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More shipments of ‘organic manure’ from China

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It has been reported that the Minister of Agriculture is trying to resolve the dispute over the Chinese organic fertiliser shipment by paying 75 % of the claim amounting to USD 6.7 million in respect of the rejected shipment and buying fresh stocks from the same company.

Enough has been discussed about why organic fertiliser should not be imported to this country as it is against the law to do so, and the best way is to prepare organic fertiliser on farms as far as possible, since transport of the large quantities needed will be too expensive and also cumbersome and a hassle to the farmer.

It was surprising to hear about the decision to buy fresh stocks of fertilisers from the same Chinese company whose first shipment was not allowed entry by the Plant Quarantine officials of the Department of Agriculture on the grounds that the samples were found to be contaminated with harmful microorganisms.

In the first instance, as an officer who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture for more than 23 years, I am pretty certain that organic materials cannot be imported on a commercial scale as per provisions and regulations under the Plant Protection Act of 1981 and also the subsequent Plant Protection Act no.35 of 1999. Only small samples of such materials can be allowed by the Director General of Agriculture who is the implementing authority for the Plant Protection Act, and such samples can be used only for laboratory research work and cannot be added to the land. I am also aware that no amendments have since been made to the Plant Protection Act to change the provisions referred to above and the regulations thereon. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether such amendments can ever be brought in since plant quarantine is an issue that cannot be compromised according to the whims and fancies of governments, and is subject to international covenants/agreements.

Hence, it is pretty certain that importation of tons and tons of this “organic fertilser” is illegal, the irony here being the direct involvement, as a facilitator or promoter in this instance, of the Ministry of Agriculture, which should actually be the guardian of issues pertaining to plant quarantine. Had it been a private company, one could understand.

Besides, if the government decides to buy fresh stocks from the same company, whose first shipment was rejected due to contamination, what guarantee is there that the so called ‘fresh stock’ will not be contaminated. On the other hand, if this imported material happens to be sterile by some chance, it ceases to be organic fertiliser any more, for organic manure must necessarily have microorganisms. If microbial activity is not there, it will be some inert matter only.

Specifications laid down regarding the material to be purchased when an agreement was entered into between the buyer and the seller in this case are not known. If the material is organic fertiliser as the authorities keep referring to, it should necessarily have microorganisms. Then it follows that the samples will fail the test this time, too, and the shipment will have the same fate as the earlier one. This is what I could foresee., what we are buying is not organic manure or ‘organic fertiliser’ but some inert matter.

I sincerely hope and pray that those in charge of Plant Quarantine will abide by the regulations, and stand their ground as one cannot afford to play around with microorganisms especially when they come in bulk from foreign lands to a totally new environment here and right now, the whole world has been brought to its knees by just a virus. Hence there cannot be any compromise especially in dealing with microorganisms. Let us hope for the best any way, as this importation remains an ill-advised and illegal venture, if it goes through and it will be the first time ever that Sri Lanka effected a bulk importation of organic manure or “organic fertiliser”, in contravention of its own Plant Protection Act.

A. Bedgar Perera

bedgarperera@gmail.com

Retired Director/Agricultural Development

Ministry of Agriculture



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Opinion

Priority need to focus on Controlling Serious Economic Crimes

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Open letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

The Ministry of Defence has advertised five vacancies for the “Recruitment as Reserve Assistant Superintendents of Police to the Ministry of Defence, affiliated to the Sri Lanka Police, skilled professionals to become proud members of the Ministry of Defence, dedicated to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka as well as to public safety and to play a superior role for the nation. These recruits will function as Cyber and Forensic Analyst, Geo-Political and Strategic Analyst, Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism Analyst, Economic Analyst and Statistical Analyst (the last two covering security perspectives regarding national security)”. Any justified decision to strengthen the knowledge and skills based professional capability of existing human resource of the state is a welcome move, so long as the recruits have in addition to the specified qualifications, requisite commitments to best practice professional standards, ethics, correct attitudes and values.

The caring civil society fervently hopes, in accord with your stated commitments in the manifesto and the several public pronouncements that followed your election as the President, that you, with the support of your Cabinet colleagues and the top officials of the executive, will similarly focus on the essential priority need to focus on controlling serious economic crimes, which can easily debilitate the financial integrity, fiscal and monetary stability and solvency of Sri Lanka; and if allowed unabated will destabilise the economy and prevent the realisation of the goals of splendour and prosperity.

