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SL’s canned fish producers say undercutting by importers has badly hit the industry

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Calls for a level playing field

BY SURESH PERERA

Asserting that importers enjoy a competitive edge in Sri Lanka’s canned fish industry, beleaguered local producers called for a level playing field, saying they are “being pushed to the wall due to undercutting”.

The local manufacturers threw a lifeline to the troubled fisheries industry by procuring 700 metric tons of ‘Linna’ (Mackerel fish) in the backdrop of the drastic drop in fish consumption following the eruption of the Peliyagoda Covid-19 cluster, but questions are now being raised whether the move was viable as importers are one step ahead in terms of competitive pricing.

“How can Sri Lanka’s canned fish industry be developed when importers pay a duty of a negligible twenty five cents per kilo on the consignments they inject into the local market?”, asked Kamal Addaraarachchi, a member of the Canned Fish Producers’ Association of Sri Lanka.

This is ridiculous, he protested, adding that importers are given priority to the detriment of the local industry, which remains largely side-lined and fettered in its ambitious drive to boost the country’s economy.

With island-wide consumption at 250,000 cans per day, Sri Lanka imports canned fish worth Rs. 14.43 billion (US$ 78 million) annually. The products come largely from China, while Chile is also a source for procurement.

Though there are seven registered canned fish producing companies in Sri Lanka, only five are in active business, he said.

The local demand for canned fish has shot up as most people now avoid consumption of fish following the Peliyagoda corona outbreak. Canned fish is sold between Rs. 260-300 per 425g and small cans at Rs. 130-150.

However, with no effective price control mechanism coupled with the disruption in distribution, some traders have cashed in on the existing shortages to make a fast buck, consumers complained.

Unlike local producers, importers have no worries as they pay low duties and maintain a substantial margin so much so they can reduce as much as Rs. 25-50 per 425g can at any time and still make a profit, Addaraarachchi claimed.

The government should impose a cess on imported products to encourage local production, he emphasized.

He said that when procuring fish locally, there’s invariably 35% depreciation in terms of quality and another 15% is rejected due to poor handling. The fish that’s turned down is later sold as dry fish by suppliers, which is an unhealthy practice, he noted.

The high rate of rejection is due to non availability of facilities for fishermen to preserve their catch, which is an area that needs priority attention of the authorities to make maximum use of the country’s marine resources, he further said.

“At times, we import frozen fish from Japan, China and Chile to meet production demands”, he continued.

Asked whether the local industry has the capacity to meet the country’s annual demand for canned fish, Addaraarachchi outlined that imports should be gradually phased out until producers geared themselves to enhance production capacity.

Initially, if a stock of 150,000 cans is imported on a daily basis, this can be trimmed to 100,000 in a process that allows local production to systematically meet the shortfall. At the end of the day, the country will be saving a substantial volume of foreign exchange, he explained.

“We don’t want government subsidies. What we are asking for are adequate bank facilities to build up the industry. Within three months, we will be self-sufficient in canned fish and within a year even have excess stocks for export”, he added.

Addaraarachchi said the Association discussed their grievances with Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena, who assured that the issues pertaining to duties (on imports) will be taken up with the Prime Minister and the Finance Ministry.

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Foreign force behind Easter Sunday attacks – Sirisena

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A powerful foreign country or an agency was behind the Easter Sunday bombings and the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zaharan Hashim, former President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

“I also do not believe that Zaharan was the leader of that organisation. Because a leader would never have initiated a suicide attack and died during the first wave,” Sirisena said.

The former President also said that Islamic extremism had spread rapidly in the country due to the support extremists received from Muslim politicians.

Sirisena also said that the military and intelligence officials had been demoralised by harassment they suffered during the yahaalanaya administration. This was the reason why local institutions failed to uncover NTJ’s plans. “But this incident is a conspiracy because it appeared that Zaharan was being manipulated by some foreign hand,” the former President said.

The President further said that during the previous administration, UNPers had headed the Ministry of Law and Order for several years that they had significantly weakened the intelligence services. Although he had taken the Ministry of law and Order in the last stages of the yahapalana government, he had not been able to undo the damage the UNP had done in four years, the witness said.

Commissioner: “Did you know that during your tenure as President, Muslim MPs and ministers were forcible acquiring land in Vanni and Batticaloa and they were constructing Muslim villages and mosques there?”

Sirisena: “Some ministers used their political power to clear forests and cultivate lands. Some ministers were angry with me when I tried to stop them. I tried hard to control those actions. But it was difficult for me to deal with that situation. Fundamentalism rose due to the protection given by Muslim political leaders. Certain political parties are based on religion, race and language. This is disastrous. I tried to stop these people but my decisions were not implemented.”

 

 

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Bathiudeen granted bail

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Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was released on bail by the Fort Magistrate’s Court yesterday. Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage released Bathiudeen on cash bail of Rs. 100,000 with two sureties of one million rupees each.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on Bathiudeen and said that the guarantors should be his close relatives.

The Magistrate granted bail to the MP considering the risk of him contracting COVID-19 as two inmates in cells next to his had recently tested positive for coronavirus.

Bathiudeen was remanded in connection with alleged misappropriation of public funds during the last presidential election to transport voters.

The former minister has been accused of misusing 222 buses owned by the SLTB for transporting internally displaced persons from Puttalam to polling stations in Silavathurai, Mannar during the 2019 Presidential Election. Two others, Mohamed Yaseen Samsudeen and Alagarathnam Manoranjan face the same charges.

They have allegedly violated Article 82(1) of Presidential Elections Act, No. 15 of 1981 by misappropriating public funds amounting to Rs. 9.5 million.

Bathiudeen was arrested at an apartment complex at Ebenezer Place in Dehiwala in the early hours of October 19. He was then produced before the court and placed under remand custody. His bail application was also rejected by the magistrate’s court on several occasions

 

 

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Zahran supported Sirisena and SLMC at 2015 elections, Hizbullah tells PCoI

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim supported Former President Maithripala Sirisena and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) at the 2015 elections, former Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M Hizbullah, on Tuesday night, told the PCoI probing the Easter Sunday attacks.

Hizbullah was giving evidence before the PCoI for the second day.

“Zahran supported the SLMC at the 2015 general election. After the UNP-led coalition won the election, NTJ members fought with our supporters. Several people were injured during the clash, including Zahran’s brother. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem visited Zahran’s brother at the hospital.”

The witness also submitted a footage of a demonstration opposite NTJ Headquarters in Kattankudy. It contained a speech by Zahran, who expressed his dismay after Sirisena appointed Hizbullah as a national list MP.

“In this video, Zahran clearly says he supported Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential election. Zahran also says he sent a fax to the former President, urging him not to appoint me to Parliament.”

However, it was earlier revealed that in 2015, representatives of five recognised political parties, including the UPFA and the UNP, had signed agreements with Zahran in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Representatives of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG), too, had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for NTJ support, the Commission was told.

Hizbullah, on Monday, admitted that his party had also signed an agreement with the NTJ.

“Zahran told social media that he would support any politician who agreed to his proposals. All the parties joined him. I also went along.”

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