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Prospective applicants protest over demand to raise ‘personal loans’ to buy government flats

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At Lunawa Sea View Residencies meant for ‘low and middle income families’

BY SURESH PERERA

Prospective buyers of Sea View Residencies at Lunawa developed by the Urban Settlement Development Authority (USDA) for “low and middle income families” have been left kicking their heels after they were informed last week to raise “personal loans” ranging from Rs. 3.5 to Rs. 4.1 million from any financial institution to procure the units.

This is apart from the 25% down-payment plus another Rs. 240,000 as “related charges”, which have to be paid upfront to acquire the flats, the prices of which range from Rs. 4.56 million to Rs. 5.58 million.

For example, to procure a unit valued at Rs. 4.56 million on the fourth floor of the complex, one has to make a down-payment of Rs. 1.14 million.

The general practice earlier when selling housing units in complexes specifically meant for “low and middle income families” was for the government institution concerned to arrange a feasible credit facility largely through HDFC Bank.

However, prospective buyers of Sea View Residencies complained that they were summoned to ‘Sethsiripaya’ at Battaramulla on Tuesday and told in no uncertain terms that they need to secure a bank loan if they wanted to procure a unit in the newly-built housing complex.

“When we protested that we are low and middle income earners, and no financial institution would offer a credit facility without collateral, an official interjected that there was then no option, but to give up the idea of acquiring a flat”, the distraught buyers said.

Application forms were initially issued to interested buyers on a non-refundable deposit of Rs. 2,000 each. After shortlisting applicants, interviews were called, where they were assured that after the 25% down-payment on the total value of each unit was made, a credit facility would be arranged through the Bank of Ceylon under a monthly repayment plan at 6.25% per annum, they noted.

The availability of a bank facility was also clearly outlined in letters sent to buyers shortlisted as “eligible applicants” to purchase the flats. However, in a sudden turnaround, the promised loan facility has been ditched, they complained.

Some prospective aspirants had in fact approached banks for some degree of relief, but were specifically told that they should either surrender the deed of the flat or some other form of collateral to secure a ‘personal loan’.

“If we had millions of rupees the USDA is now demanding for the units, we could have purchased a small house in the area without waiting for more than a year until the housing complex was completed”, they reasoned.

Whereas the highest priced unit in the complex costs Rs. 5.58 million, there’s a small house put up for sale for Rs. 5.5 million close to Moratuwa town, another shortlisted applicant said. “If I had ready cash, I would prefer to buy an individual house”.

“We were asked to make the 25% down-payment as early as possible, but in case the balance is not settled within the time-frame, refunds will be subject to an unspecified penalty”, he further said.

It appears that the government has built the Sea View Residencies for the wealthy or for those who pump funds, hold on for some time and resell at a considerable margin, he opined. “The deserving has been elbowed out”.

USDA Director-General, Major General (Retd.) Udaya Nanayakkara assured that he was aware of the issue and discussions are ongoing with banks to evolve a solution.

“We wanted to recover the construction cost of the housing complex as the land value has not been calculated into the price”, he told The Sunday Island.

“We were looking at recouping the investment upfront without opting for a time-consuming repayment plan”, he explained.

Another official, who asked not to be identified, admitted that 90% of the shortlisted applicants are now unable to procure units without a workable repayment scheme.

“We were aware that prospective buyers would be left in the lurch sans a bank facility as low and middle income earners don’t have access to millions of rupees in liquid cash. However, we had to adhere to UDA (Urban Development Authority) guidelines”, he asserted.

He said that with the growing displeasure over preference to “people who can afford” rather than “those who deserve” has resulted in looking at the process afresh and the possibility of arranging a bank facility is on the cards.

The President, and the Prime Minister, as Housing Minister, should be made aware of obstacles placed by an officialdom insensitive to the average man’s housing needs, he noted.

The applicants were shortlisted on the basis of a monthly household income of Rs. 75,000. Those who earned more than this were rejected as the flats are meant for low and middle income families, he added.

“At the end of the day, the displeasure generated will reflect on the government”, he added.

A UDA official said the complex was developed by the USDA and therefore “it’s their baby”.

“We had nothing to do with it”.



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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 

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Ceyleon Solutions launch Sparetime App to turn spare time into income

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Ceyleon Solutions, a leading mobile app solution provider, launched Sparetime (www.sparetime.lk), a special mobile app to make easy money using one’s spare time. This app helps to search for people providing domestic, official or personal services or earn an extra income by providing a wide range of services.

