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SJB alleges agro-chemical supply disrupted amidst plans to create monopoly in lucrative market



‘Govt.’s failure to meet requirement has led to the smuggling of deadly substances from India’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne says the government is yet to explain how it intends to ensure sufficient supply of agro-chemicals for the Maha season.

Pointing out that the Maha season is three weeks away; Matale District MP Kaviratne insists the government still seems uncertain about a proper distribution scheme. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) continues to cause uncertainty among the farmer community, thereby undermining the vital occupation that feeds the country, the former UNPer says.

Asked whether SJB had genuinely intervened on behalf of the farming community, MP Kaviratne said that she recently raised the entire gamut of issues with Agriculture Ministry Secretary Senior Professor Uditha K. Jayasinghe.

How could land be prepared without agro-chemicals, MP Kaviratne asked, urging the Agriculture Ministry to respond to farmers’ concerns, instead of simply following the government agenda.

Due to the failure on the part of the government to provide sufficient supply of agro-chemicals, questionable stocks were being smuggled in from India in fishing trawlers to the Eastern Province, Mannar, as well as the South, the MP alleged in her letter to the Agriculture Ministry Secretary.

Lawmaker Kaviratne pointed out that Jayasinghe who headed the Agriculture Faculty, Wayamba University couldn’t be unaware of the pivotal requirement for both fertiliser and agro-chemicals for commercial cultivation.

Jayasinghe succeeded Senior Administrative Officer Rohana Pushpakumara in June this year. The Agriculture Minister brought in Pushpakumara after the resignation of Maj. Gen. Sudantha Perera, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first choice as Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Lawmaker Kaviratne maintained that the Agriculture Ministry, too, was in turmoil as were almost all other ministries. “As a result, key sectors are in chaos. Agriculture is no exception. The way the decision-makers had handled the agriculture sector is evidence that the SLPP is bent on pursuing its own agenda even at the expense of the community,” she claimed.

Commenting on a Cabinet paper submitted by the Agriculture Ministry recently, MP Kaviratne alleged that an attempt was being made to create a monopoly in the lucrative agro-chemical import business. The lawmaker questioned the rationale in handing over a staggering 87 percent of the import share to one company against the backdrop of the crisis caused by pursuing a similar strategy in respect of sugar trade.

The SJB spokesperson pointed out how the government restricted the number of sugar importers. At that time, the SLPP won the election, altogether there had been 67 sugar importers, MP Kaviratne said. Subsequently, the number of sugar importers had been brought down to 12 and duty on kilo of imported sugar slashed from Rs 50 to 25 cents, at the expense of the Treasury, paving the way for those with political connections to hoard massive stocks of imported sugar after paying a pittance as tax, the MP said.

Lawmaker Kaviratne said that since Sri Lanka opened up her economy in 1977 during the JRJ presidency, there hadn’t been previous attempts to create a monopoly in agro-chemical imports. The government had now paved the way for smuggling of agro-chemicals from India and the formation of a black market trade, the MP alleged, claiming that those in power had dealt a deadly blow to agriculture.

Kaviratne asked whether the SLPP was pursuing an agenda meant to destroy agriculture.

Responding to another query, MP Kaviratne said that the resignation of two Secretaries to the Agriculture Ministry, too, couldn’t be ignored. Perhaps, Maj. Gen. Perera and senior administrative officer Pushpakumara hadn’t been able to follow unpalatable political directives hence the decision to quit, MP Kaviratne said.

She charged that while pretending the government had initiated a major drive to promote organic farming in fact the country was now opened up to deadly agro-chemicals.

The MP alleged that the SLPP had jeopardised the livelihood of about 30 percent of the population dependent on agriculture and was following an unexplained strategy inimical to the overall well being of the country.

Referring to the recent media coverage of countrywide fertiliser shortage, MP Kaviratne claimed that the government wanted to discourage reportage of the issue. Some of those protesting against fertiliser shortage had been harassed while some sections of the media had been warned of punitive measures, she claimed.

The proposed move to make available agro-chemicals through Govijana Seva centres would cause serious inconvenience to the farming community, she asserted.

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Sacked PUCSL Chairman fights back, writes to Prez



Former PUCSL Chairman Janaka Ratnayake yesterday showing the media a document at a news conference called by him in Colombo. Pic by Kamal Bogoda

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) Janaka Ratnayake yesterday wrote to President Wickremesinghe denying all allegations levelled against him.

