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‘ Sathosa bosses brazenly manipulate Cabinet directive’

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Bandula, Alagiyawanne respond to accusations 

Garlic scam:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Outgoing Executive Director of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Thushan Gunawardena says top Sathosa management brazenly manipulated a Cabinet directive, meant to ensure the steady supply of food items to Sathosa outlets, for the benefit of a few.

According to him, 56,000 kilos of garlic, released by Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to Sathosa, was sold to a regular Sathosa supplier at Rs 135 a kilo. Sathosa management planned to buy back the same consignment at Rs 445 a kilo and then make available to consumers at about Rs 540 a kilo. The plan had gone awry due to unexpected raid carried out by then CAA, Gunawardena said, Sathosa sold the stock at such a low price on the basis of poor quality in spite of it being cleared by Quality Assurance officers, he said.

Inquiries revealed that private traders and supermarkets priced a kilo of garlic at Rs 600 to 630.

Responding to The Island queries, Gunawardena emphasised that many food consignments had been rerouted the same way. He said that such a massive fraud couldn’t have been carried out without political patronage. A container load of orid (Undu) had been among the consignments sold the same way, he said, insisting that Sathosa, and a selected group of suppliers worked together on the particular racket. “Politicians cannot be unaware of what is going on.”

Declaring that he would send his letter of resignation to CAA Chairman retired Maj. Gen. Shantha Dissanayake, later in the day, Gunawardena said that the country was definitely in the grip of an utterly corrupt system and, therefore he had decided to quit. “I tried my best to make a difference but realised the government lacked political will to take on corrupt elements. In fact, corruption is on the march. Waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence are the norm,” Gunawardena said.

Responding to another query, Gunawardena stressed that Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardana and Co-operative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanne couldn’t absolve themselves of the responsibility for the pathetic situation at Sathosa.

Gunawardena declared that Sathosa was a den of corruption. The official alleged that he had not received the backing from Ministers Gunawardana and Alagiyawanne following the exposure of garlic deal.

According to Gunawardena, the consignment of garlic in two freight containers made available by the SLPA was declared fit for human consumption by Quality Assurance officers and through memo DGM (Procurement) Ms Chamila Asuramanna and Senior Manager (Logistics) R.S. Fernando informed.

The Assistant Manager (Quality Assurance) Mrs. Dulanjali Randeniwala while claiming that Sathosa had sufficient stocks of garlic at its warehouses had suggested what she called bulk sale or some other operation. The quality inspection had been carried out on September 7, 2021 at the CICT terminal. The two refrigerated containers had arrived at the Colombo Port on July 14, 2021.

Gunawardena said that the letter had been copied to Sathosa Chairman retired Rear Admiral Ananda Peiris, CEO Ranjith G. Rubasinghe, DGM (Finance) Susiri Perera and Senior Manager (Procurement) Lakshman Kumara. Therefore, the entire top Sathosa management was aware of the garlic consignment, Gunawardena said urging a wider investigation.

“What we really need is remedial measures at political level. Urgent intervention at the Cabinet level to prevent corruption and irregularities,” Gunawardena said, urging Parliament to look into the scandal.

DGM Finance Susiri Perera arrested by the police in connection with the fraud on 16 Sept. and produced before the Peliyagoda Magistrate was remanded till 21 Sept 21. He was among several persons taken into custody in this connection.

Trade Ministry spokesperson Mahesh Wickrema told The Island that Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardana would make a comprehensive statement in that regard in parliament on Wednesday (22). Wickrema said that the CAA had been gazetted under the State Minister Alagiyawanne’s ministry. Acknowledging that Sathosa had sold two container loads of garlic in violation of specific directives, Wickrema said that Gunawardana, in his capacity as the Trade Minister had directed a comprehensive inquiry into the garlic transaction.

State Minister Alagiyawanne told The Island that he, too, would make a statement in Parliament. The Gampaha District lawmaker denied all accusations made by the outgoing official Gunawardena pertaining to the clandestine sale of two container loads of garlic. Alagiyawanne said that he had not interfered with the CAA raid on Sathosa or tried to protect the culprits. CAA and Sathosa come under the purview of Alagiyawanne and Gunawardane, respectively.

Responding to a query, Alagiyawanne said that there was no doubt the issue at hand should be fully investigated. “Of course, the garlic deal was corrupt and wrongdoers should be  punished,” the State Minister said.

In an interview with Chamuditha Samarawickrema in ‘Truth with Chamuditha’ on social media, Gunawardena said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election manifesto ‘vistas for prosperity and splendor’ was in tatters. In spite of repeated promises, the new government hadn’t been able to rein in those engaged in corruption.

Admitting that he was a political appointee, Gunawardena said that though President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed them not to give in to political pressure under any circumstances, he realised the difficulty in taking a strong stand against corruption.

Responding to another query from the interviewer, Gunawardena said that both ministers, Gunawardena and Alagiyawanne reacted angrily when he suggested that Rs 400,000 obtained from CAA for World Consumer Rights Day was spent prudently. Gunawardena said that he didn’t want the funds being spent on promoting some politicians. When The Island raised this issue with State Minister Alagiyawanne, the SLFPer said that the proposal for the event was made by the CAA. The lawmaker strongly denied accusations that the funds were wasted on a political event.

