A Cabinet decision was taken to impose a control price on imported rice, Rural Economic Affairs Minister P. Harrison said.
The government is to import rice to counter the escalation in rice prices within the last few months. “The government is planing to import both Samba and Nadu rice stocks,” Minister Harrison said at a media briefing.
He also said that the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) has 73,901 metric tons of white nadu, 68,875 metric tons of red nadu, 5,045 metric tons of white samba, 5,068 metric tons of red samba and 5,945 metric tons of kiri samba in its possession.
Minister Harrison said President Maithripala Sirisena along with the Cabinet was planning to impose a fixed rice price to counter the future price hikes in rice and paddy market, as well.
“President Sirisena has appointed a Cabinet sub-committee headed by Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama to draw up a procedure to reduce the rice prices. I am a member of that sub committee as well,” Minister Harrison said.
The minister said the importing of rice will take place within the next two weeks. “SATHOSA has already called for a tender in this regard. The tender is open to all qualified bidders. We are ready to take a decision by today,” Minister Harrison said.
Harrison said as imported rice come into the market with a fixed price, the rice prices are expected to go down.
He said the government was planing to release the imported rice to the market through SATHOSA.
Large scale mill owners are to be held responsible for the rice-mafia operating in the country, Minister Harrison said.“The PMB issued about 52,000 metric tons of paddy to small scale mill owners. Not all have returned the rice after milling to SATHOSA. It has been reported that some have sold paddy stocks for a higher price. We are taking legal steps against such mill owners,” Harrison said.
Asked on the accusation directed at him, Minister Harrison said that he is ready to resign if anyone could prove that he has taken commissions from mill owners.
“Now there are all crime and corruption fighting institutes such as the FCID, the CID and the Police. If any single mill owner should testify against me, and if I am to be convicted of corruption, I am ready not only to step down from my post but to give up my MP post as well.”
Minister Harrison also said President Maithripala Sirisena unlike the former President does not extend favours for his siblings’ businesses.
“President Sirisena has never demanded me or my Secretary to favour his siblings. President Sirisena always abides by the vision of a Yahapalana government directing us to distribute the paddy stocks fairly and transparently,” Harrison said.
Asked on the allegation that the PMB has granted a paddy tender to a Katharagama Basnayaka Nilame who does not own a rice mill, Minister Harrison said that such transactions were immediately terminated.
“I can assure the PMB has not issued paddy to persons who do not own mills. There were certain instances where such issuing has taken place. We have immediately terminated such transactions,” he said.
Asked on the allegation that rice stocks are stashed to cause a price hike, Minister Harrison said that it is the responsibility of the Consumer Affairs Authority to look into the matter.
“After inspecting if such stashing has taken place, the Consumer Affairs Authority should make a complain in this regard to us,” he said.
Minister Harrison also said that they are to settle all loans taken by the PMB, within President Sirisena’s term of office by the end of 2017.
He said the PMB had debts running into Rs. 7,000 million taken by the previous regime.