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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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Economic crisis: 100,000 families already starving

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Govt. to provide monthly assistance package – official

By Ifham Nizam 

Plans are underway to assist an average needy family of  four with a monthly package of Rs. 15,000, a senior adviser to President Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday, adding that the move was expected to help ameliorate the plight of nearly 65,000 families.

Food Security Committee Chairman Dr. Suren Batagoda told The Island yesterday that at present some 100,000 families across the country were starving.

He said financial assistance would be provided to those families for three months. Within three months, the government would design a package in the form of food stamps, etc.

Dr. Batagoda said the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the World Bank, and state agencies would also team up to strengthen food security, focusing especially on needy pregnant mothers and pre-school children.

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GR govt. ignored Chinese lenders’ request for debt restructuring

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had ignored suggestions by Chinese lending institutions that Sri Lanka to restructure the debt in 2021, Prof. Samitha Hettige said yesterday.

“The Rajapaksa government started talking of debt restructuring earlier this year. The Opposition had been asking for this before,” he said.  By 2021, before the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration decided on debt restructuring, the Chinese institutions that had given Sri Lanka loans suggested that a restructuring process should start since Sri Lanka would have trouble repaying the loans, the Strategic Studies scholar said.

However, the request had gone unheeded, and if the government had started discussions then, Sri Lanka would not have been in crisis, Prof. Hettige said.

The Sri Lankan foreign policy, in the last few years, had also been misguided, Prof. Hettige said. A number of Indian and Chinese companies faced unnecessary issues by the behaviour of the government, he said.

Prof. Hettige said that the government must focus on establishing free trade ports and reducing negative lists for investments.

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SJB dissociates itself from SF’s call for protest

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By Chaminda Silva

MP Sarath Fonseka’s call for people to join anti-government protests was not a decision taken by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), party MP J.C Alawathuwala said.

The SJB believed that they had to help President Ranil Wickremesinghe stabilise the country, economically and politically, he said.

MP Alawathuwala said the President must be given some time to solve the problems faced by the people and that the SJB was holding discussions with the government to guide it on a people-friendly path.

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