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Treasury blamed for missing paddy stocks worth Rs 1.3 bn

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United Rice Producers Association urges Prez to punish culprits

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Rice Producers Association (URPA) alleges that paddy stocks worth Rs 1.3 bn procured by the government in 2019/2020 Maha, 2020 Yala, 2020/2021 Maha and 2021 Yala seasons have not been accounted for.

URPA President W. D. K. Muditha Perera has, in a letter dated January 05, informed President Ranil Wickremesinghe that the paddy stocks at issue were to be sold through Sathosa outlets after being milled by small time operators. However, those plans never materialised, Perera has said, adding as much as 5,800,000 kilos of paddy went unaccounted for.

Muditha Perera told The Island that he had copied the letter to the Chairmen of the parliamentary watchdogs, COPE, COPA and COPF, Auditor General, Chairperson, CIABOC, Director, CID, and Secretaries to Finance, Public Administration and Agriculture.

The URPA has disclosed how government officials, at every level responsible for the implementation of the project in the Polonnaruwa, Puttalam and Trincomalee districts, sold some stocks to the private sector, thereby depriving the consumers of an opportunity to purchase rice from Sathosa, at an affordable price. According to Muditha Perera, stocks of paddy, procured at Rs 50-55 per kilo, could have been easily sold at less than Rs 100.

The trade unionist pointed out that even when a kilo of rice went up to Rs 250 – Rs 300 in June last year, the Divisional Secretaries refrained from releasing stocks available with them.

Muditha Perera found fault with the Finance Ministry for failing to supervise the overall implementation of the project. Having released the required funds for the paddy purchasing scheme, the Finance Ministry couldn’t have turned a blind eye to what was going on in the paddy producing regions.

The then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa served as the Finance Minister, from Nov. 2019 to June 2021. Basil Rajapaksa succeeded him in June and was dropped from the Cabinet of Ministers in April 2022. Ali Sabry, PC, held the finance portfolio for several weeks before Ranil Wickremesinghe succeeded Sabry in late May 2022.

S.R. Attygalle served as the Finance Secretary.

Muditha Perera said that Polonnaruwa District Secretary, though being informed of corruption and manipulation of the entire process of Dec 03, 2020, quite conveniently failed to take remedial measures. Accusing the District Secretary of allowing the racket to continue for two years, Muditha Perera said that the Director, Agriculture, Polonnaruwa, suppressed information sought in terms of the Right to Information Act.

Muditha Perera alleged that major millers had benefited from the racket.

According to him, Polonnaruwa District Secretary, for two years delayed responding to his Association’s right to information query whereas Puttalam Divisional Secretary was still trying to sidestep the issue.

Muditha Perera said that the government could have averted massive losses if the Finance Ministry acted in the wake of SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva’s disclosure of the fraudulent activities in the scheme. The revelation was made during the budget debate on Dec 04, 2020, Muditha Perera said.

The Association alleged that the entire process had been corrupt and, in spite of the issue being raised in Parliament, those responsible allowed the Polonnaruwa, Puttalam and Trincomalee state administration to rob the Treasury and deny those struggling to make ends meet, rice at an affordable price.

Referring to media reports regarding donation of rice from China, India, Myanmar and even Tamil Nadu and significant imports at a time the country experienced a severe balance of payments crisis, Muditha Perera alleged the government allowed corrupt officials a free hand.

“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” Muditha Perera said, asserting that bigger frauds seemed to be encouraged by the powers that be.



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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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