The optimum operational environment to assure financial integrity minimizing serious economic crimes is by having effective laws, regulations, policies, systems, procedures, practices and controls, with efficient and effective independent oversight mechanisms, enforcements, investigations and prosecutions, followed by independent justice systems with penal sanctions and recovery of proceeds of crime. The critical drivers of such a system are independence, capability and professionalism of supporting human resources in the entire chain. It is however quite evident from many case studies that the systems controlling financial integrity of Sri Lanka fails to meet required standards of effectiveness, due mainly to the lack of competent and committed professionals in the chain engaged in independent oversight mechanisms, enforcements, investigations and prosecutions. Due to this incapacity the independent oversight control, enforcement, investigation, prosecution and punishment of offenders of money laundering, transfer pricing, securities offenses, bribery, corruption, financial fraud, organised crimes, drug trafficking, smuggling, and avoidance of taxes/ excise and customs duties are ineffective; and more importantly the recovery of proceeds of these crimes eventually fail and are thus unable to restore the state revenues leaked and state assets stolen or defrauded.

Civil society looks to you as the President, to take early action to strengthen the structures, systems, laws and regulations along with the capacity of the resource persons engaged in the independent oversight control and enforcement of mechanisms; and thereby minimise serious economic crimes system wide and facilitate successful recovery of proceeds of crime. In the above context it is suggested that you pursue the undernoted strategic action steps under your direct leadership supervision:

* Seek Cabinet approval to set up an Enforcement Directorate similar to that of India under the supervision of the Inspector General of Police, reporting to an Independent Public Commission made up of three members, comprising of a high integrity competent retired Appellate Court Judge, a retired Senior Officer of the Auditor General’s Department and a retired Senior Officer of the Central Bank.

* Enforcement Directorate to be entrusted with the mission of minimizing the identified serious economic crimes systems wide; enhancing oversight mechanism and controls system wide and where suspected that any such crimes having taken place professionally investigating and prosecuting, optimizing recovery of proceeds of crime

* Seek technical support in setting up the Enforcement Directorate from the Financial Integrity Unit of the World Bank and its affiliates Financial Action Task Force, UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative with extended human resource training and development support from bi lateral supporting countries and other specialized agencies

* Recruit competent and highly professional staff for the Directorate, similar to the staff recruited to the Defence Ministry; and support them with requisite resources, knowledge, skills, systems, data bases, best practices and technical and investigation assistance linkages

* Enact essential legal and regulatory reforms, commencing with the early enactment of the Proceeds of Crime Act draft sent to the previous regime for cabinet endorsement

* Enhance the capability of the prosecutors of the Directorate to successfully prosecute serious economic crimes and judges to effectively support the judicial processes connected therewith

* Make it a compulsory requirement of all state remunerated persons to adopt the ethical standard to report to the Directorate any known or suspected non compliances with laws and regulations

Trust you and your advisory team will give due consideration to this submission

Chandra Jayaratne

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Opinion

S.Thomas’ Class of 62 and O/L 70 Group celebrates 60 years Nexus

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By Rohan Mathes

Once again the old boys of the Class of 62 and O/L 70 Group fraternity of S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia gathered last Saturday (22nd), under one banner to celebrate their 60 th anniversary of their association and loyalties with their prestigious Alma Mater, long way down from 1962, whence they were admitted to the school by the sea.

This rendezvous was of paramount importance to the membership near and far, inclusive of those domiciled overseas, who had turned up in their numbers to enjoy the long-awaited fellowship, with their comrades, despite the prevailing Covid pandemic restrictions. Nevertheless, those who could not make it, had been amply served by the provision of a Zoom link. Kudos to the organisers who had painstakingly and meticulously planned all the nitty-gritties of this epoch-making celebrations, however with less pomp and pageantry, compared to their fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 2012.

Following the service at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, the Thomians spend the day within the precincts of this hallowed institution which had undoubtedly imparted a unique, state-of the-art and wholesome education to them. They took this rather rare opportunity to joyfully tour around their old school, of course reminiscing their nostalgic memories of their childhood. They were simply overjoyed by viewing the latest developments and modifications done by the school authorities, utilising the charitable donations and contributions made by the old boys, parents and well-wishers of the school, in numerous ways, throughout the years gone by.

At this event, the Group also assisted the college in their project to install “Smart Boards to every class room”, by handing over a cheque to the Sub Warden Asanka Perera, to the value of Rs.400,000, collected from its membership. Esto Perpetua!

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Opinion

Why cry for Djokovic – a reply

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I strongly object to the remark Dr Upul Wijayawardhana (Dr U W) made in the first paragraph of his Opinion, in The Island of Saturday 22 January, titled  ’Why Cry for Djokovic?’ critiquing Cassandra in her Friday 21 Cassandra Cry.

Dr U W writes: “Cassandra uses her column liberally to criticise our politicians for giving special treatment to their kith and kin.” I, Cassandra, have two reasons to object to this damning statement. I have never criticised politicians for “giving special treatment to their kith and kin”. I have criticised politicians on various other issues such as what they have done, but not on this particular accusation. Hence Dr UW deliberately, or carried away by his writing eloquence, placed me in danger of reprisal. Such is not done.

Please read me in Cassandra Cry on Friday January 28, where this matter, and some others  the doctor has written regards Cassandra will be refuted,

CASSANDRA

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