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‘Runaway cost of living: Govt. rendered itself impotent by doing away with price controls’

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Ex-CAA official: “Trade, Consumer Protection ministries reduced to nameboards’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna said that the government could not interfere with the Milk Food Importers’ Association decision to increase the prices of imported powdered milk.

The SLFPer pointed out that price control on imported milk food had been done away with in early November. Therefore, the Consumer Protection Ministry couldn’t interfere with their decision, the Gampaha District lawmaker said, adding he was informed of the price increase.

MP Alagiyawanna said so when The Island sought his response to the Milk Food Importers’ Association announcement on Thursday (30) as regards the price increase with effect from Dec 30 midnight. According to their spokesperson Asoka Bandara, the price of a kilo of packeted milk powder would cost Rs 1,345 and 400 grammes pack Rs 540.

State Minister Alagiyawanna said that a kilo of imported milk powder and 400 grammes pack had cost Rs. 1,195 and Rs 480 before.

State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera on behalf of the National Freedom Front (NFF) recently urged the government to re-impose price controls or face the consequences. Lawmaker Samaraweera alleged that duty concessions that had been granted to various importers, including the Milk Food Importers’ Association didn’t benefit the consumers. The Kalutara District MP cited the reduction of duty on imported sugar in Oct 2020 as a case in point.

Having imposed emergency regulations that had been imposed on Aug. 30, 2021 to prevent hoarding and the termination of the Office of Commissioner General of Essential Services, the government on Nov 04, 2021 removed the retail price cap on several essential commodities through a gazette notification. The retail prices of dhal, sugar, sprats, green gram, potatoes, big onions, canned fish, chickpeas, wheat flour, full cream milk powder, dried fish, coconut, chicken and maize were removed.

The new gazette notification has also removed the maximum price limit of Rs. 1,500 for a 400g packet of sausages and Rs. 1,500 for a kg of mackerel. In addition to that the Special Commodity Levy of Rs.65 per kg of imported rice has been reduced to 25 cents for the next six months.

As per the powers vested in terms of the section 2 of the Public Security Ordinance, President Rajapaksa declared emergency regulations formulated as per the section 5 on essential food supply, with effect from midnight August 30, 2021.

Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena questioned the justification of maintaining the Consumer Protection Ministry as well as the CAA at the taxpayers’ expense in the absence of what he called price control mechanism. “Consumers are fleeced. The government brazenly provides tacit support to unscrupulous business enterprises. On one hand, duty concessions are granted. And on the other hand price controls are done away with. The hapless public has no protection at all,” Gunawardena said.

The cabinet minister in charge of trade Bandula Gunawardena and State Minister of Consumer Protection Alagiyawanna should quit because they were jobless, Gunawardena said adding that there had never been a previous instance of any particular government altogether abolishing price controls.

Outspoken ex-official Gunawardena said that the appointment of a senior serving army officer Maj. Gen. M. D. S. P Niwunhella as Commissioner General of Essential Services for a short period was nothing but a joke. Gunawardena pointed out that having targeted some of those who hoarded sugar and rice and promised an uninterrupted supply of essential items at a reasonable price, the government had done away with price controls, abolished the Office of Essential Services and reduced the trade and consumer protection ministries to just name boards.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena pointed out that the recent media statements that had been attributed to State Minister Samaraweera revealed that the government had done away with price controls without consultations with constituents of the ruling coalition. “In fact, the current dispensation does not seem to believe in proper consultations as regards any matter. There cannot be a better example than the Yugadanavi Power plant share sale agreement,” Gunawardena said.

Asked what the government would do in case the Milk Food Importers’ Association exploited the consumers, State Minister Alagiyawanna said that the government could always resort to price controls. Asked to explain, the lawmaker said that in the case of milk food prices, before the association decided on Rs 150 per kilo increase, it was sold at Rs 1,195. “We are in a position to ascertain how the world market prices as well as shipping charges are impacting on imports,” MP Alagiyawanna said.



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NGO to move SC against acquittal and discharge of first accused

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Welikada Prison killings

‘The BASL should make its position clear now’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners, Attorney-at-Law, Senaka Perera, says his outfit will soon move the Supreme Court against the acquittal and discharging of Inspector Neomal Moses Rangajiva, the first accused in the Welikada Prison killings.

The civil society activist, in a brief interview with The Island, over the weekend, said that the relatives of those who perished in the violence in the Welikada Prison compound on Nov 09 and 10, 2012, had requested him to pursue this matter.

Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar last Wednesday (12) sentenced to death ex-Welikada Prisons Chief Lamahewage Emil Ranjan over the Welikada killings. He was the second accused in the high-profile case, whereas Rangajiva, at that time attached to the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB), was acquitted and released from all charges.

Lawyer Perera said that as the verdict had been given by a Trial-at-Bar, the appeal would have to be made to the Supreme Court. The Trial-at-Bar bench comprising High Court judges Gihan Kulathunga (President), Pradeep Hettiarachchi and Manjula Thilakarathna was unanimous in its decisions.

The Trial-at-Bar said that the prosecution failed to prove its case against the PNB officer beyond reasonable doubt.

Responding to questions, Senaka Perera said that if it hadn’t been a Trial-at-Bar, his group would have moved the Court of Appeal. Senaka Perera explained: “We intend to write to Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, in this regard. We are of the view the AG should appeal against the acquittal and discharging of Rangajiva. However, if the AG refrained from doing so,  the Committee to Protect the Rights of Prisoners will accept the responsibility.”

