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Leading rice miller stops paddy purchasing citing losses, PMB still out of picture



By Sanath Nanayakkare

Leading rice miller, Lankeshwara Mithrapala says he has suspended purchasing paddy because it is not proper to purchase paddy from farmers at prices lower than Rs. 120 per kilo, and if he did purchase at that price, he would have to absorb a loss of Rs. 23 from each kilo of rice.

This is happening at a time the government has declared a certified price for paddy at Rs. 120 and the state-run Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) is keeping itself completely out of its main task of purchasing paddy from farmers to ensure a competitive and fair price to them.

When asked if there was some connivance between government officials and private millers to enable the purchasing of paddy at the lowest prices imaginable, Mithrapala said,” We don’t want anyone’s help to run our rice mills. But we can’t buy paddy at Rs. 120 per kilo and let the end-consumer buy a kilo of rice at Rs. 220-230 because of the loss we have to absorb in the process. There are various other brands, Nipuna, Araliya, Lak Sahal etc. If they could buy paddy at Rs. 120, they would because this is a competitive business. But they can’t buy at that price either because that would cause a substantial loss,” he said.

“If the government starts purchasing paddy, the farmers will be relieved,” he said.

Responding to queries, he said: “I bought paddy at Rs. 118-119 about 3-4 days ago. We can’t ask for paddy from farmers at prices lower than that. So, I decided to stop purchasing paddy and produce rice from existing stocks and release them to the market. It is better to stop buying paddy if Rs. 120 can’t be paid for a kilo of paddy. So, the government must intervene,” he said.

When asked if his business was running at a loss, he said,” I have enough money to operate my businesses. But I don’t have funds to collect and keep paddy stocks. What I am saying is that I will purchase paddy at Rs. 120 and will give rice at Rs. 220 per kilo. But to do that the government must declare a six-month moratorium on bank loans. If we have money to buy paddy stocks we would do so without seeking bank facilities because working with our own capital would bring us higher returns. But what do we do if we don’t have money?”

Elaborating on his costing issue he said: “When you buy paddy at Rs. 120 a kilo, there are other costs to take into calculation to run the business sustainably. It takes 1.6 kilos of paddy to produce a kilo of rice. This means the paddy cost itself would be Rs. 192. So when you buy at Rs.120, it actually costs Rs. 192 for paddy alone. For each kilo of rice; Rs. 7 for packaging, Rs. 7 for transport, Rs. 3.50 for electricity, Rs. 8.50 for employee salaries and food, Rs. 10-12 for bank interest.

Then there are the EPF and ETF payments and wear and tear costs of machinery. All these need to be calculated and recovered. These costs amount to about Rs 46 per kilo of rice. Effectively, therefore, the total cost of a kilo of rice is Rs. 238. But we sell to retailers at Rs. 215 and they sell at Rs. 220.

“So, this means that we are releasing our stocks to the market at a loss. That’s why we are saying that we can’t buy paddy at Rs. 120,” he said.

Meanwhile, a group of farmers in Polonnaruwa said: “We are compelled to sell our paddy to private sector traders because the government is just sitting around leaving the big rice millers to buy paddy. When the government does not come forward to break the monopoly of the private traders, we have no option but to sell our harvest to them at lower prices. When we sell them paddy at Rs. 100 a kilo, the income from one acre of paddy is only about Rs. 200,000 ,which is not enough to cover our inputs and labour cost. Big rice millers are making the most of this situation.”

The warehouses of PMB still remain closed and farmers have not been informed whether it would enter the market to purchase their paddy.A source familiar with state sector banking told The Island that PMB had outstanding loans of over Rs. 2 billion payable to the state banks.


Trains on northern railway line will end at Mahawa for five months from 15th January 2023




Minister of Transport and Highways Dr Bandula Gunawardena told Parliament today (28) that trains on the Northern railway line will end at Mahawa for a period of five months commencing 15th January 2023.

The Minister said that repairs to the railway line between Mahawa and Jaffna will commence on 15th January and will be completed within a period of five months.

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SLPP dissidents ask govt. to bring back USD 35 bn ‘parked’ overseas



underscore need to amend Exchange Control Act

By Shamindra Ferdinando

MP Gevindu Cumaratunga, who represents the SLPP dissidents, yesterday (27) alleged that the incumbent government was yet to bring enough pressure to bear on those who had parked as much as USD 36 billion overseas to bring the money back.Cumaratunga said the government’s failure to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017 should be examined against the backdrop of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Budget proposal to draw more loans in 2023.

The leader of the civil society group Yuthukama, Cumaratunga, who represents the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, one of the breakaway factions of the ruling SLPP, said that two of his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa, had, during the ongoing Budget debate, had raised the issue of forex stashed away overseas.

