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MONLAR: Govt. has fallen for millers’ ruse

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Farmers would be harvesting their paddy by the time the government imports 100,000 tonnes of rice and it would lead to a decrease in prices they received from millers, Chinthaka Rajapakshe, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) warned yesterday.

Addressing a post-Cabinet Press Conference on Monday, co-Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that the Cabinet had approved the import of 100,000 tonnes of rice to increase competition in the market.

Rajapakshe commented that successive governments had been importing large quantities of rice close to the harvesting period.

“Several large mill owners create an artificial shortage of rice when the harvesting season nears. The government responds by importing large quantities of rice, often of dubious quality.  The paddy prices collapse, allowing mill owners to buy paddy from farmers at dirt cheap prices and then the mill owners release some of the stocks they have to the market. Given that Sri Lankans prefer to eat Sri Lankan varieties and that the imported rice is of poor quality; no one buys the imported rice,” Rajapakshe said.

 The MONLAR moderator said that there was an assumption that the Yala harvest would be low because of the impact of fertiliser shortages on rice production. There had been reports that rice plants were yellowing and their growth was retarded due to a shortage of nitrogen.

 Commenting on the allegations that there was a shortage of fertiliser, Minister of Plantation, Ramesh Pathirana told The Island that by the next paddy season the government would be able to provide adequate amounts of compost fertiliser. “There will be some difficulties in the next few months. We must work together to face them. Everyone agrees that organic agriculture is good, but some think the government’s decision was too hasty. However, by the time the Maha season starts we will have enough fertiliser stocks. We are also ready to compensate farmers if there are issues in the current season.”

In response,  Rajapakshe said that it was not too late to address the issues that had arisen from nitrogen shortages and questioned how the government had decided that it needed to import 100,000 tonnes of rice, given that it had not studied the impact of fertiliser shortage on the paddy harvest.

“How on earth did they come up with this number? Obviously, this is a scheme to enrich a few businessmen, politicians and some officials. The government should empower farmers’ associations, cooperatives and small mill owners if it wants to find a permanent solution to annual rice shortages experienced by the people,” he said.



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SLFP asks govt. to address SLPP constituents’ grievances or face consequences

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Senior Vice President of the SLFP Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa says the continuing mismanagement of the affairs of the ruling coalition is causing turmoil.

“The deepening crisis we are in should be examined against the breakdown in basic discussions at party level,” Prof. Piyadasa, told The Island, underscoring the urgent need to address the issues affecting the coalition.

Due to the absence of a proper dialogue among constituent parties of the SLPP, the government was moving in the wrong direction and conducting its affairs in a messy manner at the expense of political stability, Prof. Piyadasa said.

Prof. Piyadasa warned of dire consequences unless the SLPP took meaningful measures expeditiously to address the grievances of the constituent parties. Responding to another query,

Prof. Piyadasa emphasised that the SLPP shouldn’t treat constituent parties according to the number of seats each secured at the last parliamentary election in August 2020.

The SLFP with 14 seats, including one National List is the second largest party in the SLPP led coalition. The SLPP obtained 116 seats.

Appreciating an opportunity the SLFP recently had to make representations to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as regards problems experienced by the party, Prof. Piyadasa emphasized the need for a mechanism wherein all constituents could take up issues. Noting that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in spite of being the President, didn’t hold a position in the SLPP, Prof. Piyadasa urged the ruling party to take the constituent parties as well as the public into confidence.

Asked to explain, Prof. Piyadasa stressed the responsibility on the part of the government to acknowledge the precarious economic situation. The raging Covid-19 epidemic had caused a debilitating setback to the national economy, Prof. Piyadasa said, drawing attention of the government to take into consideration choking of key revenue sources-remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad, tourism and garment and other exports.

Wouldn’t it be better for the government to take the public into confidence and explain the financial crisis the country was experiencing? Prof. Piyadasa asked.

The academic questioned the rationale in some government spokespersons declaring that the national economy was on a sound footing. Such declarations sounded foolish against the backdrop of Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila warning of banking sector collapse and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa acknowledging the daunting challenge in settling annual foreign debt amounting to USD 4 bn.

Prof. Piyadasa said that the SLFP shouldn’t be expected to blindly throw its weight behind the SLPP. Pointing out that there hadn’t been consultations at party level after the 2019 and 2020 presidential and parliamentary polls, respectively,

Prof. Piyadasa called for a serious re-assessment of the overall coalition strategy.

Asked whether the SLFP was considering future options, Prof. Piyadasa said that party leader Maithripala Sirisena, MP was engaged in consultations with the party at district level. Referring to consultations, the former President had in Galle, Puttalam and Ratnapura, Prof. Piyadasa said that Kandy would be the next venue. At the grassroots level, both members and supporters believed the party shouldn’t hesitate to take a path of its own unless the SLPP changed its style of governance, Prof. Piyadasa said.

