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Govt. admits seized hoard of sugar part of stocks imported at nominal duty rate

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Hoarding drives prices above Rs. 210 a kilo

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanne yesterday (29) said that 5,400 metric tons of sugar imported at 25 cents duty a kilo had been detected in three separate warehouses.

The detections were made amidst a shortage of sugar in the market with the price of a kilo of sugar rising above Rs 200.

The Finance Ministry reduced the duty on a kilo of sugar from Rs 50 to 25 cents by issuing a gazette bearing 2197/12 on Oct 13, 2020.

MP Alagiyawanne said that identities of the importers were known.

In spite of strong criticism both in and outside parliament, the government declined to reverse its decision.

Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPA) Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (SLPP Kurunegala District) on January 5, 2021 told the parliamentary watchdog committee that the consumers had not benefited from the sharp reduction of duty at all.

State Minister Alagiyawanne told The Island that the detection of hoarded sugar was made close on the heels of raids on 52 warehouses where the Consumer Affairs Authority detected about 100 metric tonnes of rice. Referring to large scale hoarding of sugar and rice, the SLFPer admitted that the country lacked laws to deal with such exploitation of the public.

Acknowledging that successive governments couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for their failure to enhance required laws in that regard, Gampaha District MP Alagiyawanne said that the issue at hand would be discussed with the Attorney General’s Department. Dismissing the fines that could be prescribed for hoarding et al as nothing but a joke, the State Minister said that the maximum prison term too was six months imprisonment.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the sugar racket had been bared in parliament in December last year. The government did nothing as the reduction of duty was effected to help government cronies, MP Dissanayake charged.

Soon after the issuance of the gazette in Oct last year, 26,000 metric tonnes of sugar was brought in. That shipload had been followed by another 12,500 mt and 13,000 mt, the JVPer said, pointing out that the public were deceived by those who propagated the lie a kilo of sugar would be made available at Rs 85.

Dissanayake said that the government, particularly the Finance Ministry, owed an explanation regarding the issuance of the particular gazette. “Hoarding sugar is a serious matter. But, the real issue at hand is the massive loss suffered by the Treasury as a result of the Oct 2020 gazette. This loss is in addition to depriving the Treasury of over Rs 500 bn by doing away with a range of taxes immediately after the 2019 presidential election,” MP Dissanayake said.

The JVP Leader pointed out that several weeks ago three major importers were found to be hoarding fertiliser. The public would like to know whether any action was taken against them, he asked alleging that bigger the crime the perpetrators found it much easier to side step the law.



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Self-Employed Traders petition SC over govt. favouring liquor dealers

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By A.J.A Abeynayake

The Supreme Court has decided take up, on 04 Oct. for hearing a petition filed by the Association of Self-Employed Traders against the opening of liquor stores during the current lockdown.

 The traders have requested the apex court to order the government to allow members of their union to engage in business activities since the liquor stores had been allowed to reopen during the lockdown.

The petition was taken up before a three-judge bench comprising justices L. T. B. Dehideniya, Shiran Gooneratne and Janak de Silva, yesterday.

 The State Counsel appearing for the respondents said he had received the relevant documents pertaining to the case only last Friday evening. Therefore, the State Counsel requested the court to give him time to seek advice from the respondents who were many.

Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva, appearing for the petitioner at the time, said about 7,000 members of his client union had lost their livelihoods due to the decision by the respondents.

Therefore, Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva requested the court to give an early date for considering the petition.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided to take up the petition for consideration on 04 Oct and directed the lawyers of the petitioners to take steps to send notice to the respondents before that date.

The petition was filed by the President of the United National Self-Employed Trade Association G.I. Charles, its Vice President P.G.B. Nissanka, and Secretary Krishan Marambage.

The petition names 47 respondents, including the Director General of Health Services, the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of Excise.

The petitioners allege that under the quarantine law, the Director General of Health Services, who is the competent authority, issued a notice on Aug 20 prohibiting the opening of liquor stores.

The petitioners point out that steps were taken to open liquor stores countrywide contrary to the regulations of the Health Authority.

The Director General of Health Services, the Commissioner General of Excise and the Inspector General of Police have stated that they have not allowed the reopening of liquor stores.

The petitioners have also requested the Supreme Court to issue an order to the respondents to allow the members of their association to engage in business activities as the liquor stores are allowed to remain open.

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Lankan born newly elected Norwegian MP Gunaratnam calls for investments here

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Newly elected Norwegian Labour Party MP, Lankan born Kamzy Gunaratnam says she will ask the new Norwegian government to continue engagement with the country of her birth.

 Speaking at a virtual media conference on Sunday night, Gunaratnam said that she does not believe that boycotting Sri Lanka is the way forward.

“I don’t believe in boycott. There needs to be investments. Only that will ensure employment,” she said.

Gunaratnam said that she is also prepared to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if invited, for talks.

She said that Norway must continue to assist Sri Lanka through trade, education and in other ways.

Gunaratnam said that she will also discuss with her party and the new Norwegian Foreign Minister, as well as the Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka and see how best Norway can assist the country.

Gunaratnam said that Sri Lankans must also decide the best solution for Sri Lanka and not any foreign country. She said that Sri Lanka must not wait for foreign pressure to work on a solution.

The newly elected Norwegian MP also said that minority rights in Sri Lanka must be protected.

As a Norwegian MP she said that her main focus in the Norwegian Parliament will be to push for equality in Norway.

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Going to IMF best solution, says Ranil

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UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is necessary to mitigate impact of the growing debt repayment crisis; homegrown solutions are not effective.

“Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka’s debt problem has increased at a time when there is a global debt problem. This makes the situation more challenging and complex. Sri Lanka is a highly import-dependent economy,” Wickremesinghe said during a panel discussion, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka on Saturday.

The UNP leader said that the government shouldn’t sell state assets to ease off the shortage of foreign exchange to have breakfast but reinvest those proceeds back in the economy. “Going to the IMF is the best solution,” Wickremesinghe said.

With reference to homegrown solutions, he referred to the mess caused by the government in promoting Dhammika peniya as one of the failed measures earlier on to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka should use the current situation to forge ahead with structural and public sector reforms which were postponed due to political considerations in the past.

The former PM suggested that the re-opening of the country be delayed till mid-October.

In responding to the issue of debt management in Sri Lanka, the UNP leader said that the most pressing concern is addressing the dwindling foreign exchange reserves of the country.

He explained that the regional foreign exchange reserves were projected to increase over the course of the year, however, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were on a downward trend.

He also said that economic recovery based on a resurgence of the tourism industry would be uncertain, and until airline ticket prices were reduced it was unlikely that tourist arrivals would increase significantly.

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