Rice tenders shrouded in mystery
Government offers to the private sector to import a total of 60,000 tonnes
of rice to overcome a shortage in the country have been shrouded in secrecy
with the trade accusing authorities of giving licenses to 'favourities.'
"There was no formal announcement of this offer, as is the practice
in the case in the past. We read reports in the newspapers about offers
for 30,000 tonnes and then went to the Import Controller's office daily
since last Tuesday in the hope of receiving application forms," said one
importer, referring to one of the tenders.
Some importers made applications on Friday — the day applications to
import rice were doled out — and were certain of approval. "We were waiting
in the office as we were told our licenses were being prepared. But by
noon, some other importers had separately approached the authorities including
the Treasury and our pending licenses were cancelled," said one importer.
Four other importers, after meeting Treasury officials for a round of
'gentle' persuasion, were re-allocated this 4,000 tonnes at 1,000 tonnes
This was not the only drama surrounding rice imports last week. The
trade also complained of irregularities in the CWE purchase of 30,000 tonnes
of imported rice without calling for worldwide tenders.
Trade sources accused the CWE of purchasing two parcels of rice from
India at much higher prices than world market rates. They said some Indian
state-organisations had been picked from names provided by the Indian High
Commission, without tenders being called for competitive bidding.
The Indian High Commission denied any wrongdoing in the process. "The
CWE asked us for some names and we provided these names. The CWE also got
some names of private suppliers from other sources. My understanding is
that the tenders were given to parties at very competitive prices and there
was no hanky- panky in the deal," said V. Ashok, the mission's trade counsellor.
CWE officials were not immediately available for contact despite The
Sunday Times telephoning the residences of officials including their chairman
who was out of Colombo. There was also confusion as to whether the total
quantity imported was 80,000 or 60,000 tonnes. The Finance Ministry said
it was 30,000 tonnes by the CWE and 30,000 tonnes by the private trade
while the Import Control Department is said to have informed some trade
sources that it was issuing licenses for a total of 50,000 tonnes.
The allegations came on the back of reports of an artificial shortage
of rice from rice-growing areas and an appeal by the National Chamber of
Commerce for a halt to imports.
Under the private sector-led imports, each importer would be entitled
to import a maximum 2,000 tonnes without duty if shipments arrive before
December 10 and a 50 percent reduction on the normal 35 percent duty for
arrivals between December 10 and 31.
The current shortage has been blamed on hoarding in rice growing areas
to push prices up, a traditional practice ahead of any festive season.
Red rice, normally selling at 22-28 rupees per kg, was now trading at 32-36
rupees per kg and in short supply.
However the National Chamber, in defence of farmers, appealed to the
government to halt imports saying "there are ample stocks in the country
and there is no need to import."
In a statement — throwing in a different perspective to the crisis —
the chamber said that for local industry to thrive, the farmer must make
a profit. "If they do not make a profit, the farmer would forever be poverty-stricken
with loans he cannot pay and the stockists would be stuck with the stocks
they have purchased from the entire area, unable to settle loans," the
chamber said, blaming the current situation on rising costs in the supply
chain process — farmer-stockist-trader-transport costs.
It said imports would not only help foreign farmers but also the entire
supply chain in supplying countries.
The CWE contract of 30,000 tonnes, trade sources alleged, was given
in two parcels of 15,000 tonnes each to NAFED, an Indian state organization,
at US$ 179 per tonne and Priyanka Overseas (Pvt) Ltd at US $ 165 per tonne
with shipments due to arrive before December 10.
Traders said world market prices for rice were down — as much as $15
per tonne less than the CWE-agreed prices — particularly from other Indian
and Pakistan sources. They allege that in terms of these differences, the
CWE would be coughing out an additional Rs 30 million for this high-priced
They said the CWE tender inquiry went out only to a few selected Indian
export trading houses through faxes without a tender notice — the normal
procedure even in emergency purchases — being published in the newspapers.
