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MONLAR blames private rice mafia for annual exploitation of farmers and consumers

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

From 2015 onwards the state had purchased only around 2% of the total paddy produced in the country and thus the government had no power to control rice prices in the market, Chinthaka Rajapakshe of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island that it was the reason for the government’s failure to regulate the price of rice although it had issued four gazettes on the matter from December 2019.

“The latest gazette was published on November 04, but we know that it is impossible to buy rice at the maximum retail price set by the government. This is an indication that the Sri Lankan state has no control over the collection, storing, distribution and the sale of paddy.”

During the Maha Season around 3.2 million metric tonnes of paddy came into the market and the government only had 307 warehouses that could store around 310,000 metric tonnes, Rajapakshe said.

“We did some calculations and it is clear that the private sector buys about 90% of the paddy produced annually, and the government about 2%; the farmers keep the rest.

The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wanted to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages and high prices experienced by the people, Rajapakshe said.

He said that the impotence of the state had been exposed a few months back during a televised meeting with large scale rice mill owners and public officials. The mill owner insisted that they had purchased paddy from farmers at Rs. 55 and that it was impossible for them to sell at the stipulated price imposed by the government.

“The government officials then asked the mill owners to take release rice to the market or they would be compelled to import rice. They also warned that they would release stocks purchased by the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB). Unfortunately, the stocks purchased by the PMB were only sufficient to meet three days’ demand. So, the government will be either compelled to pay massive sums to large rice mill owners or import. None of these are sustainable solutions.”

Rajapakshe said that the government should not accept the narrative of large mill owners that they had purchased paddy from farmers at Rs. 55 a kilo. Although the government had imposed a minimum purchase price for paddy at Rs. 55, large scale mill owners purchased paddy at between Rs. 30 and Rs. 45 a kilo. They surely can give rice at the controlled prices but they know that they can just hoard paddy and sell at higher prices. That’s why the government must empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners to purchase paddy at a reasonable prices and distribute rice to consumers at affordable prices.”

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Mahara prison riot: four killed, 26 injured

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Condition of some inmates serious

Rioters attempt arson attack

Exact number of deaths not known

Situation under control – police

At least four inmates were killed and 26 others injured, yesterday evening, when officers opened fire during a riot in the Mahara prison. It was not clear how many had died, but four bodies were taken to the Ragama Hospital, according to sources.

The condition of some inmates was serious, a senior doctor treating the injured told The Island.

Police headquarters said law enforcement units including the Special Task Force had been deployed in support of the prisons guards.

The situation had been brought under control by yesterday evening, the police said, adding that inmates had caused disturbances over the spread of COVID-19 in their prison.

The riot erupted when inmates learnt that there was a surge in infections in the prison, and dozens of them had tested positive for COVI-19.

Most inmates wanted to be taken to treatment centres, making it difficult for the prison guards to control them.

The inmates turned aggressive and attempted an arson attack.

A fire was reported from the prison last night.

So far, over 1,000 corona positive cases have been reported from the prisons.

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SLPP constituent hands over far reaching proposals

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New Constitution making process underway

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Leader of the breakaway JVP faction-National Freedom Front (NFF) Jayantha Samaraweera, yesterday (29) told The Island that his party recently submitted 23 proposals to the nine-member expert committee appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers to draft a new Constitution.

President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva leads the expert committee, named in early September, this year.

The proposals consisted of what shouldn’t be included in the new draft Constitution under any circumstances, what should be retained from the current Constitution, sections that needed to be rectified, executive presidency and electoral reforms, the Kalutara district lawmaker said.

State Minister Samaraweera said that he had posted the NFF’s set of proposals to the committee after an attempt to hand it over personally to Room No 32 (Block 2) of the BMICH, where the committee is located, failed last Thursday (26).

Samaraweera was accompanied by General Secretary of the party S. Wijesiri, politburo member Nimal Piyatissa, MP and Uddika Premaratne, MP. A constituent of the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna), the NFF group in the 145-member government parliamentary group is represented by six members.

 Responding to a query, State Minister of Warehouse Facilities, Container Yards, Port Supply Facilities and Boats and Shipping Industry Development Samaraweera said that their proposals reflected the aspirations of those who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP led coalition at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, respectively.

The expert committee consists of Romesh de Silva, PC, Gamini Marapana, PC, Manohara de Silva, PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardena, PC, Samantha Ratwatte, PC, Prof. Naseema Kamurdeen, Dr. A. Sarveshwaran, Prof. Wasantha Seneviratne and Prof. G.H. Peiris.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, assured Parliament late last October that the government would present the draft of the proposed Constitution to the House within one year. The assurance was given during the debate on the second reading of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution on Oct. 22.

