Treasury blamed for missing paddy stocks worth Rs 1.3 bn
United Rice Producers Association urges Prez to punish culprits
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The United Rice Producers Association (URPA) alleges that paddy stocks worth Rs 1.3 bn procured by the government in 2019/2020 Maha, 2020 Yala, 2020/2021 Maha and 2021 Yala seasons have not been accounted for.
URPA President W. D. K. Muditha Perera has, in a letter dated January 05, informed President Ranil Wickremesinghe that the paddy stocks at issue were to be sold through Sathosa outlets after being milled by small time operators. However, those plans never materialised, Perera has said, adding as much as 5,800,000 kilos of paddy went unaccounted for.
Muditha Perera told The Island that he had copied the letter to the Chairmen of the parliamentary watchdogs, COPE, COPA and COPF, Auditor General, Chairperson, CIABOC, Director, CID, and Secretaries to Finance, Public Administration and Agriculture.
The URPA has disclosed how government officials, at every level responsible for the implementation of the project in the Polonnaruwa, Puttalam and Trincomalee districts, sold some stocks to the private sector, thereby depriving the consumers of an opportunity to purchase rice from Sathosa, at an affordable price. According to Muditha Perera, stocks of paddy, procured at Rs 50-55 per kilo, could have been easily sold at less than Rs 100.
The trade unionist pointed out that even when a kilo of rice went up to Rs 250 – Rs 300 in June last year, the Divisional Secretaries refrained from releasing stocks available with them.
Muditha Perera found fault with the Finance Ministry for failing to supervise the overall implementation of the project. Having released the required funds for the paddy purchasing scheme, the Finance Ministry couldn’t have turned a blind eye to what was going on in the paddy producing regions.
The then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa served as the Finance Minister, from Nov. 2019 to June 2021. Basil Rajapaksa succeeded him in June and was dropped from the Cabinet of Ministers in April 2022. Ali Sabry, PC, held the finance portfolio for several weeks before Ranil Wickremesinghe succeeded Sabry in late May 2022.
S.R. Attygalle served as the Finance Secretary.
Muditha Perera said that Polonnaruwa District Secretary, though being informed of corruption and manipulation of the entire process of Dec 03, 2020, quite conveniently failed to take remedial measures. Accusing the District Secretary of allowing the racket to continue for two years, Muditha Perera said that the Director, Agriculture, Polonnaruwa, suppressed information sought in terms of the Right to Information Act.
Muditha Perera alleged that major millers had benefited from the racket.
According to him, Polonnaruwa District Secretary, for two years delayed responding to his Association’s right to information query whereas Puttalam Divisional Secretary was still trying to sidestep the issue.
Muditha Perera said that the government could have averted massive losses if the Finance Ministry acted in the wake of SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva’s disclosure of the fraudulent activities in the scheme. The revelation was made during the budget debate on Dec 04, 2020, Muditha Perera said.
The Association alleged that the entire process had been corrupt and, in spite of the issue being raised in Parliament, those responsible allowed the Polonnaruwa, Puttalam and Trincomalee state administration to rob the Treasury and deny those struggling to make ends meet, rice at an affordable price.
Referring to media reports regarding donation of rice from China, India, Myanmar and even Tamil Nadu and significant imports at a time the country experienced a severe balance of payments crisis, Muditha Perera alleged the government allowed corrupt officials a free hand.
“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” Muditha Perera said, asserting that bigger frauds seemed to be encouraged by the powers that be.