Govt. introduces sweeping changes to rice production and distribution

Saturday, 14 February 2015 00:54 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka is preparing to introduce sweeping changes to the production and distribution of its rice. In an attempt to halt entrenched corruption within the sector, the country’s top paddy purchasing entity has been stopped from making any more direct purchases with immediate effect. “We want to break the monopoly affecting the entire rice sector of Sri Lanka. From now onwards we will not allocate money to the PMB (Paddy Marketing Board) to buy paddy since President Maithripala Sirisena has decided that the PMB has become corrupt,” Food Security Minister Gamini Jayawickrama announced. Minister Perera was addressing a press briefing alongside Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen on Thursday at the CWE building in Colombo. “We want to safeguard both the producer and the consumer. As the 2015 (Sinhala and Tamil) New Year is on its way, if wholesalers can reduce prices then the consumer will benefit from budgetary relief. But from town to town prices of the same product are different, showing an imbalance. It is time to strengthen the Consumer Affairs Authority,” Minister Perera asserted. “Both Minister Bathiudeen and myself have jointly decided to appoint a designated Price Control Officer for every single electorate. They will supervise whether the Government’s price list, given by us, is implemented by shops and sellers of that electorate. They will also look into shortages of any goods in the system. Through this there will be decentralisation of the mechanism. We also want to monitor the import of essentials and other consumer goods. We want to break the monopoly affecting the entire rice sector of Sri Lanka. Following last week’s discussion with rice mill owners, we are reviving rice mills that have been closed, most of which are SMEs. We are encouraging farmers to sell their paddy to small and medium mills, rather than large-scale mills, to decentralise and break the monopoly. We have been told that in some rice milling areas 90% of the mills have been closed due to the strict monopolistic control exercised by the former Government which gave permission only to selected individuals and mills. Corrupt PMB “SME mill owners have informed us that 60% of closed mills could be revived promptly. We have ordered the banks to give details by Monday of the loans owed by each rice mill and the nature of the loan. We are now receiving the paddy harvests and as a result I am pleased to say that yesterday (11) the Cabinet decided to issue Keeri Samba rice at Rs. 50 per kilo, Samba rice at Rs. 45 per kilo and Nadu rice at 40 per kilo. We are also expecting around 200,000 million tonnes of paddy harvest with a surplus Nadu rice output this season,” he added. “The Government gives us Rs. 10 b to buy paddy but from now onwards we will not allocate money to the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) to buy paddy since President Maithripala Sirisena decided that the PMB has become corrupt and as a result future paddy purchases are to be made through the District Secretariat and therefore the money will be handled by the District Secretariat. Officials of the district, including agri officers and even politicians will be asked to monitor the process so that no corruption takes place. By 15 or 16 February we will start getting initial paddy prices. We are ready to buy as much as the farmer is able to provide. Before the Sinhala New Year we expect to complete paddy payments. “To overcome shortage of warehouses, we will call for tenders for strong containers as temporary warehousing. But ensuring a minimum paddy purchase price is a problem due to the moisture in the paddy. We are also planning to issue Paddy Moisture Meters to ensure paddy quality. The Dambulla Economic Centre has become a place where all our vegetables and crops go and get destroyed, rather than acting as a central hub. Officials and politicians are responsible for the dire straits of today’s Sri Lankan farmer. “In the next month we will monitor the Dambulla Economic Centre for its inefficiencies and study how many crops, vegetables and essential items are required by each district’s major cities. Identifying their demand capacities, we will thereafter set up economic centres in them - for example, Galle will get its own economic centre as a result. A two-day delay at the Omanthai check point barrier makes the prices of vegetables and essentials go up by 20-30% when they arrive in Jaffna and therefore today the Minister of Good Governance and Public Administration Karu Jayasuriya promptly requested the Army Commander to reduce the checking of all lorries, checking only suspicious lorries, to which he agreed. This has now opened the way for goods to go to Jaffna at a lower cost. After our study on the requirements of each district and major city is completed, we will inform each district’s economic centre of the volumes required by other districts so that they can send accurate amounts of vegetables and crops to other districts directly, without sending all of it to Dambulla first and incur extra costs. The Centralised Operations Room (COR) we are planning to form here will monitor the entire network’s distribution process,” he said. In 2012/13, Sri Lanka’s total annual rice production was reported to be 2.7 million tonnes. Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen addressing the briefing, said: “President Maithripala Sirisena expects Lankans to enjoy a better living standard, without corruption. This is our pledge too. The CWE, with the support of Minister Perera, is ready to provide the benefits from the Interim Budget.” Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen and Minister of Food Security Gamini Jayawickrama Perera at the media briefing yesterday – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara