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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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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 

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Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income

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Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.

Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.

There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.

“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.

“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.

Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.

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“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’

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Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament

The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.

Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.

The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.

Some of the points raised by the MP were:

* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.

* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.

 

* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.

 

* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.

* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.

* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.

 * Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

 

* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.

* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

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