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Prof. Vitarana says re-streamlining co-op movement the only way to save farmers from middlemen



By Saman Indrajith

LSSP leader Prof. Tissa Vitarana said that re-streamlining the cooperative movement is the only way to save farmers from middlemen who prevent both producers and consumers from enjoying decent prices in the market.

Participating in the third reading stage debate on budget 2021, MP Vitarana said that middlemen and miller mafia have become the bane of farmers.

“The middlemen and miller mafia get the farmers into a debt trap and buy their produce at prices they determine. If the cooperative system was strong, it could have purchased the produce of farmers at a decent price. That would also make way for the consumers to buy at a lower price. Re-streamlining the cooperative movement would be the solution to this,” he said.

“I was the Governor of the North Central Province during the first quarter of this year. It is an area known for its centuries-old irrigated agriculture. More than 65 percent of the people in the province depend on basic agriculture and agro- based industries. The province has immense potential for investors to start their businesses, especially in the agriculture, agro-based industries and livestock sectors. But I was sad to notice that malnutrition was prevailing in the province so badly”, he noted.

Prof. Vitarana further said: “As per the latest statistics, the province’s malnutrition was at 12.5 percent. One in every eight persons was suffering from malnutrition which was high among farmer families. I visited villages in the province and made inquiries. The villagers told me that they do not get the due price for their paddy. Owing to the debts, they had been compelled to sell to the middlemen and miller mafia.

“During the times of the Yahapalana government, their other sources of income also dried up. Two companies have got hold of controlling cattle farmers. Those who engaged in sand mining and brick manufacturing too have lost their incomes. I found that most of the families in the province have only one meal a day.

“The LSSP has an Agriculture Committee headed by Dr. Lionel Weerakoon, who was the former Director, Research of the Agriculture Department. We conducted a thorough research with him and researchers of the University of Rajarata, Mahailluppalama Field Crop Research and Development Institute and officials from the Mahaweli, Agriculture Department, Agrarian Services Board, Irrigation Department and the provincial council. Thereafter we conducted two seminars and a workshop for all stakeholders.

“The research and the subsequent events helped us identify the reasons for the sorry situation prevailing and the solutions for them as well. I table the report of the findings. It was found that there is a mismatch between the crops the farmers cultivate and the potential of the soil, sunlight and climate in the area. That should be optimized to get a better harvest. The province with an immense potential produces only five percent of the GDP.

“Distribution of lands was haphazardly done so they are occupied by various departments and ministries without contributing towards their development. The distribution of lands, optimization of crops and other agrarian services should be done in a scientific and composite manner. The produce of farmers should be value added. While I was the minister of Science and Technology, I promoted the setting up of Vidatha Centers for this purpose. But when I inquired from these officials, I found that they cannot operate to optimum levels as funds allocated to the centers have been reduced gradually during recent times.

“These issues should be addressed to help the farmers to get out of their present plight. Even after that is done, the farmers would not be able to raise their heads till they are hooked by scrupulous elements of the miller mafia. There are regional banks who could obtain loans at seven percent interest from the central bank and serve the people in the province, but they were not aware of it. The cooperative system should be reintroduced to help save the farmers and consumers from the middlemen and miller mafia”.



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Domestic debt restructuring will cripple EPF, ETF – JVP



By Sirimatha Rathnasekera

The Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) will lose about 600 billion rupees during the proposed domestic debt structuring, Co-Convener of the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Wasantha Samarasinghe claimed.

Samarasinghe is of the opinion that the government is planning not to pay 20 to 25 percent of the loans it has taken from domestic sources. Successive governments have borrowed significantly from the EPF and ETF, he said.

Samarasinghe said that due to the depreciation of the rupee, the real value of EPF and ETF funds had decreased by half. “In such a context, can these institutions take a 20 percent haircut? This might be a big problem to the workers,” he said.

The NTUC Co-Convener said that a number of domestic banks, too, had lent to the government and domestic debt restructuring might lead to a collapse in the banking system.

However, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says that they are confident of reaching debt sustainability without re-structuring domestic debt, which would lead to problems in the banking sector.

“There have been concerns among domestic bond investors about rupee debt/internal debt to be restructured following comments made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that financial advisors were looking at domestic debt. However, there has been no request to restructure domestic debt. We are confident that we can make debt sustainable without restructuring domestic debt,” Dr. Weerasinghe told the media at the CBSL’s 6th Review of the Monetary Policy stance for this year, at the CBSL head office auditorium, in Colombo, on Thursday.

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Powerful CEBEU says yes to restructuring but on its terms



Sri Lanka will experience periodic power cuts until 2027 if the government did not take steps to increase electricity production, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU) said yesterday.Due to electricity shortages, the Norochcholai Power Plant had been operational non-stop, sometimes even without scheduled maintenance, CEBEU President, Saumya Kumarawadu said.

“A generator is down. We will get it back online within 14 days. We had started maintenance on another plant in June and it was to be back online in September. But it has been delayed till November,” he said.

Kumarawadu said there would be 10-hour power cuts without Norochcholai. However, the power cuts could be reduced in two weeks when the generator was restored, he said.

He added that while they support restructuring of the CEB, they oppose de-bundling and selling the CEB to various private actors.

“Power cuts might have to go on till 2026 or 2027 unless new plants come up. A proposal to build an LNG power plant is still languishing in the Cabinet,” he said.

The CEBEU President also said that the electricity tariff was last increased in 2012. In 2014, the tariff was reduced. Without increasing electricity tariffs, the CEB will have to get increasing amounts of money from the treasury.

“The government should have increased the tariff at regular intervals. We haven’t increased in a decade and suddenly we have increased by a large amount.That’s why it has come as a shock to people,” he said.

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SJB opposes blanket privatisations



… questions logic of selling cash cows like Telecom and Insurance

The SJB was opposed to the privatisation of profit-making government entities, Chief Opposition Whip, MP Lakshman Kiriella, said yesterday, in Colombo.Kiriella said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had told The Economist magazine that they are thinking of privatising Sri Lanka Telecom and Sri Lanka Insurance.

“These are two institutions that make a profit. What is the point in privatising these?” he asked.

MP Kiriella said that they are not opposed to privatizing SriLankan Airlines, which has been making losses for years.

“We can talk about these things in Parliament. Even when we privatize loss making entities we have to take a number of things into consideration. What will happen to the workers? How will we compensate them? How will we re-skill them? We have to talk about these things openly before doing anything,” he said.

The Chief Opposition Whip said that one of the main reasons why people oppose privatization is because everything is done in secrecy.

“People wonder why things are hidden from them. We need to be open and transparent when we restructure,” he said.

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