The CWE has been mired in controversy in recent months over alleged
shady deals and non-payment of dues to suppliers.
FR case over UNP office raid
The UNP General Secretary has petitioned the Supreme Court claiming the
search of the UNP office in Bambalapitiya was a violation of his fundamental
General Secretary Senarath Kapukotuwa, said that acting on an anonymous
tip-off that a vehicle had unloaded weapons at the Melbourne Avenue office,
armed police had carried out a search operation. However, the police found
no weapons of explosives.
The petitioner said that prior to the raid the Bambalapitiya OIC had
warned him that if there was a parcel of explosives or weapons introduced
even by outsiders, he would have to arrest all those in the office. Shibly
Aziz PC and Ronald Perera appeared for the UNP.
UNP-EPDP clashes in Jaffna
With the election campaign hotting up, sporadic incidents of direct confrontations
between supporters of the EPDP and the UNP are reported in the Jaffna peninsula
. The supporters of both parties clashed at Stanley Road in the heart of
Jaffna town on Wednesday.
It is alleged a vehicle used by UNP supporters was forcibly snatched
by EPDP supporters after they smashed it and attacked the UNPers.
Police rushed to the spot and took the smashed car and a pick-up van
reported to be used by EPDP supporters.
FM returns after EU, UN visit
Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar returned to Colombo on Friday after
an official trip to Brussels, New York and Paris.
He addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament
and had discussions with senior officials of the European Union in Brussels
during his visit.
Mr. Kadirgamar who was also in New York addressed two debates at the
United Nations on the topics of 'Dialogue Among Civilizations' and the
Plenary of the General Assembly.
A communiqué from the Ministry said that while in New York, the
minister also had bilateral discussions with a number of Foreign Ministers
and participated in three meetings on the fringe of the Assembly sessions.
On his return, Mr. Kadirgamar had discussions with senior officials
of the French Government.
Right of Reply
The Australian High Commission says:
We refer to your article "Australia Impedes Efforts to Combat Terrorism"
(November 18), and an earlier report "Lanka in Commonwealth anti-terror
team" (October 21). These reports present an incomplete picture of Australia's
efforts and commitment to combat terrorism.
The fight against international terrorism is the Australian Govern-ment's
highest priority. Our unequivocal com-mitment to work with the international
community has been demonstrated in many ways over the years and particularly
since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Within the Commonwealth, Australia fully supports the Commonwealth Secretary-General's
proposal for an Ad-Hoc Ministerial Committee on Terrorism. The Australian
Prime Minister, John Howard, wrote to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth
at the outset of the proposal strongly supporting early practical Common-wealth
action on terrorism and the establishment of a Ministerial level ad-hoc
committee. To ensure that a Ministerial meeting was as productive and substantial
as possible, Australia supported it being fully prepared for by earlier
officials meetings, which have now occurred. Australian Foreign Minister
Mr. Downer is likely to chair the Ministerial meeting. It is expected to
make recommendations for consideration by Commonwealth leaders at CHOGM
in Australia in March.
Australia has in place a legal regime to deal with various types of
international terrorism. Australia is party to nine of the eleven anti-terrorist
Conventions and two anti-terrorism protocols. Australia signed the Terrorist
Financing Convention on 15 October, and has commenced the process of ratification.
Australia, as Vice-President, is taking a leading role, along with Sri
Lanka, on the Ad-Hoc UN Working Group on Terrorism, and has been driving
efforts to finalise negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention Against
Australia is strengthening domestic legislation to build on existing
anti-terrorist legislation, such as the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and
Recruitment) Act 1978. To this end, the Government has established a high
level committee to review Australia's counter-terrorism arrangements. The
Prime Minister has already announced measures to freeze the financial assets
of terrorists and their sponsors, including using the Banking (Foreign
Exchange) regulations to block the financial transactions of terrorists,
terrorist organisations and their sponsors.