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Unprecedented lull in business as festive buying takes a battering

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by Suresh Perera

The raging Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to trade and business across the board with industry players describing the lull as “unprecedented” this festive season.

The crux of the matter was that people dreaded to venture out in fear of the lurking virus, which translated into shopping for Christmas and the forthcoming New Year taking a back seat, they said.

If there was any shopping to do at all, mostly to give gifts to near and dear ones in this season of good cheer, only one member of a family would opt to do a hasty run to pick up what they considered could not be done without, they noted.

Gone were the days when whole families went on a shopping spree to buy gifts for their friends and relatives. With the health authorities cautioning the public to observe social distancing and avoid crowded places in keeping with Covid-19 preventive measures, many people preferred to give shopping a miss in the backdrop of the raging virus, particularly in the volatile Western province, industry officials said.

Clothing stores, supermarkets and shops selling gift items were among businesses badly hit by the pandemic, with families reluctant to celebrate with friends and relatives or make a beeline to their home towns over the Christmas and New Year holidays in fear of the virulent infection, which has killed 185 persons in Sri Lanka by Thursday, they explained.

The continuing lockdown in many densely populated areas of the Western province also contributed to the slide in business all around as thousands of people remained confined to their homes under a distressing scenario, the officials said.

Supermarket officials said customers visiting their outlets have dipped significantly as many people don’t want to risk the possibility of being caught at the “wrong place at the wrong time”.

A customer who visited a supermarket on Christmas eve said there were just a handful of people around with most of them purchasing food items, more so in fear of a sudden lockdown than to celebrate the festive season.

“There were enough and more cakes and sweets available on the shelves, which was rather unusual at Christmas time”, he said, and added that there was more interest in buying bread and buns than goodies for Yuletide.

This shows that people live in constant fear of a lockdown anywhere at any time, he added.

With customers to supermarkets and other business establishments asked to write their contact details in a book maintained for the specific purpose under health regulations, there’s fear amongst visitors that in the event of finding an infected person within the premises, all others would be placed under mandatory quarantine, industry players said.

Who will feed their families if that happens?, was the questioned asked. Some were also of the view that they could even lose their jobs under such circumstances, they added.

Another critical factor is that the pandemic has ripped apart personal incomes with hardly anything left in hand to survive, let alone enjoy Christmas or the impending dawn of a new year, they stressed.

Meanwhile, Army Commander, Shavendra Silva said that inter-provincial travel has not been banned during the festive season but it’s left to the people to take necessary precautions.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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