Rs. 89 million rice shipment to the north
JJ involved in an unpalatable deal
government ministries and other apex bodies within the short space
of 11 months since taking to office last year, are fast earning a
reputation of passing the buck — shirking responsibility —
when confronted with a controversial issue.
clear example is the recent case where 3,000 metric tons of poor quality
par boiled rice has been shipped for destitute people in the Jaffna
peninsula. Not only is 10 metric tons of this rice not fit for human
consumption, another 112 metric tons arrived in Jaffna strewn on the
decks of the vessel ‘Mercs Kumari’ and
had to be swept into bags with the intention of distributing the
filthy rice to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Jaffna.
the new Government Agent for Jaffna, Selliah Pathmanathan had chosen to
close his eyes to this despicable affair, nearly 100,000 people
constituting Jaffna’s poorest of the poor would have been fed rice
that is not fit for human consumption.
fact, since The Sunday Leader broke this story last week, Advisor
to the Prime Minister, K. H. J. Wijedasa summoned an emergency meeting
to ascertain what exactly had gone wrong. Wijedasa by this time also had
a report on the matter from the Jaffna GA who had sent samples of the
rice to Colombo. One sample, he said, proved the rice is rotten and not
fit for human consumption, while the other samples showed the rice was
wet as well as mixed with other grains.
rice, as reported in our story last week had been supplied by the state
owned Co-op Fed (Cooperative Federation Society), which is an apex body
of the Cooperatives Ministry.
officials from the Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees Ministry
though informed by the captain of the vessel ‘Mercs Kumari’ before
it left Colombo that the rice in question was packed in inferior quality
jute bags and that they could break during the voyage, did nothing to
remedy the situation. The captain had also complained that some of the
rice was giving off a bad odour. This however, did not prevent officers
from the Rehabilitation Ministry from allowing the consignment to leave
they suspended loading for two days, took samples of the rice and sent
it to the CISIR for testing and summoned officers from Co-op Fed who
apparently gave an assurance the rice would be packed better the next
time around. This vague promise, officials from the Rehabilitation
Ministry accepted — and thus allowed the ship to depart for Jaffna
with its rotten cargo.
Manager, Co-op Fed, D. S. K. Pathirana denies that the rice is not fit
for human consumption, Pathirana argues that it is this same quality of
rice that Co-op Fed has been sending to Jaffna over the last four years
and it has never been challenged. “Why now?” he asks. Admitting that
10 metric tons of rice was not fit for human consumption because “it
had got wet during shipment,” Pathirana however charged that this
unpolished variety of red rice known as ‘Nadu’ “is what the people
in Jaffna want to eat.”
GA Pathmanathan reiterated that he cannot comment on why this rice had
been accepted over the last four years since he assumed duties as GA for
Jaffna only recently. He however noted that his officers who detected
the rotten rice this time have been in service at the Jaffna kachcheri
over the last 10 years.
the quality of such rice has violated tender specifications, Pathirana
asserted is matter for the Standing Cabinet Appointed Tender Board (SCATB)
on food procurement to have considered. He argued that samples of this
rice is checked in Colombo before it leaves for Jaffna, and if officials
from the Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees Ministry did not
detect anything wrong, “then it is not our fault,” he said,
absolving himself and Co-op Fed from any blame. Co-op Fed meanwhile, is
being paid by the government some Rs. 89 million for this particular
consignment of rice at the rate of Rs. 29.80 per kilo.
H. J. Wijedasa meanwhile, reiterated that Co-op Fed will not be paid
their dues until 3,000 tons of polished rice according to tender
specifications is sent once more to Jaffna for the IDPs.
is not alone in trying to pass the buck. Rehabilitation, Resettlement
and Refugees Minister Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena spent all of last week
telephoning relevant officials including Wijedasa, to complain that he
has been unfairly held accountable by The Sunday Leader for this
scam. Dr. Jayawardena is quick to pass the blame elsewhere naming the
SCATB Chaired by Sumanasiri Hulugalle who is also Secretary, Cooperative
Development Ministry as being responsible for awarding this tender to
this indeed is the case, the fact of the matter is that Dr. Jayawardena
as minister is responsible for the refugees in Jaffna and in ensuring
food fit for human consumption is sent to these people, who are by a
cruel twist of fate — destitute. That Dr. Jayawardena cannot, or will
not, accept responsibility for a despicable scam perpetrated under his
very nose — proves his inadequacy to stand tall in the face of grave
all, if none of his own ministry officials had the integrity or moral
responsibility to stop this consignment from leaving Colombo, even after
having been informed that some of the contents were rotten, prove they
are not fit to hold the posts they do in the Rehabilitation Ministry.
that as it may, Dr. Jayawardena demanded his Ministry Secretary, A.
