he government will lay the foundation for the first ever storage complex for perishable items such as fruits and vegetables. The facility will be built next to the Dambulla economic centre and farmers from around the country could store their perishable items at this storage with temperature and humidity control measures, Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Non Cabinet Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said.
“For over 50 years many have spoken about this matter but nothing had been done. Around 5,000 metric tonnes of perishables items could be stored at this facility. Through the budget 2019, we invited the private sector to invest in this endeavour for agriculture logistics. They could build storage facilities or purchase temperature controlled lorries among others. As an incentive, we would exempt them from all taxes including Cess, Pal, Custom Duty, and NBT. If they invest Rs. 10 million, they will be exempted from paying taxes until they made Rs. 20 million profits. These were the new concepts we have initiated,” he said.
The Minister said a data analytics unit will be set up for the first time in the country. He said that most prominent organisations in the country depend on data analytics when making investments and in their decision making. Unfortunately our country lacks this sort of analytics unit; now the government has made the decision and we have set up the unit with the assistance of youth and graduates.
“MP Bandula Gunawardena spoke of human resources and how it should be managed. I would like to give him an example on how we formulated a programme with this unit called ‘from bricks to microscopes’. By analysing our country’s situation in terms of inventions and keeping up with the developed nations, we found that despite allocating some 140 billion for education, there were no provisions made to encourage new and complex inventions and production. Today this subject is discussed extensively over social media. We spend most on bricks, concrete and iron. It is only if we invest instead on microscopes, computers and on advancing the subject knowledge of educators, can we realise what we discuss every day in Parliament. Through this new policy, instead of investing government funds, we have come up with an initiative called build maintain and transfer. Through this initiative, while school building and hostels will be built together with the private sector, state funds would be used to advance science, mathematics, engineering and English. We will introduce 26 technical subjects and make the 13 years schooling compulsory and start the first ever cloud smart grade at the Jayewardena college in Kotte. All this was possible due to the analytics unit,” de Silva said.
He said that through the Living Committee (Jeewana Comitiya), the government can plan the prices of commodities. “We discussed how we could stabilise the prices of essential commodities. Then we used technology to take this programme forward using the data and analysis of this newly formed unit. Many may not see what we do, but there is a lot that we do from within,” he said.
He said the milk powder pricing is now done according to a formula. “The price of milk powder fluctuates globally but that does not mean the prices fluctuate accordingly. Now with the formula, there is only a difference of Rs. 433 between the cost of a kilo of powdered milk and the selling price whereas earlier the difference between the cost and selling price was Rs. 665. The same goes with gas. When the gas prices reduce in the world market, the gas companies forget to reduce the price but when the price increases, then they suddenly realise they should increase prices. However, with these new policy changes that we have done, no one needs to run behind politicians, there is a formula and it is only a matter of following it,” he said. “It is a transparent and no one can increase prices arbitrarily in this way,” he said.
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MPs disapproved merging of the ‘Vocational Training and Skills Development Ministry’ and the ‘Industry and Commerce Ministry’.
UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena objected the Gazette Extraordinary tabled in Parliament yesterday, stating that it combines university education with industry and commerce.
“This was an unprecedented development. This makes an irreparable damage to the country. The students who seek tertiary education will be inconvenienced. Don’t ruin these institutions for political reasons,” he told the House.
UPFA MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa reading out the Gazette pointed out that ‘Industry and Commerce, Resettlement of Protracted Displaced Persons, Co-operative Development and Vocational Training and Skills Development Ministry’ is a combination of incompatible subjects.
Agriculture, Rural Economic Affairs, Livestock Development, Irrigation and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister P. Harrison, who replied to the Opposition, said he would refer the matter to Cabinet to look into whether there has been any mishap.
He, however, said that not all universities, but only the vocation training institutes have been gazetted under the new ministerial portfolio.
Rishad Bathiudeen is the minister of the revised ministerial portfolio.
He said pensions of the Samurdhi beneficiaries will be looked into and dues that need to be settled will be sorted by next month. He was responding to a question raised by Parliamentarian Mahinda Amaraweera. Minister Amaraweera pointed out the Samurdhi situation and its crisis, and how the scheme is gravely affecting those who genuinely benefit from it.
Minister Amaraweera said the fisheries sector has endless possibilities to develop if proper investments are done. “The Sri Lankan crabs and prawns are very popular among the international community; this opportunity should be taken into consideration, and the fisher folks should be supported properly,” Amaraweera said.
He said the milk production is another sector that should be looked into, “One politician is talking about pork fat and other oils; leave all that aside and focus on producing local fresh milk,” he said.
‘Pepper from Sri Lanka quality guaranteed’
A quality certification is sent and the verification would be done by the Indian Customs too to see if the stocks of pepper sent to India are pure Sri Lankan pepper. This procedure would detect any scam where pepper from other countries is sent under the Sri Lankan label, Primary Industries and Social Empowerment Minister Daya Gamage said.
Joining the Committee stage budget debate in Parliament yesterday on the Non-Cabinet Ministry of Public Distribution and Economic Reforms and the Non-Cabinet Ministry of Special Areas Development expenditure heads were taken up, Minister Daya Gamage said that as the former Agriculture Minister, during the 52 day political crisis, the Primary Industries Ministry was under Mahinda Amaraeera’s ministry. He, however, said 156 containers of pepper had come into the country for re-import. We have handed over all the customs documents on this matter to the CID that was conducting an extensive investigation,” he said. “The work of this ministry has been handed over to Minister Malik Samarawickrama,” he said.
“I have taken every possible measure on my part to ensure that the quality of Sri Lankan pepper is safeguarded. I only have the authority to permit or deny import and export. But I can assure this house that I have never permitted anyone to import or export pepper. We have banned the import of pepper and cinnamon to the country even for re-export now,” he said.
He was responding to a comment by Opposition MP Mahinda Amaraweera on the illegal pepper racket that jeopardises the reputation of local pepper.
Amaraweera said Parliament is criticised by various persons over social media, charging that the government has a hand in this illegal pepper racket.
“There are social media posts asking why the New Zealand gunman would not have come to Sri Lanka’s Parliament and target all 225 MPs. This clearly shows how much the country blames all the politicians for the plight of the country,” he said. “This issue needs to be addressed; if not, the people will blame all the politicians in Parliament,” he said.
‘USD 25 billion allocated for rice producers’
USD 25 billion has been allocated via the Samurdhi Scheme for small and medium rice producers, MP Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana said in Parliament yesterday.
Moulana said it will enhance paddy production island-wide, and create 1 million jobs by 2025.
He said the small and medium producers contribute largely to the country’s economy. They have undergone many issues such as climatic changes. The paddy production has a considerable shortfall and the government is compelled to import rice because of that issue, he said.
“Over 600,000 families will benefit from the Samurdhi scheme. We will ensure equal development and high living standards for them,” he said.