The Government yesterday, September 1, categorically refuted reports that there was an impending food shortage in the country.
Referring to foreign and agency reports that Sri Lanka has declared a ‘food emergency’, Finance State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal said that ample food stocks including rice and sugar are available in the country and that fears of a food shortage were completely unfounded.
A Government communiqué noted that an artificial shortage of certain items has been created by certain unscrupulous importers and wholesale traders who had hoarded stocks of food items including rice and sugar. It is in response to this that the Government appointed a Commissioner General of Essential Services.
Accordingly such warehouses hoarding essential items will be raided and the confiscated food items will be released to the market at affordable prices.
The Commissioner General of Essential Services, Maj. Gen. M. D. S. P. Niwunhella said that 29,900 metric tons of sugar found hidden in warehouses were taken over by the Government after an investigation yesterday.
The consignment of sugar is planned to be sold to consumers by Government entities such as Sathosa and private companies at a controlled price, the President’s Media Division said.
The import tax of Rs. 50 per kilo of sugar was reduced to 25 cents from October 14, 2020 to provide relief to consumers. The amount of sugar in the country at that time was 88,878 metric tons.
The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) points out that 584,000 metric tons of sugar had been imported from October 14, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
The monthly sugar requirement of the country is around 35,000 metric tons.
However, data from the CAA has revealed that sugar imports have exceeded the annual sugar requirement.
An attempt has been made to create an artificial shortage of sugar and to sell sugar at a very high price, causing a great inconvenience to the consumer.
Accordingly, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a Commissioner General of Essential Services and authorized him to coordinate the distribution of paddy, rice, sugar and other consumer goods.
The Commissioner General of Essential Services has stated that the Government has taken steps to seize the hidden sugar stocks and release them to the market at a controlled price in order to protect the consumers.
Sugar will be available in the general market at reasonable and reduced prices within the next few days, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, State Minister of Cooperative Services, Marketing Development and Consumer Protection said.
He said that several places where sugar was stored without registering with the Consumer Affairs Authority have been sealed and consumers will be able to purchase sugar at reasonable prices when it is released to the market in the near future.
He was speaking to the media in Kandy yesterday, September 1.
“The prices of sugar and rice had skyrocketed in the market. The rules and regulations of Government agencies, including the CAA, were by no means sufficient to find a solution. The President took steps to appoint a Commissioner of Essential Services by issuing a special gazette notification on essential services with the consumer in mind. Accordingly, steps have been taken to obtain stocks of sugar from illegal sugar stores and distribute them through cooperatives and Sathosa. Consumers will be able to buy sugar at reasonable prices after their delivery to supermarkets and the general market in the next few days,” he explained.
The minister went on to say that the President had not taken the decision with the intention of creating difficulties for the business community.
“He took this step against fraudulent traders who unfairly exploit consumers. It is not illegal to store sugar in stores. But it is an offence to store sugar without registering with the CAA. Accordingly, the stores which were maintained illegally were sealed,” he also said.
The Minister said at present red sugar is provided at Rs. 130 by Sathosa and cooperatives. The price at which white sugar can be sold at other places will also be determined. He also said rice prices will also be reduced in the future.
He said the CAA and the Commissioner General of Essential Services are taking steps to raid paddy stores in the North Central Province and other areas to determine if some are hoarding large paddy stocks illegally.
He said the action taken for sugar will be extended to paddy/rice as well and the sugar stocks at the port too will be released to the market at reasonable prices.
Meanwhile, the CAA has taken steps to conduct a survey on the stocks of food items currently available in the market with a view to identifying illegally concealed stocks of essential food items.
The raids in search of unregistered stores hoarding essential food items including sugar, rice, paddy, milk powder and dhal began yesterday.
The Commissioner of Essential Services with the commencement of his duties also took steps yesterday to release the seized sugar stocks to the market.
The CAA and the police jointly raided and arrested the consignments of sugar hidden with the intention of creating an artificial shortage of sugar and releasing it to the market at high prices.
More than 21,000 metric tons of sugar was seized in raids in the past few days and about 72 warehouses where paddy was hoarded illegally were sealed during raids in the North Central and Eastern Provinces.