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Friday December 9th, 2022

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 president slams power regulator chief after conflicting with minister

ECONOMYNET – The powers to change the electricity tariff in Sri Lanka is vested with the Minister of Power and not the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL), President Ranil Wickremesinghe told the Parliament.

The minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekara has requested an upward price revision to be implemented in two phases both in January and July next year, saying the recent tariff hike was not enough for the state-run utility provider Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to continue uninterrupted power supply.

However, Jaynaka Ratnayake, the Chairman of the PUCSL had said  the recent tariff hike is enough for the CEB to cover the cost of production and it will not allow another price hike. However, he has said a twice a year price revision is necessary though it should be in April and October instead of January and July.

President Wickremesinghe said the PUCSL chief was opposing the tariff hike due to his personal reasons.

“The power is vested with the Minister and me. I am the one who made the PUCSL act and I know what is in it,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament on Thursday. quoting a letter from the Attorney General which mentioned provisions in the island nation’s Electricity Act.

Accordingly the Act, the PUCSL would be statutorily obliged to give effect to such policy. It is observed that neither the Act nor the PUCSL Act contains any provisions that empowers the PUCSL to change or act invariant of such policy guidelines.

“The Chairman of the PUCSL is misguiding the general public. I have to meet him and see,” Wickremesinghe said.

WIckremesinghe said the Chairman does not want the tariff hike because he owns one of the highest electricity consuming companies.

“He is the Chairman of the Trillium corporation. It is the firm that takes up the most energy”, he said.

The Trillium group is managed by Janaka Ratnayake and he also holds positions as the chairman and CEO of Trillium Property Management & Services Ltd., City Housing and Real Estate PLC, Trillium Residencies Ltd., Computer Care (Pvt) Ltd., and Rent a Comp Services (Pvt) Ltd., and JR Management Consultants (Pvt) Ltd.

“It means when the electricity bill increases, his expenses increase as well”

He said the CEB still has a loss of 300 billion rupees since 2013 and it needs to be covered.

The CEB issue can be solved only in three ways, either printing more money, increasing value added tax or increasing the tariffm, he said. (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Sri Lanka President bemoans over inconsistent LNG deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe bemoaned over successive governments’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal that has brought in all the world powers into the discussion.

Wickremesinghe’s center-right United National Party (UNP) had discussions with India and Japan between 2002-2004 for an LNG project.

“Following dialogues with India and Japan, the UNP government could come to agreements to get two LNG power plants. After we were defeated the successor government, without cancelling those agreements granted it to New Fortress company in USA,” Wickremesinghe told the parliament.

“Thereafter, as they did not like New Fortress, they gave it back to Pakistan and China. So within the same premises, there were China, Pakistan, India, USA, Japan and only Russia was not there.”

“It was wonderful that a world war did not ignited there as there were five main powers in the world.”

“Now there is no LNG or anything here and now they ask me to solve this issue.”

Wickremesighe’s outburst comes as his government is forced to raise tariffs on power prices after successive governments failed to implement cheap and renewable power generation projects.

He said a total loss for the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board since 2013 was 300 billion rupees and a possible drought next year could increase the 2023 electricity cost to 420 billion rupees.

“If it rained, we need Rs. 352 billion while Rs. 295 is required if rained so much to have floods. How are we going to find this money? We would have to print money, but Rupee would depreciate. We would have to increase VAT but it would increase the price of all commodities or to charge it direct.” (Colombo/Dec08/2022)

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Air quality drop forces Sri Lanka to close schools; public warned

ECONOMYNEXT – A rapid drop in air quality in Sri Lanka has forced the Colombo government to close all schools across the country after a deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal, officials said.

The Education Ministry, issuing a special notice on Thursday said, it has decided to close all government schools for Friday, after discussing with the officials in Meteorology Department and Disaster Management Center.

An official said the drop was due to the deep depression over Southeast Bay of Bengal carrying the air from India.

Due to the depression over South east Bay of Bengal (370 km east of Trincomalee) has concentrated into a cyclonic storm “Mandous” by Wednesday night.

“Cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that is the prime reason for the increase in the pollution load as we receive more wind from India,” H.D.S.Premasiri, Senior Scientist, Coordinator-Air Quality, noise and vibrations at National Building Research Organization (NBRO) told EconomyNext on Thursday.

Officials said there is a likelihood of the cyclone moving west-northwestwards and further intensify into a severe cyclonic storm tonight and cross North Tamil-Nadu, Puducherry and South Andhra Pradesh coast around midnight of 09 th December and the maximum wind speeds will be 70-90 km per hour and can increase up to 90 in sea areas.

“Hopefully, today we can expect normalization in the environment and the effects of the fog will disappear”.

According to the NBRO’s real time Air Quality Index Indicator, the quality of air in northwestern coastal district of Puttalam has dropped drastically and indicated a particular matter (PM) 132, while Kegalle (85) and Mannar (84) were the districts which had next worst air quality.

According to NBRO, Battaramulla, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Kegalle, Mannar and Puttalam indicate a poor quality of air due to higher PM.

“The fog will lead to lung and breathing issues,” Premasiri said.

“So the public is warned to wear a mask when they travel outside. The pollution highly prevails in city areas and has a less impact on the other parts of the areas.” (Colombo/ Dec08/2022)

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