Responding to another query, the State Minister said the proposed new Constitution should ensure the country’s stability, protect the unitary status, thwart the separatist agenda, protect Buddhism, guarantee human rights of all, protect archeological heritage, food security and non-aligned foreign policy.

SLPP Chairman who is also the Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris yesterday told The Island that the party was ready to swiftly respond to the expert committee if it sought to ascertain their views on any matter in respect of the draft constitution. Prof. Peiris emphasized that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP received two massive mandates at the presidential and parliamentary polls to bring in a new Constitution. Well informed sources told The Island that the committee was trying to meet the original deadline to finish the assignment within six months. Therefore, the committee was planning to finalize the document ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Recently the Justice Ministry extended the time to accept proposals till Dec 31, 2020. Sources said that the committee so far hadn’t received proposals from any major political party. Perhaps, NFF proposals had been delayed in the post, sources said, adding that attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku too had sent his proposals. The committee has sought views from interested parties on the (1) nature of the state (2) fundamental rights (3) language (4) directive principles of State Policy (5) the executive, cabinet of ministers, the public service (6) the legislature (7) franchise and elections, including referendum (8) decentralization/devolution of power/power sharing (9)the judiciary (10) public finance (11) public security and any other matter not specifically referred to by the Justice Ministry. In spite of the eruption of the second devastating covid outbreak in early Oct that hindered the expert committee, it could make progress thanks to Zoom technology, sources said. Progress had been made, sources said adding that recently face to face meetings resumed.

The NFF Deputy Leader said that they suggested to the expert committee that the authority to introduce laws should be the prerogative of parliament and under no circumstances should such powers be granted to administrative structures at provincial or district level. The NFF also proposed that special laws should be formulated to cater to the needs of any community, constitutional guarantee that administrative structures shouldn’t be named, changed or amalgamated in terms of particular ethnicity and an elected government should function as caretaker not as the owner and the right of the public should be held over the right of an individual as well as constitutional guarantee to protect the national wealth for future generations.

Lawmaker Samaraweera said that the NFF also proposed that the country shouldn’t enter into agreements contrary to non-aligned foreign policy and not allow any foreign power to use Sri Lanka territory for military purposes, transparency in foreign trade agreements, constitutional measures to prevent dual citizens from contesting the Presidency, entering parliament, commanding armed forces, IGP, Attorney General, Governor Central Bank, diplomatic posts and serve as Court of Appeal or Supreme Court judges.

The MP said altogether 23 proposals were made and the NFF expected the expert committee to give them due consideration. Samagi Jana Balavegaya Leader Sajith Premadasa couldn’t be contacted for his party’s position on the new Constitution making process. Fifteen political parties represent the current parliament. Nine of them have just one MP in parliament.

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Final decision on GCE O/L exam, this week – Prof. GL

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Education Minister Prof GL Peiris told Parliament, on Saturday, that the final decision on whether the GCE O/L examination would be held as scheduled would be made public within one week.

Responding to a question raised by Kurunegala District SLPP MP Shantha Bandara, Minister Prof Peiris said that schools in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara districts, and the areas under lockdown in other districts had been closed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The reopening of these schools depends on the advice of health authorities. The most important thing is saving the children from the pandemic. If this situation lasts more than one week or two we may not be able to hold the examination as scheduled from Jan 18 to 27 next year.”

Prof. Peiris said the situation would be reviewed this week and a decision taken thereafter. “It will be unfair by some students to make them sit the examination while their schools are closed,” the Minister said.

Minister Prof Peiris said that of the 10,165 schools countrywide only 5,100 remained open at present.

MP Bandara said that many talented children missed their opportunity to compete in national school games owing to the school closure and asked whether they would get that opportunity.

Prof. Peiris said that the matter had been discussed with the relevant authorities, who held that it was not still safe to conduct sports events in the country due to the health emergency.

The Minister said that the government was thankful to the principals and teachers who had helped conduct the GCE Advanced Level examination and the Grade Five Scholarship examination successfully. Within 33 days of the Grade Five scholarship examination, the results could be released in record time for the first time. The teachers had rendered a dedicated service. Currently, between 90 to 95 percent of teachers reported to work in schools in areas that were not under lockdown. They render a remarkable service amidst great difficulties.”

Prof Peiris said the government spent Rs 137,340.3 million on teachers’ salaries, and admitted that there were salary anomalies, which had to be rectified. “We have referred the matter to the National Salaries and Cadre Commission and decided to pay an interim allowance to the teachers until that matter is solved. The Cabinet has approved this, and the Treasury Secretary has informed us that the payments could be made. Teachers will get that allowance very soon.”

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