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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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GL sounds far-reaching educational reforms  

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Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday (21) acknowledged that for want of tangible measures on the part of successive governments, there was a critical mismatch between the education provided and the availability of job opportunities.

The academic, in quarantine as a result being identified as potential Covid-19 contact, emphasised the need for far reaching changes to address the issue as part of their efforts to restructure the entire system.

Prof. Peiris said so in his short remarks at an event to mark the 100th anniversary of the University of Colombo.

The one-time External Affairs Minister said: “It is a great pleasure for me to felicitate the University of Colombo, my alma mater on this happy occasion. It is a significant milestone because we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the faculty of arts, faculty of science and the library of the University of Colombo. As we look back on that span of a full century, the characteristics of the University which comes to mind is its resilience. During that period the University has had to face and indeed overcome many challenges. The society of our country has undergone a fundamental transformation during that period.

The University had the strength to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. I would identify that as a principal accomplishment of the University of Colombo.

The University proved its capacity for development, change and refinement and adaptation in order to keep pace with dramatically changing circumstances. The University proud as its history is I am sure will have an even more magnificent future. It has an important role to play in the far reaching changes we are contemplating in the educational system of our country. It is our intention in the course of this year 2021 to restructure the entire system in order to address the fundamental problem of a rather critical mismatch between the education we provide in our Universities and other educational institutions on the one hand and the availability of employment, livelihoods on the other. There is regrettably gap in this regard and it should be our collective endeavor to address this problem. We are also revisiting the curricular. The substance of our curricular  the methods of teaching in such a way  as to serve better the public in a  better way   In all these efforts I have no doubt the expertise of the University of Colombo by any standards  will be of enormous assistance to us in achieving goals we have set ourselves (SF)

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China slaps sanctions on 28 Trump administration officials, including Pompeo

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China has imposed sanctions on 28 former Trump administration officials, including outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, agency reports said yesterday.

In a statement released just minutes after President Biden took office, China’s foreign ministry said it had decided to sanction those “who have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and who have been mainly responsible for such U.S. moves on China-related issues.”

The list of names features former Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar; former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; former national security adviser Robert O’Brien; Kelly Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Matthew Pottinger, who recently resigned as deputy national security adviser. Former national security adviser John Bolton and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon were also included.

The sanctions prohibit those individuals and their immediate family members from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao. They are also restricted from doing business with China, as are any companies or institutions associated with them.

“Over the past few years, some anti-China politicians in the United States, out of their selfish political interests and prejudice and hatred against China and showing no regard for the interests of the Chinese and American people, have planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves which have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-U.S. relations,” the ministry said.

The move comes just one day after Pompeo issued a forceful statement accusing China of committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups in its Xinjiang region, for which the U.S. sanctioned several Chinese officials in July. That was one of numerous instances of sanctions, visa bans and trade restrictions imposed on Chinese politicians and Communist Party officials in the Trump administration’s final year.

Relations between the U.S. and China deteriorated considerably under the previous administration, which took an unusually confrontational approach. Pompeo and other officials referred to China as constituting America’s greatest threat, as NPR’s John Ruwitch has reported.

In fact, Bolton appeared to celebrate the sanction against him, calling it “great news” in a tweet posted Wednesday afternoon.

“I accept this prestigious recognition of my unrelenting efforts to defend American freedom,” he wrote.

It is unclear what changes Biden plans, but Ruwitch noted, “Even if the Biden team moves swiftly to put the U.S.-China relationship back on a less antagonistic track, Beijing will be wary after the dramatic changes of the past four years.”

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Expert Committee appointed to report on gold, copper and iron ore deposits

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By Ifham Nizam

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweeera yesterday appointed an expert committee to conduct a scientific study on the Seruwawila gold, copper and iron ore deposits.

With iron ore prices skyrocketing worldwide and both neighbouring giant India and China having huge demands, Sri Lanka was keen on tapping natural resources, an official said.  

The committee will be coordinated by an Additional Secretary to the Ministry and will be chaired by Prof. Athula Senaratne of the University of Peradeniya and its other members are H W. Navaratne, Dr. Stalin Fernando, Dr. Bernard Perera, Dr. C.H.K.R. Siriwardena and Dr. O.K. Dissanayake.

Amaraweera, addressing the media, at his Ministry yesterday said the mineral deposit had been explored in the 1970s with the help of technology available at that time, and it had been found that there was iron, copper as well as a certain amount of gold in the Seruwawila deposit.

As today’s excavation technology was very advanced, it was possible to dig up to 250-300 metres, the Minister said.

The Minister also said that all possible steps would be taken to increase the value of the mineral resources through value addition locally to ensure higher prices.

 

 

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