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Govt. makes U-turn on hoarders’ Mafia



Question mark over Office of CGES, emergency regulations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Following the abolition of price control on rice and paddy, the government is expected to review its controversial decision to establish the Office of Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) to ensure an uninterrupted supply of paddy, rice, sugar and other essential goods.

Authoritative sources said that a decision taken by Cabinet of ministers on Monday (27) to rescind the relevant gazette underlined the urgent need to examine the government’s overall response to shortage of essential items.

Responding to The Island queries, sources explained that the government backed the appointment of a serving officer, Maj. Gen. M.D.S.P. Niwunhella as the CGES with the declaration of emergency regulations. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the declaration effective Aug, 31, 2021 in terms of the Section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance as per the Section 5 that dealt with essential food supply. Maj. Gen. Niwunhella of the Gajaba Regiment is the incumbent head of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s security contingent.

Sources emphasised that the abolition of price controls on wholesale and retail sale of rice as well as purchase of paddy should be examined against the backdrop of declaration of emergency regulations and specific measures such as the appointment of CGES to tackle hoarding, price manipulation and a range of other irregularities.

In the absence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is away in the US, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has chaired Monday’s meeting. The Island learns that proper consultations hadn’t taken place before the government made a U turn on traders Mafia.

Sources said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa moved to reign in the group of powerful millers in the wake of the collapse of agreement between the government and the businessmen. Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardane and Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage on July 21, 2021 reached agreement with millers for the latter to buy paddy at what they called government guaranteed price.

In spite of Ministers Gunawardane and Aluthgamage vowing to ensure uninterrupted supply of rice, the millers reneged on their promise. Sources pointed out that the decision to rescind the relevant gazette on price controls, the announcement of the release of funds from the Central Bank to release food containers held up at the Colombo port, immediately import 100,000 tonnes of rice to maintain a buffer stock, delay decision on the revision of milk food, flour and cement, and millers declaring a new price structure (retail and wholesale as well as paddy purchasing price from farmers) happened within 48 hours.

The Central Bank on yesterday (29) announced the release of USD 50 mn to two state banks to make it possible for importers to clear their goods from the Colombo harbour.

On the instructions of the President, the CGES Maj. Gen. Niwunhella and Chairman of Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake, led raids on Nipuna, Lathpadura, Araliya, Hiru, New Rathna and Sooriya in the Polonnaruwa District.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena’s brother Dudley Sirisena and State Minister Siripala Gamlath are among those accused of hoarding rice.

Sources said that just a day after the cancellation of the relevant gazette, a group of millers led by Dudley Sirisena declared retail price for nadu Rs 115, samba Rs 140 and keeri samba Rs 165,000. The group also declared that paddy would be bought at nadu Rs 62.50 a kilo, samba Rs 70 and keeri samba Rs 80.

The declaration of emergency regulations in the run-up to the 48th session of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council caused quite a controversy. The entire Opposition in the parliament, two major civil society groups –Sri Lanka Collective for Consensus (SLCC) and Civil Society Platform (CSP) and a section of the international community and the Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet condemned the declaration of emergency though the government repeatedly stressed that particular measure was taken for the benefit of the fleeced consumer.

Sources said that with the abolition of the gazette meant to regulate the rice market, the whole strategy initiated by the government in late August was in tatters.

Other sources said the government had conveniently side-stepped the simmering issue pertaining to the issuance of a gazette on Oct 13, 2020 to reduce the import duty on a kilo of rice to 25 cents from Rs 50. In spite of the Committee on Public Finance chaired by SLPP lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa declaring that the duty reduction didn’t bring any relief at all to the consumer, the reduced duty remained, sources said.

Having accused major sugar importers of hoarding, the Presidential Secretariat in a statement issued on Sept 1 identified the hoarders as Pyramid Wilmar(6,200 mt),Global trading company (4,900 mt),Wilson Trading Company (14 mt) and R.G. Stores (800 mt). The announcement was made after the government seized 29,000 mt from five warehouses.


Prelates launch legal battle against New Fortress



by A. J. A. Abeynayake

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera yesterday filed a fundamental rights petition before the Supreme Court against the transfer of shares of the Yugadanavi LNG Power Plant in Kerawalapitiya to a US energy firm.

The petition seeks an order preventing the US firm New Fortress Inc. from obtaining the LNG supply contract.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, other members of the Cabinet, West Coast Power Limited, the owner of the 310 MW Yugadanavi Power Plant, the US-based company New Fortress Energy and the Attorney General are among the 54 respondents named in the FR petition.

The petition requests the court to issue an order to nullify the Cabinet decision on transferring state-owned shares of the Yugadanavi power plant to the US company.

The petition states that the decision taken by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer 40% stake in the company owning the Yugadanavi Power Plant to the US firm in question was not justified. It also says the Cabinet failed to focus on issues such as the national economy and national security before taking the relevant decisions.

The petitioners have requested the Court to declare that their fundamental rights as well as the rights of the entire citizenry and their future generations guaranteed to them under Article 12(1) of the Constitution have been infringed and/or are continuing to be infringed and/or are in imminent danger of being infringed by the actions of the Respondents with regard to the Yugadanavi deal.

They have requested the Court to quash the decision of the Cabinet authorising the procurement of LNG from the 53rd respondent – the New Fortress Energy.