Responding to Gunawardena’s accusation that the subject minister planned to enter agreements with cement, flour and milk food importers at the expense of consumers, State Minister Alagiyawanne said that an attempt was being made to depict the agreements as favourable to the importers.

Alagiyawanne said that the agreements stipulated the importers had to ensure uninterrupted supply of cement, flour and milk powder and continue with same prices for at least three months.

Alagiyawanne said that the ministry had also sought the suppliers consent to obtain commodities on credit for at least six month period due to serious shortage in foreign reserves.

Both Alagiyawanne and Wickrema said that though Gunawardena identified as Executive Director of CAA there was no such position in that outfit.

Gunawardena told the interviewer that he was under tremendous pressure to quit the job. “Yes. My life is in danger,” Gunawardena said. According to him, the CAA had failed in its duties and responsibilities. At the time, he had taken over there had been about 700 unopened files pertaining to complaints and various allegations since 2013.

All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen served as the trade minister during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term and also during yahapalana administration. Chamal Rajapaksa succeeded Bathiudeen before Bandula Gunawardena was brought in August 2020.

Gunawardena said that his departure would pave the way for the appointment of a henchman. The institutions responsible for protecting the rights of the public neglected their duties for obvious reasons, the official said.

Actually, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should intervene in this matter, Gunawardene said.

The government should be ashamed of what was going on in the country, he said, pointing out the reduction of duty on a kilo of sugar from Rs 50 to 25 cents by the Finance Ministry on Oct 13, 2020 had exposed the true state of affairs in the country. That scam proved beyond doubt that racketeers could get away with absolutely anything thereby making the much propagated slogan ‘one country, one law’ nothing but a farce.



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Delisting of Tamil Diaspora groups irks some; explanation sought

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Decision based on GoSL assurance given in Geneva last June

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera yesterday (14) said President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government should explain the rationale behind delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

“The timing of the government announcement really worries us,” Dr. Amarasekera said on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO). He said such moves couldn’t be simply justified on the basis of the forthcoming sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. The next UNHRC sessions are scheduled for September.

Recalling that he too strongly backed the stand taken by President Wickremesinghe with regard to US Ambassador Julie Chung’s opposition to measures the government adopted to counter violent protests, Dr. Amarasekera emphasised national security couldn’t be jeopardised by politically-motivated decisions.  The Defence and Foreign Ministries owed the public an explanation as regards the procedure adopted in delisting some Tamil diaspora groups and individuals.

The UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) had been among those delisted, through an Extraordinary Gazette issued by the Ministry of Defence.National Freedom Front (NFF) spokesperson Mohammed Muzammil, MP, too, echoed Dr. Amarasekera’s concerns. Addressing a hastily arranged media briefing at NFF’s Pita Kotte party office, lawmaker Muzammil asked whether the government had received an undertaking from those delisted groups, and individuals, whether they would abandon the separatist agenda. Lawmaker Muzammil said President Wickremesinghe, who holds the defence portfolio, should address the concerns of those who felt betrayed by the disputed de-listing of those who propagated separatist ideology though the armed forces eradicated the LTTE in 2009.

Both Dr. Amarasekera and MP Muzammil pointed out that Tamil Makkal Theshiya Kutani leader C.V. Vignewaran, following a recent meeting with President Wickremesinghe, had declared that he received an assurance with regard to several of their demands.  They asked whether the de-listing of these organizations, and individuals, had been part of the agreement between Tamil political parties and President Wickremesinghe.

The Island

sought the views of Suren Surendiran of the GTF, who is among those delisted. The UK-based GTF spokesperson alleged that the entire process of designation of groups and individuals was arbitrary, irrational, and an outright abuse of the United Nations Regulations – aimed at suppressing freedom of speech and dissent, not just within Sri Lanka but also across the borders.

 “GTF and I were listed in 2014, delisted in 2015, re-listed in 2021 and re-delisted in 2022,” Surendiran said, declaring they remained committed to their original ideals meant to achieve justifiable aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people, and implementation of the 2015 accountability resolution.

Surendiran has sent us the following response:   “Every time when a resolution is passed at the UNHRC, calling for Accountability and Reconciliation, the Rajapaksas, be it Mahinda or Gotabaya, will proscribe us as an angry reaction and then realise that no other government or international institution, including progressive Sri Lankans of all communities, and the wider media, recognise these proscriptions and just before another UNHRC session, the sitting government will de-proscribe us. This has been the case since 2014.”

“GTF is grateful that the international community and many Sri Lankan stakeholders (including the media) ignored this listing for what it truly was.

“We did an estimation on the loss of foreign currency inward flow into Sri Lanka directly related to these proscriptions of 2014 and 2021, at least per annum the loss has been USD 300 mn to   half a billion dollars.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary of Defence Kamal Gunaratne, Former Foreign Minister G L Peiris and the notorious so called “terrorism expert” Rohan Gunaratna must explain these losses to the Sri Lankan people and held accountable for their arbitrary decisions and explain what benefits these proscriptions achieved.”

