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PMB hasn’t purchased Yala yield at all – State Minister

‘Treasury helpless, solution not in sight’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya yesterday (12) admitted that the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) hadn’t purchased any paddy for want of funds.

The SLFPer said that the economic crisis was so acute the Finance Ministry couldn’t intervene though it realised the need to address the issue urgently.

The Kegalle District MP said so when The Island sought an explanation regarding the failure on the part of the government to step in to re-assure the farmers of its commitment for their welfare.

Siyambalapitiya said that in spite of a series of talks, involving President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Premier Dinesh Gunawardena, Bank of Ceylon, People’s Bank and the PMD over the past several weeks the issue at hand couldn’t be settled.

Responding to another query, MP Siyambalapitiya said that the whole setup was in turmoil.

The government lacked the wherewithal to intervene on behalf of the PMB, the State Minister said, adding that the Treasury was in the process of settling Rs 2 bn the government enterprise owed the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank.

Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was not available for comment.

The Island raised the issue with Dr. Suren Batagoda, senior presidential advisor on food security. When The Island pointed out that the PMB hadn’t bought paddy at all though the government repeatedly assured the public of food security and sufficient fertiliser and agro chemicals for the forthcoming Maha season, Dr. Batagoda said that they were aware of the situation.

Dr. Batagoda asserted that even if the PMB received sufficient financial backing, it couldn’t purchase at least 5% of the stocks available in the market. The presidential aide explained the need and the responsibility on the part of the government to create an environment for the private sector to manage the paddy purchasing scheme.

The PMB couldn’t intervene in the market in a decisive manner therefore it would be better to facilitate the private sector to meet the need, Dr. Batagoda said. The presidential aide emphasized all stakeholders should recognize the ground situation. “We have to be realistic. Better to educate the public and take tangible measures to properly supervise private sector-led initiative than funding the PMB,” Dr. Batagoda said. The former power sector official also questioned the efficiency of the PMB in comparison to the private sector.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Sept. 13, established a special mechanism comprising four committees to ensure food security.

State Minister Siyambalapitiya also admitted that they hadn’t been able to solve the issue over Rs 1.2 bn PMB fixed deposit at the Bank of Ceylon. The PMB has declined to release its fixed deposit to finance purchasing of paddy.

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne told The Island that the government owed an explanation how it intended to ensure food security if the farmers’ produce were not purchased. In the absence of the state intervention, the private sector-dominated paddy market wouldn’t be sensitive to the difficulties experienced by hapless farmers.

Lawmaker Kaviratne asked whether the government was quietly planning to stop purchasing paddy. If that happened, what would be the fate of the PMB, the former UNP MP asked, urging the government to make its position clear on the issue at hand.

The Matale District MP said that those who expected a system change in the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster in July must have been surprised by the way the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration handled the economy.

The top SJB spokesperson said that the government seemed to have allowed a group of politically influential private sector millers to take over the entire paddy purchasing scheme. The government inaction would discourage farmers, and those who speak of exceptional yield at the forthcoming Maha season had conveniently forgotten the farmers were struggling to sell their produce.

The MP alleged that the government was busy destroying the agriculture sector. The incumbent leadership obviously followed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s destructive strategies, she said. The former President denied farmers fertiliser and agro chemicals and the present lot won’t purchase their produce as they were being exploited by large scale private millers, the SJB MP said.

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