Cumaratunga said that he couldn’t comprehend why the government delayed making it mandatory for exporters to bring back much required foreign exchange.Responding to The Island queries, lawmaker Cumaratunga emphasised that though the vote on the Second Reading of the Budget was approved on Nov. 22, with a majority of 37 votes, it failed to address even the basic issues. Cumaratunga was among 84 MPs who voted against the Budget whereas it received the backing of 121 lawmakers.

The other Yuthukama MP in Parliament Anupa Pasqual, now a State Minister, voted for the Budget.The parliament couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for taking immediate measures to amend the Exchange Control Act No 12 of 2017, the MP said, pointing out in terms of Article 148 that dealt with public finance this issue should have been addressed long ago.

Cumaratunga was not an MP at the time the Yahapalana administration introduced that controversial legislation.The first-time entrant to Parliament said that the government was on its knees before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for USD 2.9 bn spread over a period of four years, whereas exporters deliberately denied the country more than 10 times that amount in much needed forex.

Addressing the Parliament during the debate on the Budget, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the role played by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake in introducing the questionable piece of legislation.  Cumaratunga slammed Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, who previously held the Finance portfolio for ignoring the contentious issue of massive amount of money ‘parked’ overseas by exporters.

Declaring that Sabry hadn’t been involved with the then Joint Opposition following the 2015 change of government, lawmaker Cumaratunga questioned the circumstances under which the prominent President’s Counsel entered politics. The activist asked whether it was fair to accommodate Sabry on the SLPP National List in return for his role as leading lawyer for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his current role.

During two speeches in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga dealt with several contentious issues, including an alleged move to deprive farmers of their land. The outspoken MP warned the government of dire consequences of a decision regarding state land that was to be taken soon, while appealing for Premier Dinesh Gunawardena’s intervention.

Referring to a steep increase in the allocation made to the President at the 2023 Budget, MP Cumaratunga said that the President received Rs 2,467 bn last year, Rs 3,044 bn this year and a staggering Rs 7,888 bn next year.

Appreciating a significant drop in the allocation made for the Premier, MP Cumaratunga said that the ministerial staff received Rs 132 bn last year, Rs 217 bn this year and Rs 263 bn next year. Such allocations should be studied taking into consideration the state of the national economy, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, alleging that the Budget didn’t reflect the actual situation.

The MP said that having received the executive presidency, through a vote in Parliament on July 20, to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the UNP leader was pursuing an agenda contrary to what he preached as Premier (May 12-July 13, 2022).

Referring to statements made by Wickremesinghe during that period pertaining to the then proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in the President holding onto the Finance portfolio. The MP said as Premier Wickremesinghe continuously expressed the view that the President shouldn’t hold any Cabinet portfolio. The MP said that they were of the view that the President should hold the Defence portfolio. Having vowed to strengthen Parliament, President Wickremesinghe could justify his role as the Finance Minister. The President holds several other ministerial portfolios for want of an agreement with the SLPP pertaining to sharing of portfolios.

Referring to the Budget declaration that the government intended to procure Rs 1,000 bn in loans and settle loans amounting to Rs 440 bn, MP Cumaratunga said that the bottom line is the increase in debt. “Aren’t we getting further embroiled in a debt trap?” he asked.

MP Cumaratunga strongly criticized the government for planning to open Mahaweli lands to outsiders. The declaration that profit-making Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance would be privatized, on the pretext of restructuring, came under fire by the MP, who also expressed serious concerns over the proposed privatization of Hilton as well as profit-making sections of SriLankan Airlines.

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Security stickers on bottles of liquor: The corrupt make a killing – Buddhika



More than 100,000 bottles of liquor with fake security stickers are currently in the market, says SJB Matara District MP Buddhika Pathirana. Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s office in Colombo, recently, Pathirana said the security sticker racket has deprived the state coffers of billions of rupees in taxes.

“Leading liquor manufacturers are carrying out this racket with the help of some corrupt Excise officials. The business of counterfeit security stickers is far more lucrative than producing dud notes.  The QR codes printed on the so-called security stickers cannot be read by QR reader apps in mobile phones. Now, a lot of people know how to use mobile phones to scan QR codes to access information contained therein. Many software companies as well as open sources offer QR reader apps free of charge to be downloaded to the mobile phones.

“We have been warning of this security sticker project since inception. We have also warned that the company selected for printing QR code stickers for liquor is under a cloud.”

Pathirana said that State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya too had admitted that artificial toddy is for manufacturing arrack. “Minister Siyambalapitiya has stated that the country’s liquor industry needs at least 150,000 liters of toddy a day but only 45,000 litres can be produced from the coconut palms in the country, and the shortfall is met with artificial toddy. I know that he too is now in a position where he cannot fight against the racketeers because the Finance Ministry officials do not support him,” Pathirana said.

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