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President directs immediate action to solve plantation sector issues



During a recent meeting at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo, President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized that the government is committed to carrying out its agricultural modernization plan. However, he also highlighted certain issues that need to be addressed in the sector. One of the main challenges mentioned by the President was related to the Mahaweli Authority and its lands, which are now being resolved. Another issue that was discussed extensively was the regional plantation companies.

The President pointed out that the main challenge faced by regional plantations is the leases that are due to expire in the next 10 or 15 years. He stressed that if the government is going ahead with agricultural modernization, it will have to give new leases. However, the President instructed the members of the Plantation Reform Committee (PRC) to find a basis for granting new leases, as not all companies have performed well. He also instructed them to update the survey conducted in 2018 to assess the performance of the companies and determine the basis for granting new leases.

During the meeting, the President suggested that companies should not be allowed to sell their shareholdings without the consent of the government once they have been given land. Additionally, he also said that the issue of gemming should also be addressed. He said modernizing agriculture is turning it into agribusinesses. The PRC was asked for their views on this matter.

Other issues discussed during the meeting included housing in the plantation sector, challenges facing the three main crops (tea, rubber, and coconut) that come under the plantation sector, and problems pertaining to tea plantation line-rooms and housing. The meeting also focused on a pilot project where land is being subcontracted to workers and issues related to Land Reform Commission (LRC) were given priority. Finally, the attention was drawn to the sale of tea to Iran.



March 12 Movement, MP Rajakaruna ask Prez to sack gold-smuggling MP



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Declaring that Muslim National Alliance (MNA) MP Ali Sabri Raheem couldn’t continue to be an MP after being fined for an abortive attempt to smuggle in Rs 78.2 mn worth of gold and smartphones, the March 12 Movement has appealed to the executive, legislature and the judiciary to sack the MP, who, they say, has brought Parliament into disrepute.

Civil society activist Rohana Hettiarachchi, on behalf of the March 12 Movement, told The Island that MP Raheem should be dealt with the way the late President J.R. Jayewardene had handled the case of Kandy District UNP MP Anura Daniel. Jayewardene had removed MP Daniel, who was nabbed for a similar smuggling offence, Hettiarachchi said, urging President Ranil Wickremesinghe to take the initiative.

Pointing out that Customs had fined MP Raheem Rs 7.4 mn over two weeks back, Hettiarachchi found fault with the President and Parliament for failing to take tangible measures in that regard. The All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), which fielded Raheem from the Puttalam District at the last parliamentary election (2020), couldn’t absolve itself of the responsibility for the MP’s despicable action, Hettiarachchi said.

Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen, who entered Parliament on the SJB ticket, is the leader of ACMC.

Hettiarachchi, who is also the Executive Director of PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections), said that the government conveniently forgot to investigate whether MP Raheem smuggled in gold, smartphones or any other items on earlier occasions, since he entered Parliament. Since 01 March this year MP Raheem had gone abroad (to Dubai) on five occasions before he was caught, Hettiarachchi said, finding fault with Parliament for not going the whole hog.

There should have been no holds barred investigation, Hettiarachchi pointed out and said Customs owed an explanation why a maximum fine was not imposed on the gold smuggling MP. Instead, the MP was fined Rs 7.4 mn and allowed to proceed to Parliament where he voted against a government motion.

Hettiarachchi said that the Customs response to the detection should be examined taking into consideration Customs (Amendment) Act (No 83 of 1988).

Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi said that in spite of leaders of several political parties requesting the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to take up this issue, the Speaker seemed to be determined not to get involved.

SJB MP Harshana Rajakaruna yesterday told The Island that though ACMC nominee Raheem entered Parliament on the MNA ticket, only President Ranil Wickremesinghe could compel the offending MP to quit Parliament. “That is the reality,” the Gampaha District MP said, pointing out that MP Raheem served the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration.

Recalling how MP Raheem voted for the 21 Amendment to the Constitution in October 2020, MP Rajakaruna said that the MP also voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe at the House vote to elect an MP to complete the remainder of ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term.

MP Raheem voting with the Opposition on the motion to remove Janaka Ratnayake as the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission hadn’t changed the relationship between the two parties (the government and the MNA), MP Rajakaruna said. According to him, those responsible turned a blind eye to the incident.

Civil society member Hettiarachchi said that they sought information relating to MP Raheem’s case from Customs in terms of the RTI (Right to Information) Act as the crux of the matter is the imposition of a lower fine regardless of the provision to declare harshest fine in terms of Customs law.

