SJB frowns at Govt. move to import rice despite coming bumper harvest
SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva
SJB MP Kabir Hashim
By Darshana Abayasingha
The main opposition, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday accused the Government of paving the way for racketeers and ignoring interests of local farmers, pointing to reported measures to import 50,000 metric tons of keeri samba rice in lieu of the festive season.
Addressing a media briefing in Colombo yesterday, SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva, said the Cabinet has reportedly granted approval for the import despite the upcoming Maha season harvest, with estimates pointing to a yield of over 2 million metric tons of rice, which is 80% of the country’s annual requirement.
He also questioned why a decision to import rice for the festive season is taking place so late in the day, as it takes over two weeks for imports to reach Sri Lanka, and asked if there is already a ship carrying rice consignments anchored in the outer harbour.
“This is madness, this is almost like the sugar scam. Red raw rice is over Rs. 180 a kg, which is difficult for the poor man to afford. Keeri Samba is sold at over Rs. 300 a kg, so what is the logic behind importing Samba? Why is that order being placed now? Farmers incur a cost of about Rs. 90 to produce a kg of rice. When you make room for imports that has a cascading impact on prices, so how does the Government hope to protect and promote local agriculture,” De Silva asked.
He added the move to allow imports will benefit racketeers, and the Government may also look to reduce prices in the wake of an election year. De Silva added such a measure will compromise local agriculture output and confidence, in a year production costs are billed to rice with the increase in VAT.
“We call on the Government not to allow this. There must be a better plan to support local agriculture if we want it to become one of our key sectors. Local onion farmers are struggling because of bad policy and decisions surrounding imports, and the lack of storage facilities and support that were disrupted by this Government when it came into power under President Rajapaksa,” he stated.
De Silva said an SJB Government would move to complete the advanced storage facility in Dambulla and revive the Shakthi Rice Cooperative within four weeks of coming into power.
Joining the discussion, SJB MP Kabir Hashim stated that if this measure to import rice is aimed at reducing prices, he asked what guarantees the Government could provide farmers on purchase price. He noted Sri Lanka is now also importing coconuts and eggs due to the policies of the SLPP Government, and said these once strong export industries have been disrupted due to short-sighted actions.
Pointing to a Daily FT article, Hashim added that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had said the recent Supreme Court ruling on persons responsible for bankrupting the economy was wrong, and that Sri Lanka had grown the fastest under his regime. Hashim pointed out that growth that was achieved during the period was due to the construction bubble stemming from Chinese investments, and none of these projects had provided any real return to the country.
“That bubble has now burst, and our imports were 100% more than export returns during the 2011 period. We were always in deficit,” Hashim said.
Published Date: December 21, 2023