Enough food stocks during festive season -Johnston Fernando
Co-operatives and Internal Trade Minister Johnston Fernando said it
is entirely up to the President and the Government to take decisions on
the internal affairs of the country. The Minister in an interview with
the Sunday Observer said being a small country Sri Lanka was the only
country which successfully defeated a ruthless terrorist outfit like the
LTTE through military means. Sri Lanka has set an example to the world
on how to defeat terrorism by changing the theories adopted by the West
that terrorism cannot be militarily defeated.
The Minister said what should happen in the country and the future
should be decided by the people and its democratically elected
government and leaders.
If there are recommendations that should be given priority, the
Government would give priority to these. If any long-term solutions are
needed, the Government would do so. This is a right possessed by every
Minister Fernando said first the Opposition should give priority to
the country, not the party. This should be the duty of the Opposition.
In a matter of national importance, the Opposition should be able to
appear on behalf of the country regardless of political affiliations.
If we look at the recent past, we could see various attempts being
made by the Opposition to betray the country to gain narrow political
The Opposition has proved they are ready to align even with a
terrorist organisation if there is a possibility of grabbing power.
Q: What is your independent stand on the US resolution against Sri
Lanka at the recent UNHRC sessions?
A: It was the West which defined the LTTE as the most ruthless
terrorist organisation in the world. The UNP which extended the hand of
goodwill and peace was also taken for a ride by the LTTE. When the Twin
Towers in the US was attacked by terrorists, the US maintained the
stance that terrorism should be eradicated. An international view had
been created that the LTTE cannot be militarily defeated.
However, the Government defeated the LTTE and created an environment
for all communities to live in peace and harmony. In a situation where
wounds are healing and the country has entered the path of
reconciliation and reconstruction, I regret this being resolution moved
against a small country like Sri Lanka by the US which always speaks
about five star democracy and the eradication of global terrorism.
Q: Should we comply with it wholesale or act on a priority basis?
A: It is up to the democratically elected President and the
Government to take decisions on the internal affairs of the country.
The Government carried out demining activities expeditiously and
removed landmines in the North and East.
This could help the Government to resettle thousands of displaced
within a short duration which could not be witnessed in any country.
Being a small country, Sri Lanka was the only country which successfully
defeated a ruthless terrorist outfit like the LTTE through military
means. Therefore we have set an example to the world on how to defeat
terrorism by changing the theories adopted by the West that terrorism
cannot be militarily defeated.
What should happen in the future should also be decided by the people
and the democratically elected Government and its leaders. If there are
any recommendations that should be given priority, the Government would
give priority to them. If any long-term solutions are needed, the
Government would resort to do so. However, this is a right which every
Q: What should have been the Opposition’s contribution to the US
resolution in the interest of the country despite its preoccupation with
internal political bickering?
A: First the Opposition should give priority to the country, not the
party. This should be the duty of the Opposition. In a matter of
national importance,the Opposition should be able to appear on behalf of
the country regardless of political affiliations. Those who appear for
the country will be brought into power and will be retained in power by
If we look at the recent past, we witness various attempts by the
Opposition to betray the country to gain narrow political objectives.
The Opposition has proved that they are ready to align even with a
terrorist organisation if they have a possibility to grab power.
That is why when the vote on the Geneva resolution was to be taken
up, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe toured Jaffna and made a
statement Opposite the LTTE Leader Prabhakaran’s House “spring has not
dawned to the North”. Wickremesinghe always attempts to betray the
country and its people.
Therefore, the Gods have punished him. As a result, he and his party
is losing all the elections, while the leader and his party who loves
his motherland is achieving resounding victories in all the elections.
This is what has happened in the country today. Therefore, it is
obvious that the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and his henchmen behave
in a manner to betray the country.
Q: Apart from geopolitics specially in the context of South Asian
regional cooperation, what is the impact of India’s voting against Sri
A: This is a clear reflection of when the US hurls one stone at Sri
Lanka, it has hurled 10 stones at India. Some times India may have taken
this decision due to pressure extended by the US. Even the late Rajiv
Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE.
The decision taken by India to vote in favour of the US resolution
against Sri Lanka is not ethically correct. As the regional boss, India
should play its role and ensure co-existence with its neighbouring
countries. India may have taken this decision owing to the internal
Q: It is crystal clear that the tax burden on poor people is getting
heavier. Why can’t MPs and Ministers and other big wigs in provincial
administration make a sacrifice at this critical moment?
A: Taxes have been increased for vehicles, liquor and cigarettes.
After the end of the war against terrorists, an opportunity was given by
the President to the people to purchase cars, three-wheelers and
motorcycles by reducing taxes and interest rates. By doing so, the
President took measures to uplift the living conditions of the people.