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Financial crisis so acute teachers’ demands cannot be met – SLPP Chairman



300,000 entering schools for first time this year among those victimised

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman and Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (18) emphasised that the worsening financial crisis experienced by the country was so acute the government wasn’t in a position to grant the salary increase sought by school principals and teachers.

Prof. Peiris, who served as the Education Minister till August this year said that the public realised the government lacked the wherewithal to meet the striking teachers’ demands. The academic said so at the weekly SLPP media briefing at the party office in Battaramulla.

Responding to media queries, Prof. Peiris stressed that the government expected the striking teachers to facilitate re-opening of schools on a staggered basis beginning Oct 21 (Thursday). The Minister indicated that striking unions shouldn’t expect to settle the salary issue on their terms as the government lacked the means even if it wanted to do so.

Referring to the rapid deterioration of public finances in the wake of Covid-19 eruption in early 2020, Prof. Peiris said that Budget 2022 was presented amidst an extremely difficult time.

The top SLPP spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to grant strikers’ demand in two stages as announced by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting with striking unions at Temple Trees. Premier Rajapaksa on Oct 12 told a delegation of striking unions that the government would pay one third of the increase through the Budget 2022 and the remaining two in the following year’s budget.

The Premier’s Office quoted him as having told the delegates that the sharp drop in government income deprived the administration of an opportunity to grant the increase. Striking unions want the government to settle the issues immediately in one go.

Prof. Peiris appealed to those who have been on strike for 100 days to resume teaching. The student community really suffered due to the Covid 19 eruption and further delay in resuming studies would be catastrophic, Prof. Peiris said, underscoring the importance of restoring normalcy as about 300,000 would go to schools for the first time in their life.

Prof. Peiris said that schools that conduct classes from Grade 1 to 5 and those with less than 200 students would be re-opened on Oct 21. According to the minister, approximately 3,800 schools would be re-opened as scheduled.

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Lankan authorities must end violence and discrimination against Muslims, says AI



Kyle Ward, AI’s Deputy Secretary General

The Lankan Muslim community has suffered consistent discrimination, harassment and violence, since 2013, culminating in the adoption of government policies explicitly targeting the minority group, said Amnesty International, in a new report published yesterday.

The report titled From Burning Houses to Burning Bodies: Anti-Muslim Harassment, Discrimination and Violence in Sri Lanka, traces the development of anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka since 2013 amid surging Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism. This discrimination has evolved from a rising series of mob attacks committed with impunity, into government policies explicitly discriminating against Muslims, including the forced cremation of Muslim Covid-19 victims and current proposals to ban both the niqab (face veil) and madrasas (religious schools).

“While anti-Muslim sentiment in Sri Lanka is nothing new, the situation has regressed sharply in recent years. Incidents of violence against Muslims, committed with the tacit approval of the authorities, have occurred with alarming frequency. This has been accompanied by the adoption by the current government of rhetoric and policies that have been openly hostile to Muslims,” said Kyle Ward, Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General.

“The Sri Lankan authorities must break this alarming trend and uphold their duty to protect Muslims from further attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and end the use of government policies to target, harass and discriminate against the Muslim community.”

Incidents of violence towards Muslims have risen in frequency and intensity since 2013, with a series of flashpoints in which attackers and those responsible for hate speech have enjoyed impunity for their actions.

This escalating hostility began with the anti-halal campaign of that year, when Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups successfully lobbied to end the halal certification of food, which demarks food permissible for consumption by Muslims, in accordance with Islamic scripture and customs. The campaign gave rise to a number of attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses, with the lack of accountability for those responsible acting as a signal to others that acts of violence against Muslims could be committed with impunity.

The following year, anti-Muslim riots in the southern coastal town of Aluthgama began after a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist group held a rally in the town. Here too, perpetrators of violence enjoyed impunity and authorities failed to deliver justice to victims.

Despite a new government in 2015, which promised justice and accountability for ethnic and religious minorities, attacks against Muslims continued to occur. Shortly after the election, anti-Muslim mob violence flared in the southern coastal town of Ginthota in 2017, while similar violence was seen in 2018 in Digana and Ampara, towns in the central and eastern provinces respectively. Not only did the perpetrators escape accountability, victims and witnesses alleged the police and armed forces did not offer sufficient protection or act to prevent the violence.

Hostility towards Muslims increased markedly after more than 250 people were killed in coordinated suicide attacks committed by a local Islamist group and claimed by the Islamic State on Easter Sunday 2019.

Following these attacks, on 13 May 2019, Muslims in several towns in the North-Western Province of Sri Lanka came under attack during Ramadan, one of the holiest months in the Muslim calendar. Mosques across the country were also attacked and a spate of ‘hate speech’ posts and anti-Muslim vitriol was seen on social media. Emergency regulations rushed through by the authorities were also used to arbitrarily arrest hundreds of Muslims in the wake of the attacks.

Since taking office, the current government has continued to target and scapegoat the Muslim population to distract from political and economic issues.

This was evident in the mandatory cremation policy on the disposal of the bodies of Covid-19 victims, which was implemented despite cremation being expressly forbidden in Islam, and a lack of scientific evidence to substantiate the claims that burying victims would further the spread of the disease.

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