Written by Keshala Dias
27 Mar, 2017 | 7:30 pm
State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena has called for action against officials who distributed stocks of paddy, in violation of the directions of the Finance Ministry.
The State Minister expressed these views, in response to inquiries on the provision of stocks of paddy stored at the Mattala Airport premises, to liquor manufacturer W. M. Mendis and Co.
The monthly demand in the country for the staple food rice is in excess of 190,000 metric tonnes.Annually, three million metric tonnes of paddy must be produced to meet this demand.
Annual production of paddy in 2015, including stocks from the 2014/15 Maha season, amounted to 4.8 million metric tonnes.
According to the Finance Ministry’s annual report for 2015, the yield from the 2014/15 Maha season alone, increased by 2.9 million tonnes.
Of this harvest, the Paddy Marketing Board purchased 160,000 metric tonnes in the Maha season and 175,000 metric tonnes in the Yala season.
Due to the shortage of storage space for the stocks of paddy, in September 2015, the government decided to store paddy in the terminal of the Mattala Airport.
In January 2016, even when the reaping of the paddy harvest from the 2015/16 Maha season had commenced, it became evident that the Paddy Marketing Board did not have a programme to purchase paddy from the new harvest as storage facilities were emptied out in order to speed up the purchasing of paddy from farmers.
As such, at the cabinet meeting held on January 6, 2016, under agenda items number 47 and 48, express steps were proposed to secure the required storage space.
At the meeting, a Joint Cabinet Paper was put forward by Ministers Malik Samarawickrama and P. Harrison, on a proposal made by the Prime Minister, to immediately sell a stock of 264,180 tonnes of Nadu rice.
Eight days later, on January 14, 2016, the issuing of paddy stocks at the Mattala Airport Complex to liquor manufacturer W. M. Mendis & Co., commenced.
Several months later, a rice shortage arose in the country and rice had to be imported from overseas.
Nevertheless, the State Minister of Finance says that if the directions issued by the Ministry on the issuing of paddy in storages were followed by a rice shortage would not have arisen.
On whose orders were stocks of paddy stored at the Mattala airport, sold to W. M. Mendis and Co.?
MP Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena: [quote]”The Finance Ministry designated the time-frame in which the paddy was to be released to the market. If this has been violated, then I believe the Ministry must take legal action or other such action against those who violated it. If orders issued by the Ministry have been neglected or deliberately cast aside, we will look into how the paddy was released. The President has been informed of this. One of the reasons prices increased is that the orders were issued were not followed due to personal interests. The President has been informed of this. We spoke of this at the recent party meeting. The Finance Ministry always designated when stocks should be released with an understanding of prevailing market conditions. If this has not been followed, then we must look into the officials who did not follow it and the persons who made the decisions.”[/quote]
Meanwhile, the ongoing construction of a tax exempt alcohol distillery in Kalkudah Batticaloa by W. M. Mendis and Co. was brought up at several media briefings held today, March 27.
Prof. Tissa Vitharana: [quote]”A group of journalists who attempted to cover reports of the construction of a distillery in Kalkudah, were attacked by UNP thugs. This distillery is being built by Perpetual Treasuries, the company owned by Arjuna Mahendran’s son-in-law, using money earned inappropriately through the bond scam. Storage facilities at the Hambantota airport were used to store paddy. We have been informed that at a time when the country is suffering a rice shortage and rice is being imported, this paddy, which should have been milled to rice, has been given for this distillery. I demand that the government to conduct a proper investigation into this and to punish the wrongdoers.”[/quote]
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