In terms of the Trial-at-Bar proceedings, the eight prison inmates who were killed in the incident are Kankanmalage Malinda Nilendra Pelpola alias Malan, Attapattu Sangakkara Nirmala Atapattu, Mohammed Wijaya Rohana alias Gundu, Chinthamani Mohottige Thushara Chandana alias Kalu Thushara, Asarappulige Jothipala alias Ponna Kapila, Harshan Sri Manakeerthi Perera alias Manju Sri, Raigamage Susantha Perera alias Mala Susantha, Devamullage Malith Sameera Perera alias Konda Amila.

However, lawyer Senaka Perera said that altogether 27 inmates had been killed after the deployment of the Special Task Force (STF) and the Army inside the Welikada Prison. According to official records, in addition to 27 deaths, at least 43 other inmates received injuries. The then Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera informed Parliament of the deaths of 27 inmates.

The then Police Spokesman SSP Prishantha Jayakoday said that inmates had triggered violence as the STF was looking for drugs and hand phones inside the prison.

The Attorney General filed indictments against IP Rangajeewa, Lamahewage Emil Ranjan and Indika Sampath, an officer attached to the Prisons intelligence unit under 33 counts, including committing murder, conspiring to commit murder after being members of an unlawful assembly.

The Court proceeded in spite of the third accused Indika Sampath who managed to evade the police so far.

The human rights activist recalled how Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, named a Trial-at-Bar to hear the Welikada case on a request made by Rajaratnam’s predecessor, Dappula de Livera, PC. The latter made the request in late June 2019. Rajaratnam succeeded de Livera in late May 2021.

The Prisons Department and the Justice Ministry couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for ensuring safety and security of those in their care, lawyer Senaka Perera said. Those who had been remanded and sentenced could be serious offenders and some may even deserve a death sentence but the State shouldn’t under any circumstances resort to extra judicial measures, the public litigation activist said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that he believed the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) should examine the Welikada case and make its position known to the public. “Perhaps, the BASL, too, should consider moving the SC against the acquittal and discharging of the first accused,” the lawyer said.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that before the former AG made an intervention the progress in investigations had been slow. In fact, real progress was made since 2017, two years after the change of government following the 2015 presidential election, the lawyer said, alleging that the powers that be continuously hindered the investigations.

According to lawyer Perera and other sources, there had been four separate investigations at different levels beginning with the one launched by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) immediately after the Welikada killings. Subsequently the then Prisons Minister the late Chandrasiri Gajadeera named a three-member team to inquire into the Welikada killings. The committee comprising retired High Court judge Bandula Atapattu, retired DIG Gunasena Thenabadu and Prisons Ministry Legal Officer Lalith Andrahannadi produced two reports in Feb 2013 and Nov 2013. There had been two other investigations ordered by the then Prisons Chief P.W. Kodipillai and the Human Rights Commission.

Lawyer Senaka Perera said that the four investigations undertaken during the Rajapaksa administration should be examined. The lawyer emphasized the importance of appraisal of the investigations as the Trial-at-Bar declared that the progress had been made only since 2017.

In addition to those four investigations, there had been another report prepared by the three-member committee comprising retired High Court judge Wimal Nambuwasam, retired Senior DIG Asoka Wijeyatilleke and senior public servant S.K. Liyanage. Appointed on January 22, 2015, less than two weeks after the presidential election, the committee handed over its report to the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, on June 09, 2015 as the latter appointed it.

Lawyer Perera said that the former Prisons Chief claimed that the inmates after having broken into the Prisons armoury seized weapons, including machine guns.

The activist pointed out that the 2012 incidents were the worst since the 1983 massacre of Tamil terrorist suspects. The public have lost faith in law enforcement authorities and the political leadership regardless of the party that held power, the lawyer said. There couldn’t be better example than how the current dispensation handled the then State Minister for Prisons Lohan Ratwatte’s ‘raids’ on Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September last year.

The report prepared by retired High Court judge Kusala Sarojini Weerawardena into the incidents involving Ratwatte should be made public as the police were yet to at least record the State Minister’s statement, lawyer Perera said.

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China donates shipment of rice to Sri Lanka

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By Anura Balasuriya

China will soon send a shipment of rice to Sri Lanka as a donation, a Ministry of Trade spokesman said.

The donation comes in the wake of the 70 year anniversary of the Sri Lanka – China Rubber Rice pact on 1952.

Minister of Trade Bandula Gunawardane had discussed the matter recently with a senior Chinese Embassy officia, the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

“The Chinese Embassy in Colombo is already doing the needful. The Trade Ministry has informed China of the varieties of rice that Sri Lankan consumers like,” the Trade Ministry Spokesman said.

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Rating downgrades discourage investors – JVP

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JVP MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, on Friday (14) day, said investors were discouraged by the continuous downgrading of the country’s credit ratings.

Speaking at an event in Colombo, MP Amarasuriya said import costs had increased as the country was going through a forex crisis. The President’s agricultural policy had been a disaster and that in the coming months, the government would have to import large volumes of food.

Amarasuriya added that Sri Lanka’s relations with other nations had deteriorated and that too would have an adverse impact on the country.

Dr. Amarasuriya said that international rating agencies were independent and that their ratings were very important for investors to make decisions.

“Investors don’t consult Ajith Nivard Cabraal before investing. Besides, in other countries, it is economic experts, not politicians, who become Central Bank Governors,” she added.

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