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Govt. insists no fraud in sugar imports

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By Saman Indrajith

Cooperative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Services State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna on Wednesday told Parliament that there was no truth in the Opposition’s allegations that the government had given undue duty concessions to a private sugar importer.

The Minister admitted that few companies made undue profits, making use of the gazettes issued by the government changing import duties on sugar.  “But there was no fraud. If you insist that there was such untoward incidents then provide us with the details we may investigate it. We know that some companies made some profits but there is no proof of a fraud as alleged by the opposition.”

Minister Alagiyawanna said that during recent years the prices of essential food items had increased in November and December. “In October last year, our government made several policy decisions to give relief to people. On Oct 13 we released a gazette bringing down the 50 rupee import duty on a kilo of sugar to 25 cents. The price of a kilo of sugar was Rs 137 to 138 at that time. We thought that bringing down the tax would result in the lowering of the prices of sugar in the market. That did not happen. There had already been stocks of around 150,000 metric tons in warehouses belonging to the importers and they did not release their stocks. So, a private company came forward and imported sugar under the new price and released them to the market. That was what exactly happened. The decision to bring down the import tax was not taken by the President alone. The Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Trade too were party to it.

“Today, the prices of some essential food items are determined by supply and demand. Market forces determine the prices though we have issued regulations. Though we still have control on the prices of fuel, gas, cigarettes and liquor, the prices of essential food items are determined by market forces. That is the reality. We can change this by allowing certain imports but our decision is to strengthen the local production and industries. Although the people and the Opposition blame us, we are determined to stick to our policy until local production and industries get their hold in the market. We know that this is hard but we have to do so. For example, we can bring down the prices of rice within five days. All we have to do is to import rice at low prices from India but that will not help our farmers. Not a single grain of rice was imported in the year 2020. As a result now our farmers get between 50 to Rs. 55 a kilo of paddy. They used to get only Rs 38 per kilo.

“We know that a certain company made an undue profit but that is the nature of business. The permanent solution for this is to develop the Cooperative shops and Sathosa so that the government would have a network of establishments that have an effect on the market.

“The Opposition alleges that a businessman made Rs 10 billion profit by importing sugar due to the lowering of the import duty. It is not so. The cost of the stock of imported sugar was around Rs. 11 billion so practically there couldn’t have been a 10 billion rupee profit. Today a kilo of sugar is Rs 118. Otherwise, it would have been in the range of Rs 155- 160 a kilo.”



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SL gets Rs 452 mn for saving ill-fated tanker: Rs. 3.4 bn asked for

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By Ifham Nizam and Rathindra Kuruwita

The Marine Enviro-nment Protection Authority (MEPA) yesterday received Rs. 452 million from London for having saved MT New Diamond, a super oil tanker that caught fire in the Sri Lanka’s territorial waters last year.

MEPA General Manager, Dr. P. B. Terney Pradeep Kumara told The Island that Rs. 442 million had come for the services rendered by the Sri Lanka Navy, MEPA and Rs. 10 million by way of a fine imposed on the Ship’s Captain.

However, Sri Lanka has to receive a much larger amount for the damage caused to the marine environment, Dr. Kumara said. Following the incident, Sri Lankan authorities filed charges against the Captain of the ill-fated vessel and made a claim for $2.4 million from the ship’s owners for the firefighting and pollution prevention efforts.

Twenty experts from the Universities of Moratuwa, Ruhuna and Sri Jayewardenepura submitted their recommendations as regards the damage to the environment, to the Attorney General. Based on the report, the Attorney General’s Department had asked for Rs. 3.4 billion (around USD 19 million) as compensation for environmental damage, the Coordinating Officer for the Attorney General, state counsel Nishara Jayaratne said.

Soon they would have discussions with the lawyers of the shipping agent concerned on compensation for environmental damage caused, she said.

Dr. Kumara, who is the former Head of the Department of Oceanography/Marine Geology of the Ruhuna University, said that the incident had caused deaths among marine species due to spillage of some toxic fuel from the vessel.

The MT New Diamond crude oil tanker was transporting 270,000 MT oil from the port of Meena Al Ahmadi in Kuwait to the Port of Paradip in India when a fire broke out in its engine room as the vessel was passing the eastern seas of Sri Lanka on September 3, 2020.

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PSC on gender equality meets for the first time

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State Minister, Fernandopulle flanked by two other PSC members

Special attention on microfinance

The Parliamentary Select Committee appointed to further gender equality, to investigate instances of discrimination against women and to present recommendations to Parliament, focused on microfinance loans that are currently affecting a large number of women in Sri Lanka, when they met for the first time in Parliament recently.

The meeting was chaired by the State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID-19 Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle.

It was also revealed that the Cabinet had approved the re-establishment of an institution to regulate Microfinance loans in Sri Lanka.

The MPs also discussed the role of the Select Committee. They decided that the primary role of the Committee should be to investigate women’s grievances and all forms of discrimination based on gender, including workplace violence.

Another task before this committee is to examine and review laws that can be used to enhance gender equality, encourage relevant ministries and authorities to formulate plans to further gender equality and to allocate financial resources.

The Committee will also try to encourage greater women’s representation in decision-making bodies at the national and provincial levels as well as in government, civil society and the private sector.

MPs Rohini Kaviratne, (Dr.) Harini Amarasuriya, M. Udayakumar, S. Sritharan, Rohana Bandara and the Secretary to the Committee, Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of the Parliament Kushani Rohanadheera were also present at the meeting.

 

 

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A/L Examination from October 04 to 30

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The 2021 GCE Advanced Level examination would be held from October 4 to 30, Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris said yesterday addressing the media at his Ministry.

Minister Peiris said the examination was earlier scheduled to be held in August.

The Grade 5 scholarship examination would be held on October 03 and the 2021 GCE Ordinary Level (O/L) examination in the last week of January 2022, the Minister said.

“Usually, schools are open for academic activities for around 200 days a year. But in 2020, schools were open for about 150 days. It was around 130 days in the Western Province. We were not able to fill this gap with online classes due to lack of internet facilities in many parts of the country,” he said.

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