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Litro allowed to market its controversial hybrid LPG cylinders despite CAA’s objections

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by Suresh Perera

In what industry players summed up as an “incredulous about-turn”, the trade authorities have given the green light to Litro Gas Lanka to market its controversial 18-litre premium hybrid domestic LPG cylinders at its original introductory price, despite strong objections by the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA).

The launch of the new domestic cylinders triggered protests by consumers and interest groups as a 12.5-kilogram Litro cooking gas cylinder is sold for Rs. 1,493 in the market, whereas the 9.18 kilogram product has been priced at Rs. 1,395 in spite of the weight being reduced by three kilograms.

In other words, consumers are offered a regular 12.5-kilogram cylinder at Rs. 1,493, but for a mere one hundred rupees less, they have to be content with 9.18 kilograms of cooking gas at Rs. 1,395, industry officials said.

The weight has been given in litres instead of kilograms, as done on regular 12.5kg domestic cylinders, to deceive the public, they asserted.

State Minister of Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, conceded that Litro Gas has reduced the weight of its new hybrid cylinders introduced to the market and the public has to incur a financial loss as a result.

“We will be asking the CAA to inform Litro Gas to mark the weight in kilograms on the new cylinders and not in litres”, the State Minister told a news conference held at the Ministry on April 24.

It was also pointed out that a different color should be used so that consumers will be able to differentiate between the two products. Otherwise, it could lead to confusion as there’s a difference in weight between them.

“We have asked Litro Gas to withdraw the new cylinders from the market”, Asela Bandara, CAA’s Director of Information, told the media.

Litro had injected the new hybrid cylinders into the marketplace without the permission of the CAA, he said, while blaming the company’s top management for the lapse.

Warning that Litro Gas could face legal action in this regard, Bandara said the CAA has asked the company to stop distribution and withdraw existing stocks from the market.

However, at a meeting on Tuesday evening, State Minister Alagiyawanna gave the go-ahead to Litro to sell the new cooking gas cylinders at the introductory price.

Despite his admission earlier that the public will suffer a financial loss due to the difference in weight, the coast is now clear for the company to market its newly introduced product at the original price of Rs. 1,395, industry officials said.

“The color of the cylinders is bound to change but not the weight”, they said.

Referring to the meeting between the State Minister and Litro officials, the company said in a statement that it was decided “to ensure that 12.5kg cylinders be made available to the public without a shortage”.

“In keeping with the Hon. Minister’s guidelines to provide consumer information and clarify with regard to the new Premium Hybrid 18 Litre Cylinder introduced to the market, Litro Gas Lanka hopes to implement such activities within a week, while keeping the product at the introductory price”, the company’s Chairman/CEO, Anil Koswatte, said in a statement.

Asked what “implementing such activities” meant, a Litro spokesperson declined to elaborate saying it was difficult to comment on questions raised outside the scope of the media statement.

On whether the weight of the hybrid cylinders will remain intact with a change of color merely to differentiate between the two products, she politely refused to entertain questions beyond the media statement issued by the company.

Permitting Litro Gas to market the new cylinders is unacceptable, a senior CAA official protested. “This is unprecedented — it is a fraud perpetrated on consumers”.

The CAA’s letter to Litro asking it to withdraw the new LPG cylinders still stands, he stressed. “The company has violated Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act and is liable for prosecution”.

“This is a daylight robbery. The State Minister may have granted approval, but the CAA cannot allow consumers to be fleeced through such gimmicks”, he underscored.

When it comes to a grocery store or a supermarket, legal action is filed immediately even if a label of a product is found tampered with. The law cannot be applied selectively, he said.

Small-timers are penalized for violating consumer laws, but when it comes to big companies, they use their clout to wriggle out of the situation”, the official said.

Litro has been told to use a different color to facilitate identification. What will be position if the company decides to change the color of its 12.5kg cylinders? For example, if there are one million cylinders and if 400,000 are initially withdrawn for re-painting, the shortfall will force consumers to buy the new 18-litre ones, he continued.

Technically, there won’t be a dearth of LPG in the market. However, the public will have no option but to buy the 9.18kg cylinders instead of the 12.5kg ones, he said.

“It will be a Hobson’s choice”.

However, the State Minister said Litro Gas was allowed to sell the new cylinders at the introductory price subject to certain conditions. The company should primarily ensure that there’s no shortage of cooking gas in the market.

With the spike in global LPG prices, Litro Gas Lanka has already suffered billions of rupees in losses as the green light to push up the price of cooking gas in the local market was not forthcoming.

The government has resisted consistent demands for a price increase of Rs. 700 per 12.5kg domestic cylinder as it would reflect adversely on the soaring cost of living. However, as a concessionary measure of relief to Litro Gas, the Finance Ministry made an adjustment to the 7.5% Ports and Airport Development Levy.

Asked how the levy works out, a Litro spokesperson promised to check back with the finance division and convey the information. She called back later to say that the finance director wanted The Sunday Island to refer the gazette as it’s a government decision!

However, Litro’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Janaka Pathiratne, said that concessions on levies are insignificant when it comes to a mass scale LPG business that’s incurring Rs. 300 to 400 million in losses per day.

The only solution is to increase the price of a domestic LPG cylinder by Rs. 700, he pointed out. “That’s the way out of the financial crisis”.

The new hybrid 18-litre domestic cylinder was introduced to the market to cut losses as LPG is now sold below procurement cost, sources said.



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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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