Services such as masonry, plumbing, computer related services, wholesale, distribution, medical & healthcare, teaching, legal, beauticians, cleaning, helping, babysitting and car wash can be either searched or provided using this app as it creates an online platform for such service providers and those who seek their services.

There are two apps compatible to android and apple phones, ‘Sparetime Provider’ for those who provide services and ‘Sparetime User’ for those who seek such services.

“This is an ideal option for those who find it difficult to make ends meet with their salaries. Using this app, they can make use of their spare time effectively to earn extra money. This creates a comprehensive service hub. For an example, a vegetable farmer can find both a whole seller and a transport service provider to transport his goods with just a click. Even students can find part time work for their financial needs”, said Chaminda De Silva, creator and owner of the Sparetime app.

“This app works as a platform for social workers to get together and mobilize people for tasks that they wish to perform. This is a very user friendly app. However, operating instructions can be obtained by calling our hotline 0706355450 or 0706355452. An instructor will come to help you if necessary”, he noted.

Regardless of being a service provider or a user, this app will be ideal. It will also pave the way to gradually reduce the unemployment rate in Sri Lanka and will subsequently contribute to the gross domestic product accelerating economic growth of Sri Lanka.

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“Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims; they hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes’

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Rishad Bathiudeen tells Parliament

The Muslims never called for separatism. The Muslims have been on the side of the nation for over 1,000 years in Sri Lanka as documented in the book of Dr. Lorna Devaraja titled, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony’. Even when the Muslims were threatened with eviction or death from the North, they risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to be on the side of the State, Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, said.

Speaking in English during the fifth day of the debate on the report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Attacks in Parliament on April 7, he said: “Zahran Hashim and his group were not Muslims. They hijacked the name of Islam to commit these crimes. The report in Page 94 confirms that Zahran wanted to build tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim Communities of Sri Lanka”.

The MP’s speech contained many points and references to matters in the report and events that transpired thereafter.

Some of the points raised by the MP were:

* The State is antagonizing the Muslim community in the manner that Zahran had wanted them to act. The State should not play to the tunes of Zahran. The State should not act in a way that would jeopardize national security. The State has already commenced the process of State sponsored oppression by prohibiting the import of Muslim books and are making plans to ban Niqabs/Burkas and Madrasas.

* The PCoI has exonerated Rishad Bathiudeen from all charges in connection with the Easter attacks. Only two charges remain to be investigated. First one is in relation to the phone call placed by Bathiudeen to then Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake, concerning Ihsan Moinudeen. Secondly, the sale of scrap metal by the Industrial Development Board to Colossus (Pvt) Ltd. Rishad Bathiudeen visited the Bribery Commission on 8th of April, 2021 to request them to investigate the allegation in the report.

 

* The weight placed on the phone call made by Rishad Bathiudeen to General Mahesh Senanayake, was given far higher significance in the report in comparison to the actions of Dayasiri Jayasekara who released six persons from the Hettipola Police Station who were involved in torching and destroying Muslim owned shops and Muslim places of worship. The Commission Report had recommended investigation into the phone call but had not charged Dayasiri on any matter.

 

* The Government cannot have a law banning the Niqab and Burka without also banning medical masks, helmets, sunglasses, etc.

* Restriction of Islamic books being brought into the country is a violation of the Constitution.

* Bathiudeen quoted Page 331 of the Report:‘Reciprocal radicalization is the cycle of radicalization which promotes each other’s radicalized ideologies’. If the Government can keep politicians like Wimal Weerawansa in check, the de-radicalization program will be half completed. He also said that inciting racism will only provoke and radicalize more Muslims.

 * Killing of Fouzul Ameer Mohamed Salley in Kottramulla before his children in the aftermath of the Easter Attacks, was Genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and all persons who were inciting racism could be charged for incitement to genocide. Subsequent charges of oppression too can have a detrimental effect on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must be careful as Sri Lanka is now a party to the Rome Statute and can be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

 

* It was Azath Salley who indicated during a press conference concerning the criminal activities of Zahran Hashim in 2017, but he is alleged to have connections to the Easter Attacks. This is not fair. The Government is politically victimizing Muslims who are speaking up against the oppressive tactics of the Government.

* The One Country One Law Policy does not mean that Muslim Personal Laws alone should be targeted. Most people believe that Customary Laws should be removed. However, that logic would require the Government to abolish Provincial legislation too, as Provincial legislation is also territorially implemented and not countrywide. Several laws will have to be struck down. However, the right way of interpreting the One Country One Law policy would be to maintain all laws that are consistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

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