Sajith urges govt. to suspend dairy heifer imports

Sajith urges govt. to suspend dairy heifer imports

Sajith urges govt. to suspend dairy heifer imports

Written by Staff Writer

28 May, 2020 | 4:21 pm

COLOMBO (News1st): Former opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has urged the government to suspend the importation of dairy heifers from Australia, as such efforts have proven futile in the past.

The cabinet of ministers, this week, approved a proposal to import 2500 dairy heifers, to strengthen the local dairy industry, co-cabinet spokesman Ramesh Pathirana said on Thursday.

“The government hopes to increase the amount of daily milk production by 100,000 litres as a result of this investment,” Pathirana told reporters.

However, the decision has come under severe flak from opposition parties and farmers, after failed imports since 2007.

The previous dealings to import cows from Australia have been embroiled in corruption with dairy heifers being of low quality, Premadasa, who heads the Samagi Jana Balawegaya said.

In a 2018 report, the National Audit Office had revealed that dairy heifers had been imported in three phases; in 2007, 2015, and in 2017, from Australia-based Wellard Rural Exports.

The purchasing tender had been first awarded to this company in 2007 following a bid. However, a bidding process had not taken place during the other two phases, the report showed.

The heifers imported in 2017 caused losses for dairy farmers who purchased them, as the animals were infected by Bovine Viral Diarrhoea, resulting in low production of milk, with some even dying.

“I bought 250 dairy heifers at a cost of 8 million rupees. However, I was only able to obtain 11 litres of milk,” a farmer told News 1st.

It has been revealed that 1500 dairy heifers were imported between 2012 and 2013, 2495 dairy heifers in 2015, and 1994 dairy heifers in 2017.

Reports submitted to the rural economic affairs ministry, at the time of purchasing cattle in 2015, showed that there is a possibility that these heifers could transmit diseases among other cattle.

Accordingly, the Auditor General’s Department had also observed that continuing to import these dairy heifers against such a backdrop was a serious flaw in the process.

The matter had been investigated by a presidential commission of inquiry appointed by the previous government to investigate irregularities in state bodies between 2015 and 2019.

The national organizer of a farmers group claimed that the government had spent Rs 10.3 billion to the Australian company to purchase 15,000 dairy heifers, but that a single heifer has not been received yet.

“The payment had been made with the intervention of the secretary to the Ministry of Rural Economic Development who was the wife of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Secretary,” Namal Karunaratne, the National Organizer of the All Ceylon Farmers Federation said.

Wickremesinghe had served as Prime Minister under the previous administration at the time of importing the cattle. Karunaratne alleged that funds had not been allocated in the 2018 budget to import the dairy heifers.

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