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SL’s agriculture sector has nose-dived over the past three decades – SJB MP

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Due to mismanagement of successive governments

by Saman Indrajith

The country’s agriculture sector has declined over the past three decades due to mismanagement of successive governments, a SJB parliamentarian said.

Participating in the committee stage debate on Budget 2021 on Thursday, SJB Kurunegala District MP Ashok Abeysinghe said that there had been eight ministers of agriculture since 1994 with various concepts that had been worded nicely but none of them was able to prevent the country’s agriculture sector’s march towards total collapse.

He said: “In 1994, the agriculture sector’s contribution to the GDP was 12 percent. The main income of the country was from tea, coconut and rubber. Today the GDP contribution is at 7 percent with a minus 5.6 growth rate. With such figures what sort of future could one expect from the country’s agriculture sector?

“There are 12,000 hectares cultivated for paddy and around three to five million metric tons of paddy produced in Yala and Maha seasons. Ten percent of the total number of families numbering around 5.4 million in the country is connected to paddy cultivation. When the harvest is good, we get around 5 million tons of paddy. We hope this season too we’ll get around five million metric tons of paddy harvest.

“After five million tons of paddy are milled, we get around 3 million metric tons of rice. The country’s consumption is around 2.6 to 2.7 million metric tons of rice. So we have a surplus of rice when the harvest is good. Why cannot the rice prices be brought down so that consumption would increase? In this country, daily consumption of 450 gram loaves of bread is 3.5 million. If the rice prices are brought down, then people will consume more rice instead of bread.

“The government keeps printing gazettes indicating controlled prices for rice, but there is no rice at those prices in the market. Under this government five such gazettes have been printed”.

MP Abeysinghe said that till the issues pertaining to mismanagement are addressed, the concepts and projects implemented for the development of agriculture would remain mere beautiful words.

“In 1994 under Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government, Agriculture Minister DM Jayaratne worked under the theme ‘Waga Lanka Waga Sangramaya’. Thereafter, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, as the minister of agriculture, launched a 10,000 tanks project. His successor SB Dissanayake introduced the ‘Paladaaithvaya Diyunu Karamu’ (Let’s improve efficiency) project. Thereafter, Mathripala Sirisena became the agriculture minister and launched ‘Api Wavamu Rata Nagamu’ (Let’s grow and build the nation) project.

His successor Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena continued on the same lines of his predecessor’s theme. Duminda Dissanayake as the minister of agriculture launched the ‘Jathika Nishpadana Sangramaya’ (National Production Campaign) project. Mahinda Amaraweera worked under the theme ‘Api Wavalai Api Kanne’ (We eat only what we grow) national project. Now the incumbent Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage is working under the theme ‘Batha Bulathin Saru Ratak’ (Country full of rice and betel). Now after all those projects what we got? We have today a seven percent GDP contribution from agriculture with a minus 5.6 growth rate, the MP noted.

“Today, we have 200,000 hectares under tea cultivation that produces 300 million kilos annually. Rubber is cultivated on 150,000 hectares and production is around 75 to 80 million kilos while coconut is cultivated in 500,000 hectares producing 2,000 to 3,000 million nuts. Our liquid milk production is at 400-450 million liters”, he added.

He further said: “These indicators will turn better if the government genuinely attempts to develop the agriculture sector under proper management. In this budget for the next year, only Rs 4,500,000 allocated to develop the poultry industry which currently produces around 12 million eggs per year. This is not a practical allocation. When the President took oaths at Anuradhapura, free fertilizer was promised to all farmers but the budget proposals say that only the paddy farmers would get it free while other farmers will have to pay Rs 1,500 per a sack of fertilizer”.

“The farmers have a problem with seeds. They have crop destruction problems from floods, drought and wild animals. Those who lose their crop cannot survive such a season without borrowing. The agrarian insurance scheme has numerous problems with around one fourth of farmers being excluded from it,” MP Abeysinghe said.



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LIOC seeks to expand operations

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by Ifham Nizam

Power and Energey Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday revealed that Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) had asked for permission to set up 50 new filling stations in the country and take over a certain number of petrol sheds currenlty under the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). The government had asked the LIOC to increases the supply of fuel, in case Sri Lanka agreed to the Indian proposal,Wijesekera added.

Sri Lanka was facing daunting challenges as regards fuel distribution and it might not be able to get rid of fuel queues anytime soon, Minister Wijesekera said.Speaking to journalists yesterday, in Colombo, Wijesekera said that plans were underway to introduce a token system for fuel dispensation.He said the new scheme could come into effect from today (27) and the Police, and the armed forces will help implement it.

He also said that four separate groups from the Ministry were working on petrol, diesel, crude / furnace oil, and jet fuel imports. “We asked Lanka IOC to increase fuel supply and CEYPETCO to purchase diesel from them. But they asked for a price revision before that according to the pricing formula. That’s why we revised the price in a situation where there was no fuel in the country.”

