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SJB: SL losing export markets

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The government’s failure to manage foreign relations and enforce the law has led to a crisis affecting the public, says the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).

“The recent EU Resolution reflects yet another foreign policy failure of this failed government. While it embarks on pipe-dream investor forums, the government seems intent on rapidly losing the two largest export markets Sri Lanka already has – the United States and the EU,” the SJB says.

Full text of the party statement: “The SJB notes the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on ‘the situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act’ on 9 June 2021.

“The resolution observes that ‘the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has been steadily deteriorating, with the new government rapidly backtracking on the limited progress achieved under previous administrations’. It specifically mentions Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and its legacy of abuse leading to serious human rights violations. It mentions in particular the use of the PTA to target vocal critics of the state, including eminent lawyers such as Hejaaz Hizbullah, and artists such as poet Ahnaf Jazeemm, and notes the expansion of the PTA through new regulations issued in March 2021. It also highlights a spate of other major concerns including: discrimination and violence targeting minorities; new proposals to introduce oppressive laws on so-called disinformation; the continued application of archaic criminal law; the acceleration of the militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka; and the apparent failure to institute a rigorous, impartial and complete investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in line with international legal standards.

“The SJB has repeatedly raised concerns with respect to the rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and the racist, xenophobic, and discriminatory policies of the present government. We have condemned the systematic assault on Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions through the introduction of the Twentieth Amendment, and the establishment of commissions of inquiry to target politicians within the Opposition. We have also denounced the targeting of lawyers, media personnel, environmental activists, and government servants for their legitimate criticism of the government. The government is attempting to further curtail democratic freedoms through the introduction of laws to curb so-called disinformation. We see these as nothing more than a cynical attempt to further suppress the People’s freedom of expression. We have also condemned the government’s failure to uncover the real masterminds behind the Easter Sunday Attacks, and have repeatedly called for thorough and impartial investigations into the Attacks.

In this rapidly deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, the EU Resolution invites the European Commission ‘to carefully assess whether there is sufficient reason, as a last resort, to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to Parliament on this matter as soon as possible’. Therefore, following this Resolution, Sri Lanka stands to lose its GSP+ status.

“We recall that Sri Lanka regained concessions under the European Union’s GSP+ trade facility in May 2017. Many Sri Lankan exporters, specifically in the garment industry, have benefitted greatly as a direct result of the tariff concessions offered under this facility. One simple condition under which this facility was given was that Sri Lanka takes steps to revise certain problematic sections of the PTA to make them compatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The specific sections were mentioned in a letter sent by the European Commission to the former Minister of External Affairs on 17 June 2010. The Government of Sri Lanka succeeded in regaining GSP+ concessions in 2017 only based on solemn commitments to repeal or amend those specific provisions of the PTA, or replace the PTA with a new counter-terrorism law that is compatible with international best practices.

“Today, the People of Sri Lanka stand to lose the vital support of the European Union because the present government has failed to honour its commitments. Although the present Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has stated in public that the PTA must be revised, the government has failed to introduce any meaningful process to revise the PTA or replace it with a law that is compatible with international best practices. Instead of reforming the PTA, it has exacerbated the crisis by introducing regulations that further expand its scope. We note that these new regulations permit authorities to place suspects in so-called rehabilitation programmes without the need to lead any evidence of wrongdoing before a competent court.

“The government’s continued failure and incompetence in the effective management of its foreign relations, and its total bad faith in the enforcement of law in the country, have directly led to the present crisis that confronts the People of Sri Lanka. The recent EU Resolution reflects yet another foreign policy failure of this failed government. While it embarks on pipedream investor forums, the government seems intent on rapidly losing the two largest export markets Sri Lanka already has – the United States and the EU.

“The SJB, as the main Opposition party in Parliament, does not merely wish to point out the failings of the present government without offering viable solutions. We note that the previous attempt to introduce a new counter-terrorism law was mired in controversy. However, we note that the Sri Lanka Law Commission, a body comprising eminent members of Sri Lanka’s legal fraternity, has produced a draft law on the Protection of National Security, which is a concise and effective piece of legislation that is compatible with international best practices. The SJB is currently studying the Law Commission’s proposals, and will endeavour to initiate a process in parliament through which these proposals are taken up.

“The SJB is of the firm view that a robust and effective national security framework can be developed without compromising human rights and democracy.”



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Police detain Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect over domestic aide’s death

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Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect have been detained for interrogation in connection with the death of the 16-year old domestic aide.

“They are being held for 72 hours for further questioning”, police said.

The suspects taken into custody were identified by police as that 46-year old Sheyabdeen Ayesha, her father  70-year-old Mohammed Sheyabdeen and the broker who brought the girl to work as a domestic aide in Bathiudeen’s house.

The victim, a resident of Dayagama Estate off Talawakelle, was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on July 3 with severe burn injuries. She died on July 15.

Police have already recorded the statements of more than 20 persons in connection with the girl’s death.

Police have also questioned two women aged 22 and 32 from the Dayagama area, who earlier served as domestic workers at the former Minister’s house.

One of the women had claimed she was sexually harassed by Bathiudeen’s brother-in-law from 2015 to 2019 at the former Minister’s residence in Colombo.

Subsequently, police also arrested the 44-year old Sheyabdeen Ismadeen, brother-in-law of the former Minister.

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Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks

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After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn

by Suresh Perera

A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.

The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.

“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.

The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.

“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.

“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.

Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.

“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.

The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.

“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.

Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.

This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.

Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.

“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.

As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.

Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.

Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.

Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.

As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.

The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.

The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.

In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.

“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.

With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.

Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.

“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.

At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.

With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.

“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.

It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.

Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.

“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.

 

 

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United States gives Sri Lanka 500,000 coronavirus rapid tests

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The United States had donated 500,000 Rapid diagnostic tests to Sri Lanka worth Rs. 300 million to help the country fight Coronavirus, the US Agency for International Development said.

“By enabling rapid detection of the virus, these tests donated by the American people will save lives and protect public health in Sri Lanka,” USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Reed Aeschliman said in a statement.

“This donation builds on previous U.S. support to the Sri Lankan government’s pandemic response and reflects our strong, long-standing partnership.”

US has also given 1.5 million moderna vaccines to Sri Lanka.

The tests are simple to use and enable fast, decentralized access to direct testing. They do not require additional equipment or specialized laboratory access, which helps achieve high testing coverage.

The United States has also given of 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka’s health system.

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