Perera said that if it hadn’t been a Trial-at-Bar, his group would have moved the Court of Appeal. Senaka Perera explained: “We intend to write to Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, in this regard. We are of the view the AG should appeal against the acquittal and discharging of Rangajiva. However, if the AG refrained from doing so, the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners will accept the responsibility.”
In terms of the Trial-at-Bar proceedings, the eight prison inmates who were killed in the incident are Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan, Attapattu Sangakkara Nirmala Atapattu, Mohammed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila, Harshan Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Raigamage Susantha Perera alias Mala Susantha, Devamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.
However, lawyer Senaka Perera said that altogether 27 inmates had been killed after the deployment of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Army inside the Welikada Prison. According to official records, in addition to 27 deaths, at least 43 other inmates received injuries. The then Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera informed Parliament of the deaths of 27 inmates.
The then Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakoday said that inmates had triggered violence as the STF was looking for drugs and hand phones inside the prison.
The Attorney General filed indictments against IP Rangajeewa, Lamahewage Emil Ranjan and Indika Sampath, an officer attached to the Prisons intelligence unit under 33 counts, including committing murder, conspiring to commit murder after being members of an unlawful assembly.
The Court proceeded in spite of the third accused Indika Sampath who managed to evade the police so far.
The human rights activist recalled how Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, named a Trial-at-Bar to hear the Welikada case on a request made by Rajaratnam’s predecessor, Dappula de Livera, PC. The latter made the request in late June 2019. Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera in late May 2021.
The Prisons Department and the Justice Ministry couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for ensuring safety and security of those in their care, lawyer Senaka Perera said. Those who had been remanded and sentenced could be serious offenders and some may even deserve a death sentence but the State shouldn’t under any circumstances resort to extra judicial measures, the public litigation activist said.
Lawyer Senaka Perera said that he believed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should examine the Welikada case and make its position known to the public. “Perhaps, the BASL, too, should consider moving the SC against the acquittal and discharging of the first accused,” the lawyer said.
Lawyer Senaka Perera said that before the former AG made an intervention the progress in investigations had been slow. In fact, real progress was made since 2017, two years after the change of government following the 2015 presidential election, the lawyer said, alleging that the powers that be continuously hindered the investigations.
According to lawyer Perera and other sources, there had been four separate investigations at different levels beginning with the one launched by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) immediately after the Welikada killings. Subsequently the then Prisons Minister the late Chandrasiri Gajadeera named a three-member team to inquire into the Welikada killings. The committee comprising retired High Court judge Bandula Atapattu, retired DIG Gunasena Thenabadu and Prisons Ministry Legal Officer Lalith Andrahannadi produced two reports in Feb 2013 and Nov 2013. There had been two other investigations ordered by the then Prisons Chief P.W. Kodipillai and the Human Rights Commission.
Lawyer Senaka Perera said that the four investigations undertaken during the Rajapaksa administration should be examined. The lawyer emphasized the importance of appraisal of the investigations as the Trial-at-Bar declared that the progress had been made only since 2017.
In addition to those four investigations, there had been another report prepared by the three-member committee comprising retired High Court judge Wimal Nambuwasam, retired Senior DIG Asoka Wijeyatilleke and senior public servant S.K. Liyanage. Appointed on January 22, 2015, less than two weeks after the presidential election, the committee handed over its report to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, on June 09, 2015 as the latter appointed it.
Lawyer Perera said that the former Prisons Chief claimed that the inmates after having broken into the Prisons armoury seized weapons, including machine guns.
The activist pointed out that the 2012 incidents were the worst since the 1983 massacre of Tamil terrorist suspects. The public have lost faith in law enforcement authorities and the political leadership regardless of the party that held power, the lawyer said. There couldn’t be better example than how the current dispensation handled the then State Minister for Prisons Lohan Ratwatte’s ‘raids’ on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September last year.
The report prepared by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena into the incidents involving Ratwatte should be made public as the police were yet to at least record the State Minister’s statement, lawyer Perera said.
China donates shipment of rice to Sri Lanka
By Anura Balasuriya
China will soon send a shipment of rice to Sri Lanka as a donation, a Ministry of Trade spokesman said.
The donation comes in the wake of the 70 year anniversary of the Sri Lanka – China Rubber Rice pact on 1952.
Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardane had discussed the matter recently with a senior Chinese Embassy officia, the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.
“The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is already doing the needful. The Trade Ministry has informed China of the varieties of rice that Sri Lankan consumers like,” the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.
Rating downgrades discourage investors – JVP
JVP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, on Friday (14) day, said investors were discouraged by the continuous downgrading of the country’s credit ratings.
Speaking at an event in Colombo, MP Amarasuriya said import costs had increased as the country was going through a forex crisis. The President’s agricultural policy had been a disaster and that in the coming months, the government would have to import large volumes of food.
Amarasuriya added that Sri Lanka’s relations with other nations had deteriorated and that too would have an adverse impact on the country.
Dr. Amarasuriya said that international rating agencies were independent and that their ratings were very important for investors to make decisions.
“Investors don’t consult Ajith Nivard Cabraal before investing. Besides, in other countries, it is economic experts, not politicians, who become Central Bank Governors,” she added.
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