Hettiarachchi raised the possibility of the government interfering with MP Raheem’s case as there couldn’t be any other reason for Customs to impose a relatively lower fine.

MP Raheem is on record as having claimed that Customs fined him Rs 7.4 mn whereas a close associate of him who smuggled the undisclosed gold and smartphones was fined just Rs 100,000.

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FAO to support Health Ministry to enhance food safety policy through EU-funded project



The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) through the European Union (EU)-funded BESPA-FOOD (Best Standardized Practices for the Agri-Food Sector) project will support the government to establish a well-coordinated food safety system in the country. Through the 6.5 million Euro project, FAO will work closely with the Ministry of Health to implement institutional revisions in the country’s food safety policy and regulatory framework towards adopting preventive, risk-based measures across the supply chain.

The current food safety regulatory policies in Sri Lanka focuses largely on end-product checks and regulations. Governed by a regulatory framework established in 1980, the challenges facing Sri Lanka’s food safety sector include weak regulatory and institutional frameworks that have led to vulnerabilities in supply chains, and infrastructure as well as an approach that does not consider every aspect of the food supply chain from farm-to-table.

To respond to these gaps, FAO will also work with the Ministries related to agriculture, livestock development, and fisheries sectors, as well as other agri and food sector stakeholders including private enterprises, SMEs, and consumers to achieve a complete transformation of food safety standards in the country via institutional as well as attitudinal shifts.

“Food safety requires a collaborative effort. That is why in Sri Lanka we work together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), FAO and local partners to promote a transition to a sustainable and fair food system that can provide sufficient and safe food for all,” Chargé d’affaires, Delegation of the European Union in Sri Lanka Lars Bredal said.

“Ensuring safe food for all Sri Lankans is not only a public health priority but also an economic necessity. We must continue to strengthen our capacity for food safety, invest in research and innovation, and prioritize consumer awareness and education. At FAO, we remain committed to working closely with our partners to achieve a food-secure and safe Sri Lanka,” FAO Representative for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Vimlendra Sharan said.

BESPA-FOOD, which is jointly implemented by FAO and UNIDO, and funded by the EU, recognizes that current levels of poor food safety standards not only impacts public health but also hampers Sri Lanka’s potential in international trade, particularly when trading with regions where markets are highly regulated. Strengthening the food safety sector will not only alleviate the high cost of healthcare services but also create a resilient and competitive food industry in both domestic and international markets, and combat the issue of food loss and waste, thereby contributing to overall food security in the country.

A recent study by UNIDO revealed that an improvement in food safety practices in Sri Lanka through a 30 million USD investment and an annual net budgetary commitment of 9 million could prevent at least 113 deaths annually and significantly boost annual export values, projected to increase by 24% over a decade.

On this World Food Safety Day, the EU, UNIDO and FAO reaffirms commitment to enhancing food safety in Sri Lanka through the BESPA-FOOD project. This collaborative effort aims to create a safer, more resilient, and economically vibrant food sector, ensuring the well-being and sustainable development of the country and its people.

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India fast tracks construction of sanitation units in Batticaloa



USD 600 mn grants among USD 5 bn development assistance

India has launched a grant project to provide over 1,000 sanitation units/toilets for the people of the Batticaloa district. The Batticaloa project is among over 20 grant projects that are at various stages of implementation.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson in Colombo said that a Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting on construction of sanitation units/toilets in the Batticaloa District was convened on Monday (5) under the co-chairmanship of Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob and Gunadasa Samarasinghe, Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture.

The meeting was held in hybrid format with participation of District Secretariat, Batticaloa and other relevant stakeholders.

The official said: “Construction of sanitation units in Batticaloa is being undertaken as a grant project by Government of India. The PSC meeting focused on the revision of modalities for fast-tracking the construction of over a thousand sanitation units in Batticaloa District to enhance the public health conditions of the people in the region. This project is a reflection of India’s continued commitment to carry out human-centric projects in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka.

The official added: “India’s overall development assistance to Sri Lanka stands at more than USD 5 billion with nearly USD 600 million being grants. Close to 65 grant projects have already been carried out across the 25 districts of the country. Currently, over 20 grant projects are at various stages of implementation. Indian Housing Project and 1990 Suwaseriya ambulance service are among the flagship grant projects implemented by India in Sri Lanka.”

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