Authoritative sources said that contrary to concerns expressed by various iparties as regards the delisting of organizations and certain individuals, the decision to do so was announced by the former Foreign Affairs Minister Prof GL Peiris in mid-June this year at the 50th Geneva sessions. The Foreign Ministry quoted Prof. Peiris as having said: “The list of designated individuals, groups and entities under the United Nations Regulation No. 1 of 2012 is being reviewed. As of now 318 individuals and 04 entitles are proposed to be delisted. This is a continuing exercise.”

Sources said that it wouldn’t be fair to seek explanation from the incumbent government for a decision taken by the previous administration.

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Govt. trying to impress UNHRC – Vigneswaran

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Tamil Peoples’ National Alliance (TPNA) leader MP C. V. Vigneswaran says President Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a hurry to rope in Tamil MPs w,ith an eye to the upcoming UNHRC session.

In a statement after meeting President Wickremesinghe the MP says: “He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1. Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.”

Full text of Wigneswaran’s statement: At the invitation of the President, I met his Excellency, along with our Party senior member Mr. S. Selvendra, at 4.30 PM, on 10th August 2022 at the Presidential Secretariat. The Prime Minister was also present.

The President explained to us at length his plan of governance which included a Parliamentary governance committee giving a greater role for the Provincial Governors. His idea was that all MPs from the Provinces must govern the respective Provinces under the Chairmanship of the Governors in terms of a National Agenda. He referred to Austria as an example. (His example was inappropriate. Austria is a Federal Country).

Further discussing grabbing of lands in Provinces by Central Government Ministries he agreed that there should be no forestry land that should be grabbed by Ministries and that we should focus on preserving the environment in each Province. He said, if need be a maximum of 2 acres could be taken over by the Government. I said no land should be appropriated by the Central Government in the Provinces except with the consent and concurrence of the respective Provincial Government. There was no response from His Excellency.

Regarding National Schools, he said 50 National Schools were enough for the Country not 1000 National Schools. I pointed out that no Provincial Schools could be taken over by the State and that our Alliance has already filed action in this regard.He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1.

He wanted me to share a document which outlines the proposal on how money could be channeled into the Country from the Diaspora.It became apparent to us while discussing with him that his plan was to strengthen the central administrative control of the entire country, totally ignoring the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

I pointed out to the President that the Tamil people in this country expect the government to take speedy action to attend to their requests, submitted by all Tamil National party leaders which included the release of political prisoners; action to trace the missing persons; stop the activities of various government departments to grab Tamil lands and stop persons trying to build Buddhist temples in Tamil homeland with the help of the Military and so on.

It was also pointed out that in order to enable the Tamils to give political leadership and governance over their Provinces, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented in full as a temporary measure until satisfactory constitutional reforms are made. We told the President that until this process is started in earnest satisfying the Tamil people, we will support the Government from the Opposition. There was no question of our becoming a part of the Government.

Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.Nevertheless, we promised to forward the document he called for and took our leave to depart.

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 Arms, drug seizure from Lankan boat: Accused raised funds to revive LTTE, says NIA

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KOCHI: In a major revelation in a case pertaining to the seizure of a huge quantity of narcotic drugs along with five AK-47 rifles and 9mm ammunition numbering 1,000 from Sri Lankan fishing boats, the NIA has stated that an accused had been involved in activities of proscribed terrorist organisation LTTE within India and abroad.

The accused had also plotted to procure prohibited arms and ammunition, besides contraband articles. The NIA filed the report in the Kerala High Court in response to the bail plea filed by Ramesh, a Sri Lankan native and eighth accused in the case.

The Coast Guard intercepted the boat, ‘Ravihansi’, near Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep, on March 18, 2021. There were no proper documents and six Sri Lankan nationals found on board were arrested by the Kochi sub zone of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on their arrival at Vizhinjam port in Thiruvananthapuram.The Central government directed the NIA to take over the probe and later the seventh and his brother and eighth accused were taken into custody, allegedly for being members of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ramesh revealed that he had stayed in India without a visa violating the provisions of the Foreigners Act.

According to NIA, Ramesh and the other accused, including his brother being a core cadre of the LTTE, held secret meetings and conspired to carry out illegal activities of trafficking in drugs and also arms and ammunition with the intention of raising funds to revive and further the activities of the LTTE, both in India and Sri Lanka, They formed a terrorist gang and transferred money through hawala channels for the procurement of drugs, arms and ammunition.

A witness in the case also spoke of the drug and hawala business carried out by the brothers and specifically referred to Ramesh having collected hawala money from a person named Faseel Bhai. While dismissing Ramesh’s bail plea, the court noted that the statements of the witnesses show not only his inextricable connection with the illegal activities but also his definite link with LTTE, with full knowledge and complicity in the attempt to smuggle heroin, arms and ammunition in the boat, intercepted before its entry into the port.

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