The moves came as the government increased fuel prices with effect from the wee hours of Sunday wee hours. Petrol (Octane 92) now sells at Rs 470 per litre and Octane 95 at Rs. 550 per litre. Auto Diesel sells at Rs 460 per litre and Super Diesel at Rs 520 per litre.The Minister said they were working on 130-plus proposals for fuel delivery to Sri Lanka.

“USD 500 million is something that Sri Lanka cannot afford at this juncture. Therefore, consumption will have to be slashed, and fuel for public transport prioritized. Two ministers will fly to Russia today for discussions on fuel and related matters,” he said.The Minister said that bunker suppliers had been granted permission to deliver fuel for industries that deal in US currency.

He also said that overseas fuel companies based in countries that produce fuel, would be invited to set up business in Sri Lanka, as the CPC alone could not import fuel.

He said the CPC would become a more service-provider-based institution to facilitate fuel imports, and it had 9000 MT of diesel and the IOC 10,000 MT while the CPC had about 6000 MT of Petrol and the IOC about 8000 MT, of petrol.He said the IOC was issuing about 300 MT a day and their next shipment was due only after 10 July.

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Economic crisis: Govt. MPs slam Cabinet, Finance Ministry

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‘How come SLPA paid to Treasury just a faction of massive revenue earned in six years?’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

T wo SLPP MPs, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa and Madura Vithanage have, at different forums, lashed out at the government for the rapidly deteriorating status of the public sector finance. Godahewa has warned that economic recovery will not be possible unless the government restructured nearly 400 loss making public sector enterprises or at least take tangible measures to cut down on recurring losses.The former Media Minister, who represents the Gampaha District, said so addressing a group of Gampaha-based professionals and entrepreneurs recently.

Alleging that the failure, on the part of the government to establish an all-party government, contributed to the further deterioration of the situation, Dr. Godahewa emphasized the urgent need to curb, what he called, unbridled corruption as part of the efforts to revive the economy.The Gampaha District MP asked whether the current dispensation has addressed the issues at hand with a sense of responsibility.The MP questioned the composition of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, especially the appointment of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier, in spite of his party having just one seat in Parliament, against the backdrop of even the government parliamentary group not being properly represented.

Dr. Godahewa warned that SriLankan Airlines, the Ceylon Electricity Board, and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) would deny the country an opportunity to recover as they remained a massive burden on taxpayers. The One-time top level private sector executive said that the Cabinet-of-Ministers lacked the strength to take crucial decisions. But, the situation would have been different if the Cabinet-of-Ministers included representatives of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other political parties. Dr. Godahewa declared that the government couldn’t take decisions on sensitive matters as long as it didn’t command political power.

Meanwhile, Colombo District MP Vithanage has questioned the responsibility, on the part of the Finance Ministry, in the overall deterioration of public sector finance with the focus on the handling of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) at a recent meeting of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). The lawmaker alleged that the Finance Ministry had conveniently failed to make required intervention on behalf of the government, thereby deprived the opportunity to utilize SLPA profits.

Prof. Charitha Herath chaired the meeting. Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne attended the meeting whereas Ports and Shipping Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra led the SLPA team.Both MP Vithanage and Prof. Herath asserted that the Finance Ministry should have intervened on behalf of the people. The COPE examined how the SLPA continuously refrained from paying the Treasury at least the minimum amounts in spite of receiving massive profits over the years.  The Director General Public Enterprises, who has received that position recently, struggled to explain their failure to take up the non-transfer of SLPA profits to the Treasury. The COPE was told of Rs 69,686 mn revenue earned from 2016 to 2021, only 600 mn had been transferred to the Treasury.

Lawmaker Vithanage yesterday told The Island that the recent examinations of various enterprises and the Central Bank, by the COPE, as well as other watchdog committees, disclosed how the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and the Monetary Board contributed to the developing crisis. MP Vithanage pointed out even after the Covid-19 eruption devastated the economy, the SLPA had been able to withhold funds required by the Treasury for want of Finance Ministry intervention.Responding to queries, MP Vithanage said that the Parliament should act without further delay to ensure the Finance Ministry and the Monetary Board acted responsibly.

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Ceylon Chamber distributes dry rations

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The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Diwiyata Diriyak’ social initiative provided emergency relief, in the form of 10,000 essential dry ration packs, to vulnerable families in the Kegalle and Colombo districts.

A press release from the Chamber said: Mobilising the Chamber’s Membership to assist low-income families that are struggling to survive the current crisis, the initial distribution, which took place at the Kegalle District Secretariat, was the first phase of Diwiyata Diriyak, which aims to provide 5,000 relief packs.

Containing essential items such as rice, lentils, sugar, wheat flour, canned fish, etc., costing Rs. 5,000 each, vulnerable families, identified by the respective District Secretaries in the Warakapola, Galigamuwa, Mawanella and Rambukkana DS divisions, were among the initial beneficiaries.

CEO and Secretary General of the Ceylon Chamber Manjula de Silva said that the Chamber was committed to supporting the public during this immensely challenging time, and would always strive to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected.

Home Garden Starter Packs, sponsored by the CIC Group, were also distributed among the families, in order to assist and encourage home garden cultivation as a viable option to address the rapidly rising costs and predicted shortage of food items, the release said.

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