Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera told Parliament today (26 July) that he wants all parties responsible for importing waste containers criminally charged.
Responding to questions raised in Parliament, Samaraweera said that once investigations wrap up, Sri Lanka Customs expects to take legal action against those responsible, under the Customs Ordinance.
“According to existing laws, we can impose a fine three times the value of the waste, but I think fining them is not enough. We are seeking legal advice to charge them under criminal offences,” he said.
According to the investigations conducted by Sri Lanka Customs, the Minister said, 241 waste containers had been imported to Sri Lanka during the period from 28 September 2017 to 2 March 2018 and 111 of them were imported by ETL Colombo (Pvt) Ltd. The notifying party, he said, was Ceylon Metal Processing Corporation (PVT) Ltd.
“Up to 130 containers belong to Hayleys Free Zone Ltd which had been released from the harbour,” he said.
The existence of the waste containers first came into light when the Director-General of Customs received a tipoff about 65 unreleased waste containers in the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) on 21 May.
The containers were initially checked by Customs on 24 May with the presence of ETL Colombo (Pvt) Ltd CEO Sasikumaran Muthuramar, whose company imported the containers, and officers of the Central Environment Authority (CEA).
Recounting the discovery, the Finance Minister said investigations found that the containers had mixed waste inside them. When the Director-General of Customs visited the site to inspect the containers he found it difficult to check them as the contents were rotting and putrefying.
Customs had found used metal consignments which had used mattresses and carpet containers with muddy carpets, plastics and bird feathers used to fill pillows, as well as broken pieces of glass inside them.
“I see this as a big national crime,” said Samaraweera, adding that the companies had violated the Basel Convention on the transfer of hazardous waste, Phytosanitary certificate regulations, Custom Ordinances and the National Environment Act.
He further said that out of the 130 containers belonging to Hayleys Free Zone Ltd, 18 containers have been re-exported, and out of the 18 containers, 15 had been sent to India on 21 December 2017 and two containers to Dubai on 14 December 2018.
The calculated weight of the 130 containers belonging Hayleys Free Zone Ltd is 2,964,850kg and the weight of re-exported waste is 283,405kg out of which 181,000kg was re-exported without proper recycling and 102,405 Kg was re-exported after recycling.
As these two import companies had violated the Basel Convention, they were instructed to re-export these waste containers back to the countries of origin, said the Minister. However, this may be delayed as another party has filed a case against the companies, leading the Court of Appeals to give a writ order. in which the Attorney General has ordered the Director-General of Customs to hold the waste containers in both the Colombo Port and the Harleys Free Zone till 29 July 2019.