The academic however, acknowledged that some of those who represented the party in the government at a higher level felt the need for the continuation of the existing arrangement. But, district level consultations underscored the growing disenchantment among the electorate, the one-time SLFP General Secretary said.

In the run-up to 2019 presidential election, Prof. Piyadasa functioned as the Chairman of the SLFP as the then President Sirisena didn’t want to exercise powers as the leader of the party.

Prof. Piyadasa alleged that the SLPP caused quite a crisis by responding brashly to various situations. There couldn’t have been a better example than demanding Energy Minister Gammanpila to resign over the increase in the fuel prices. “All of us were surprised over Minister Gammanpila being attacked over the unpopular decision taken by a committee chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with the participation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who held the finance portfolio,” Prof. Piyadasa said.

The SLPP shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to intimidate and dominate constituent political parties, Prof. Piyadasa said. The SLFP backed the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution at the expense of the 19th Amendment though the party remained committed to abolishing of the executive presidential system.

Having informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of his predicament, the SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena refrained from voting for the 20th as he was one of the architects of the 19th enacted in 2015, the SLFP senior Vice President said.

According to Prof. Piyadasa, the incumbent government deteriorated in a very short period as those in authority acted in an irresponsible and reckless manner.

Prof. Piyadasa said that the government was in a bind though an influential section seemed to be unable to recognize the ground situation.

Commenting on the growing controversy over the recent death of a 16-year-old domestic servant Ishalini as a result of an incident at the former minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s Bauddhaloka Mawatha residence, Prof. Piyadasa emphasized whoever in power would have to inquire into the real problems. Thousands of children wouldn’t have sought employment as domestic servants if their parents could provide for them, Prof. Piyadasa said, urging all political parties represented in parliament to address grievances of the community.

“We are in such a desperate situation that no political party can take advantage of the deterioration of the national crisis,” Prof. Piyadasa said.

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SJB complains of sexual harassment of its female MP; Speaker denies allegation

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday in a statement said that an allegation made by SJB Matale District MP Rohini Kumari Wijeratne pertaining to an issue of verbal sexual harassment was not true.

Raising a point of order MP Wijeratne said that she regretted over some government MPs singing lewd songs about SJB Ratnapura District MP Thalata Atukorale while the debate on the no-confidence motion against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila was in progress during the last sitting week of parliament.

MP Kaviratne said it was a violation of MP Atukorale’s Parliamentary privileges. “There are only 12 female MPs in this Parliament. This house is not there to criticise women or to discuss the wives or mistresses of MPs. Its objective is to make decisions on issues faced by the public,” she said.

MP Wijeratne said that she also regretted that Speaker Abeywardene’s failure to prevent a female MP being subjected to verbal sexual harassment in the House. “You have a wife and a daughter but you were sitting there laughing. “You were laughing when MP Athukorala was being verbally harassed. I as a female MP regret your silence and express my disapproval,” MP Wijeratne said.

Speaker Abeywardena said he would inquire into the allegation.

Later issuing a statement, the Speaker’s office said that MP Wijeratne’s allegation was untrue.

The statement said that there had been no occurrence of such an incident while Speaker Abeywardene was in the Chair. Therefore, the Speaker had no involvement in such an incident as alleged by MP Kaviratne. “It is regrettable that MP Kaviratne made such irresponsible remarks without perusing the Hansard and video records of parliament sitting sessions. The MP should have perused the records before making such an allegation. Without doing so the MP has made remarks misleading the public and bringing disrepute to the House,” the Speaker’s statement said.

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As COVID-19 cases rise, Minister wants all hands on deck

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Health Minister declaring open the Centre

All health workers had been vaccinated, and they had to report for work, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister of Health yesterday said at a ceremony to open a Covid-19 treatment unit constructed at the Mulleriyawa Base Hospital.

The unit was constructed with the help of the Sri Lanka Air Force. Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana was present on the occasion.

The centre has five wards with 160 beds. The estimated cost of the construction was close to Rs. 200 million, however the Air Force was able to construct it at a cost of about Rs. 35 million.

The Minister of Health said, “As the number of patients increases, hospitals have to be maintained and hospital capacity has to be increased. The presence of healthcare workers is needed to treat people. We have given both

doses of the vaccine to everyone in the health service. Therefore, they have acquired immunity. We have also taken steps to vaccinate their family members.”

Director General of Health Services Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director of Mulleriyawa Base Hospital Dr. Priyantha Karunaratne, Director of Civil Engineering Services of the Air Force and a number of Air Force personnel and health staff were present on the occasion.

 

 

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