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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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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE



Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm



By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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