Earlier in the day, Ratnayake received a note informing of his removal from the PUCSL.

“I write in response to your above captioned letter dated 22 March 2023. At the outset I strongly deny all and singular the several allegations contained against me in your letter under reference,” he said.

The PUCSL Chairman said his letter contained a detailed response..

“I was given an extremely short period of one week, despite the serious consequences that could flow from the misconceived allegations made against me,” Ratnayake said.

He said that the PUCSL was not a rubber stamp for proposals put forward by the Electricity Industry including the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

“But the PUCSL should duly exercise its powers and functions as an independent regulator even when the consequent decision reached by it may be one which is not desired by the CEB or the Government,” he said.

Ratnayake said that the PUCSL acting independently has resulted in the Minister of Power and Energy being unable at times to act at his whim and fancy.

“This appears to have irked the Minister of Power and Energy, and also the President. In May 2022, the secretary to the President had phoned my personal assistant instructing her to “ask the Chairman of the Commission to refrain from making any announcement or statement contradicting the speech made by the Prime Minister.”

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Singer Sri Lanka bags top awards



Singer Sri Lanka PLC clinched the People’s Brand of the Year and Durable Brand of the Year Awards for the 17th consecutive year at the SLIM-KANTAR Awards held at the Monarch Imperial on 27th March, 2023. Singer Sri Lanka PLC Chairman Mohan Pandithage receiving the award from Chief Guest, Sri Lanka Test Cricket Captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Guest of Honour, Past President-SLIM Kalana Ratnayake at the glittering ceremony. Singer Sri Lanka PLC CEO Mahesh Wijewardene, Marketing Director, Shanil Perera, Marketing Manager, Piyum Jayathilaka and other senior officials were present. Pic by Kamal Bogoda

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SJB trade unionist calls for significant fuel price reduction



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Convenor of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) trade union wing, Samagi Joint Trade Union Alliance, Ananda Palitha yesterday (28) said that with the appreciation of rupee against the USD and comparatively lower crude prices in the world market, the government could reduce the price of litre of petrol (92 Octane) and diesel by as much as Rs 100 and petrol (95 Octane) by Rs 125.

The trade unionist said that the price of a litre of kerosene, furnace oil and naphtha, too, could be decreased by Rs 100 each.

Responding to The Island queries, the former Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) employee said that fuel prices should be revised as fast as possible for the benefit of the public.

Lanka IOC should follow the new pricing formula, the former UNP trade union leader said, strongly urging the government to re-examine the petroleum sector. It would be pertinent to mention that petroleum and water sectors, too, should be brought under the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in terms of PUC Act No 35 of 2002, Ananda Palitha said.

Former Power and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila said that he was out of the country.

Therefore, I couldn’t comment without studying the latest developments.

Ananda Palitha found fault with political parties represented in parliament for the inordinate delay in fully implementing the Act that was meant to regulate three vital sectors. The PUC received authority to regulate the electricity industry, in terms of Sri Lanka Electricity Act No. 20 of 2009, Palitha said. However, respective Acts, pertaining to Petroleum and Water, were yet to be passed by Parliament, the trade union leader said pointing out that the delay on the part of the parliament seemed deliberate.

Asked whether they opposed the further liberalisation of retail market with the entry of more foreign companies, Ananda Palitha said that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was exploiting the current political-economic-social crisis to advance the original agenda of Wickremesinghe.

“We are facing a frightening situation,” the SJB activist said, urging political parties represented in parliament to review rapid developments taking place. The entry of four foreign entities should be examined against the backdrop of Lanka IOC further expanding its operations here, Ananda Palitha said.

The outspoken trade unionist warned against moves to gradually weaken Sapugaskanda oil refinery to pave the way for increased import of refined products. “The refinery that launched operations in 1969 during Dudley Senbanayake’s era received the attention of President J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa. But, since then no President paid attention to the facility,” Ananda Palitha said. Instead of enhancing its capacity, successive governments were working overtime to weaken it for obvious reasons, the trade unionist said.

According to him, all were attacking Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera over the continuing crisis in the petroleum sector. “We should question President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Cabinet-of-Ministers headed by the President and the relevant Sectoral Oversight Committee,” Ananda Palitah said.

Ananda Palitha said that political parties as well as some trade unions should accept responsibility for the pathetic situation in the petroleum sector. For want of a cohesive action plan, politicians and interested parties regardless of on and off setbacks were able to pursue their agendas detrimental to Sri Lanka, he said.

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