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Tuesday June 18th, 2024

Sri Lanka opp lawmaker accuses govt of representing interests of “rice mafia”

NPP MP and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake

ECONOMYNEXT – Both farmers and consumers in Sri Lanka have had to pay the price for the government’s inability to stand up to an oligopoly of rice millers, opposition lawmaker Anura Kumara Dissanayake said, after the government removed price controls on the island’s staple food.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday (29), Dissanayake accused President Gotabaya Rajpakasa’s administration of representing the interests of a “mafia” of rice millers.

The MP also claimed that the current leadership’s image as a fearless doer has waned.

“His true nature is being revealed the way an ice berg melts. It wasn’t just the gazettes [that were issued revoking previous purportedly tough decisions]. President Rajapaksa even visited rice retailers himself; there was a media circus about price controls imposed for rice.

“’We have a database’, they boasted, and the people cheered,” said the National People’s Power (NPP) MP.

“[Finance Minister] Basil Rajapaksa said ‘if they don’t sell at our prices, we’re ready to take over rice mills’. There was a big show,” he added.

The government, for its part, has also blamed the so called rice mafia on the price hike, as millers increased prices by 17 percent to 36 percent, depending on the variety of rice. The maximum retail price until its suspension on Monday (27) was 98 rupees for the Nadu variety, 103 rupees for Samba, and 125 rupees for Keeri Samba. The new prices for these varieties are, 115, 140 and 165 rupees respectively.

The ceiling prices were removed in the wake of sweeping disruptions in supply and distribution.

The government has also decided to import 100,000 tonnes of rice to be distributed through the state-run Sathosa retail outlets and cooperatives, according to Consumer Protection State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna.

Rice imports were controlled to keep prices up and help farmers but now consumers are helpless, Alagiyawanna told reporters on Tuesday.

Related: Sri Lanka shortages and blackmarkets not the actual intention of price controls: Minister

The price controls on rice created shortages in shops, some farmers refused to sell rice after millers were discouraged from buying at higher prices. Rice millers were also raided in what critics said were televised dramas, the “media circus” referred to by MP Dissanayake.

“Then came the emergency regulations. Mills were raided and there was footage shown of rice being transported in lorries,” he said.

“The president has been hypnotised by this media circus. Gotabaya Rajapaks is a media fiction,” he said.

Dissanayake was also critical of Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

“The agriculture minister would routinely shout in parliament about how there is a rice mafia that they had managed to contain. They vouched not to import a single grain of rice. There was much boasting,” said the Janatha Vimuthki Peramuna (JVP) leader.

The MP said farmers, too, were affected by the price controls.

“Farmers were forced to tearfully sell their paddy, for pittance. In some cases it was lower than 40 rupees.

“[Authorities] even threatened not to provide the fertilizer subsidy if paddy wasn’t sold at the government price. So now paddy is no longer with the farmer. The biggest share of paddy is now with the mill owner,” he said.

Both the farmer and the consumer has had to pay the price, he said.

“If paddy was bought at a lower price, then the consumer should be able to purchase it at a lower price.

“The farmer couldn’t sell paddy at a fair price. The consumer couldn’t buy rice at a fair price,” he said.

“What we see is that millions of rupees were piled up between these mill owners and the ministers that enable them. Otherwise do you think they would do something so nonsensical? They always represented the mafia,” he added. (Colombo/Sep29/2021)

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Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Chamber links up with Gujarat Chamber

ECONOMYNEXT – The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has signed an agreement with the Southern Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SGCCI) to increase trade cooperation between India and Sri Lanka.

The MOU was signed by CCC CEO Buwanekabahu Perera, SGCCI President Ramesh Vaghasia, in the presence of Dr Valsan Vethody, Consul General for Sri Lanka in Mumbai, India.

“With the signing of the MoU, … the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and SGCCI aim to facilitate trade between the two countries via initiatives such as trade fairs and delegations, business networking events, training programmes,” the Ceylon Chamber said in a statement.

“This partnership will open doors for Sri Lankan businesses to explore opportunities in Surat’s dynamic market and enable the sharing of expertise and resources between the two regions.”

Established in 1940, SGCCI engages with over 12,000 members and indirect ties with more than 2,00,000 members via 150 associations. It promotes trade, commerce, and industry in South Gujarat.

The region’s commercial and economic centre Surat has risen to prominence as the global epicenter for diamond cutting and as India’s textile hub, and is ranked the world’s 4th fastest growing city with a GDP growth rate of 11.5%

Surat’s economic landscape is vibrant and diverse. As India’s 8th largest and Gujarat’s 2nd largest city, it boasts the highest average annual household income in the country.

The nearby Hazira Industrial Area hosts major corporations like Reliance, ESSAR, SHELL, and L&T. (Colombo/Jun18/2024)

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Sri Lanka telecommunications bill some clauses ruled unconstitutional by SC: Speaker

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court has found a number of clauses in a proposed amendment to the Telecom Telecommunications Amendment bill unconstitutional, speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said.

“Clause No 8, proposed section 9A 2 of the bill is inconsistent with Article 12 1 of the constitution, however this inconsistency shall cease if word ‘may’ will be replaced with word ‘shall’ as set out in the determination of the supreme court.”

“Clause No 9 is inconsistent with Article 12 1 of the constitution and only can be passed with special majority required under paragraph 2 of the Article 84. However, the inconsistency shall cease if clause is amended as set out in the determination of the supreme court.

Clause No 12, proposed section 17 10 of the bill is inconsistent with Article 12 1 of the constitution and can only be passed with special parliament majority required under Article 84 paragraph 2. However, the inconsistency shall cease if clause is amended as set out in the determination of the supreme court.”

Sections of clauses 13, 18, 20, 33 and 35 were also in violation of the constitution, and could only be passed by a special majority of parliament. (Colombo/Jun18/2024)

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Sri Lanka to exempt one house from imputed rent wealth tax: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will exempt one house from a proposed wealth tax outlined in an International Monetary Fund program, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

About 90 percent of the people’s houses are likely to be exempt from the proposed tax, he said.

“[O]ne house will be exempt from this,” President Wickremesinghe told parliament Monday.

“It is going to have a very high threshold and I do not think the vast majority of the people in this country should even be worried about their house

“Don’t worry your house will be safe.”

The IMF program document however did not mention an exempt on one house, but did mention a threshold.

Taxing houses and thrift in general could have detrimental effects on people’s well-being housing stock and their willingness to remain in the country without migrating, critics say.

Related Sri Lanka to tax imaginary rents on houses under IMF deal

The mechanism of imputed rents was used because rates on houses was assigned to provincial councils and courts could strike it down.

Opposition legislator Harsha de Silva said the Samagi Jana Balwegaya welcomed President Wickremesinghe’s statement. (Colombo/June18/2024)

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