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Lanka Sathosa Chairman says he was neither sacked nor was there a ‘rice scandal’

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by Suresh Perera

The purported “sacking” of the Lanka Sathosa Chairman over what was described as a “scandal” in the procurement of rice captured intense media attention, but Nushad Perera, who headed the country’s biggest retail chain, dismissed the claims as “bunkum”.

“I was neither sacked as Chairman nor was there a ‘rice deal’, as claimed”, he said last week.

He said that he resigned on December 31, 2020, to take up his new appointment as Chairman of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) as the President wanted him to build up the national standards body to broad-base benchmarking the country’s export sector.

As a marketing professional, Perera earlier served for two decades as a member of the senior management team of Dialog Group and was also the founding CEO of Dialog TV.

He was appointed Chairman of Lanka Sathosa and the affiliated CWE (Cooperative Wholesale Establishment) by the President on January 1, 2020.

 

“I opted to resign as CWE Chairman on November 30 to dedicate more time to Lanka Sathosa to keep the wheels turning to ensure a steady supply of consumer essentials through the retail chain’s 416 outlets especially at a time the country is grappling with a pandemic”, Perera explained.

“We have to be fully operational to face the challenge”, he underscored.

As Chairman of the two institutions, he had to also attend board meetings every two weeks, which made it difficult to cope with the workload.

He said that he didn’t accept a remuneration as the head of the CWE. At Lanka Sathosa, he was paid Rs. 100,000 per month but largely used his private vehicle.

Asked about the Lanka Sathosa Chairman’s exit, Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena said there was nothing amiss as the heads of the SLSI and EDB (Export Development Board) were also replaced.

“The heads of three institutions under my Ministry were changed in keeping with national priorities”, he told The Sunday Island.

Asked about allegations of irregularities in rice imports on the Lanka Sathosa Chairman’s watch, the Minister said that such claims were baseless. “There was nothing of that sort – it’s a figment of imagination”.

“The Chairman alone cannot decide on procurements”, Perera stressed.

There is a six-member procurement committee, including the Chairman, Secretary to the Trade Ministry and a treasury representative, which decides on purchases. This is followed by another three-member technical committee which evaluates the quality of the commodities to be procured, he explained.

In the case of rice, purchases are made locally by the procurement committees on the basis of 750 metric tons, which works out to one week’s requirement, Perera outlined.

Asked how a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (FCIM), who was named ‘CIM Marketer of the Year’ in 2001 and awarded the coveted ‘Global Brand Leadership Award’ at the Asia Brand Congress in 2007, could fit into a scientific body, he said the SLSI can be better marketed as a productive tool to the private sector.

“We need to take this national certification body to the private sector in a big way as the quality of all commodities including fruits and vegetables will have to be SLSI certified for the export market”, he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done there after I assume duties on January 1, 2021”, Perera added.

To be appointed Sathosa Chairman is akin to being asked to sit on a smoking volcano, industry officials quipped.

Whatever the dispensation, there’s bound to be tremendous pressure from various ‘interest groups’ eager to make a quick buck, they said.

Under the former UNP regime, it was like a game of musical chairs with heads rolling so often that the question jocularly asked was ‘who would be this week’s chairman?’, they recalled.

There were a few Chairmen with integrity, the officials recounted, referring to renowned marketing expert, Dr. Rohantha Athukorala, who collected his laptop, flagged down a three-wheeler and pushed off home (leaving behind his official vehicle) when asked to do what was considered unethical during Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s time.

It’s a case of old wine in new bottles, they laughed. “Jockeys may come and go but the old horses in the stables know how the cookie crumbles”.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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