Jeyaratnam and General Manager, Co-op Fed, D. S. K. Pathirana to write
to The Sunday Leader editor,
asserting that he, (Dr. Jayawardena) had absolutely no connection
in this matter.
can only hope that Dr. Jayawardena will act as promptly and tender an
apology to the people of Jaffna and in particular the IDPs for what has
transpired as a result of disgraceful bungling by officials at his
a bunch of government officials from the south have connived to send to
Jaffna rice not fit for the human palate is clear. Wijedasa asserted
that while tender specifications demanded the rice to be sent to the
north must be 50% polished, this particular consignment, it was
revealed, had only 8% polished.
Fed has definitely blundered — I guess they thought they could get
away with it,” Wijedasa said appearing to be a loner as far as
admitting the truth is concerned.
cannot be explained is how Co-op Fed has sent this same quality rice on
13 previous occasions to Jaffna and never been challenged. Even Wijedasa
cannot explain how this could have happened.
meanwhile said he has insisted that tender specifications be followed in
future and that Co-op Fed honour their contractual agreement fully.
Wednesday, October 30, Wijedasa appointed a high powered board chaired
by his own consultant S. B. Rajapakse together with eight others
including representatives from Co-op Fed and former food commissioner
and present consultant on food procurement, Liyanaratchchi to travel to
Jaffna on Friday and determine how much of the 3,000 tons of par boiled
red rice is bad.
the other two members on the specially appointed SCATB for food
procurement are Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, S. B. Divaratne and
Secretary, Irrigation and Water Management, Sandasiri Wickremaratchchi.
tender procedure was followed when the SCATB decided to award the
contract for sending rice to refugees in the north to Co-op Fed. The
SCATB apparently has the discretion to make such decisions depending on
August this year, Rehabilitation Ministry Secretary, A. Jeyaratnam wrote
to Sumanasiri Hulugalle querying on what basis Co-op Fed had been chosen
without following tender procedure to supply rice to the north and why
such a decision had been made violating government tender procedure.
had replied, explaining Co-op Fed is an apex body of the Cooperative
Ministry and that since the organisation had already been supplying rice
to the north over a period of years, the SCATB has decided to procure
the necessary quantities from them.
including Co-op Fed, is in a position to explain why unpolished rice was
being sent to the north instead of the polished variety which is what
the original tender specifications demanded.
myself cannot understand why this was being done,” Wijedasa
reiterated, when questioned. Hulugalle meanwhile could not be contacted
an attempt at damage control, Co-op Fed have now promised to segregate
the rice that is not fit for consumption and polish the balance quantity
(at their own cost) before handing it out to the people of Jaffna.
has also ordered the survey board he specifically appointed, to test the
quality of this rice by cooking some of it in Jaffna and make certain it
is palatable before allowing it to be distributed to the internally
Two pickup vehicles donated by the UNHCR to the Planning Unit
of the Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Refugees Ministry are not
being used for the purposes given.
One vehicle bearing number GO - 7413 is being used by Dr.
Jayalath Jayawardena and is kept parked at his residence.
The other vehicle bearing number GO - 7451 was handed over on
Friday by the former Head of the Planning Unit. It is reliably
understood that this vehicle is to be handed over to one Lalindra
who is an honorary coordinator at the Rehabilitation Ministry and
also a shipping and insurance agent.
The agreement between the Ministry Secretary A. Jeyaratnam
and the UNHCR specifies that these two vehicles be used only in
the Western, Northeastern and Northwestern Provinces and should be
used only by the Planning Unit of the Ministry.
The head of the UNHCR has also written to Dr. Jayawardena
reminding him of the terms and conditions under which the vehicles
were given for the Planning Unit of the Ministry.