Taking into consideration traffic congestion and the increasing
number of registered vehicles, a decision was taken to increase the
import tax on vehicles to restrict imports. The increase cannot be
called a tax burden imposed on the day-to-day life of the people.
Whatever government that was in power took measures to increase taxes on
liquor to discourage the people from consuming liquor.
The Government has not imposed any new tax to put an additional
burden on the people. The Government had to increase prices of fuel in
January owing to the fuel hike in the international market. If fuel
prices in the international market reduce, definitely the Government
would pass that benefit onto consumers.
Because the Government has done so in the past as well. As a relief
to the cost of living, burden prices of essential food commodities have
been reduced. A kilo of dhal which was sold at over Rs. 200 has been
reduced to Rs. 110 to Rs. 115 at present.
The price of sugar, canned fish and sprats has also been drastically
reduced. As the Internal Trade Minister, I can assure the prices of
day-to-day consumer items have not been increased.
Actually politicians are dedicated to the well-being of the people
and to the development drive implemented by the Government. In this
context, I don’t believe politicians have to make any additional
sacrifice. This is the first time that this kind of mega development is
taking place throughout the country.
The benefits of development have been channelled to all segments of
society. When we look at how Singapore has been developed and
politicians are looked after, we have not given such priority or
benefits to our politicians. I maintain the view that if politicians
want to solicit contribution to the country, steps should be taken to
encourage them by creating the necessary environment to develop the
Q: As Internal Trade Minister would you like to talk of your
Ministerial colleague’s Rs.7500 family package?
A: I think he has made those remarks regarding the cost to be
incurred by a student in a hostel. It’s good to get an answer from the
Q: What action has been taken by your Ministry to ensure an
uninterrupted supply of commodities during the festive season?
A: Adequate orders were placed for consumer goods which are required
at the CWE, Co-Op Cities and Co-operatives during the festive season by
the final week of the February.
We have already ordered the required commodities. We have sufficient
stocks. Prices of commodities will not be increased by creating a
shortage. We have made the necessary arrangements which would enable the
people to purchase commodities and celebrate the festive season as we
did last year as well.
Q: Hoardings, shortages, under weight, exorbitant prices are
recurring features during the festive season. What is your Ministry’s
mechanism to check these abuses?
A: I have ordered the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) to conduct
raids on errant traders who sell expired goods , under weight goods and
increase the prices of goods haphazardly by exceeding the certified
price. The earlier 5,000 raids conducted by the CAA have increased to
40,000. This shows that the raids conducted by the CAA have increased
I have ordered the CAA to continuously conduct these raids during
this festive season as well starting from supermarkets up to boutiques
in villages. This is not a move taken against the traders. This is an
attempt made to give an impression to traders how to conduct their trade
activities in a more disciplined manner and also to safeguard consumers.
Q: Prices at Co-operatives, Co-Op Cities and the CWE are
comparatively low. Despite this, consumers very often complain of
shortages in these outlets. Will it happen this time as well?
A: After I assumed office there have been no shortage in any Co_Op
City or CWE outlet. At present there are sufficient stocks. The Ministry
will not provide any room to create a shortage of consumer goods at any
of these outlets.
Q: People know of the CAA as an agency which conducts raids on errant
traders. But what is its full scope of operation?
A: There is a very limited staff at the CAA. It has just 100
officers. When I assumed office, any district office of the CAA did not
have tables, chairs or computers. Now all these facilities have been
provided. We have also taken steps to recruit graduates to the CAA and
they were given provided.
We have also taken steps to recruit graduates to the CAA and they
were given. We also looked into requirements of these CAA officers,. As
a result, we have increased 5,000 raids conducted by the CAA have
increased to 40,000. Our intention is to create a disciplined trade
community in the country.
It was so difficult to display a price list in shops, however we
could do that. Instructions were given to the Department of Weight and
Measures to conduct raids on errant traders who do not display price
list in shops or sell underweight goods. Steps were also taken to
conduct raids on filling stations and errant traders who attempt to
create artificial shortages of goods in their shops.
When we look into the productivity of the institutions in Sri Lanka,
I am very confident that we would be able to bring the CAA into number
one position in the country.
Q: The purchase of paddy during the Yala and Maha seasons has become
a controversial issue. Paddy farmers always complain they can’t sell
their produce despite the Government’s assurance. Can’t we have a
permanent solution to this perennial problem?
A:Problems have not arisen regarding the purchase of paddy. It is the
JVP and the UNP which attempts to highlight that there are problems on
the purchase of paddy. When the bumper paddy harvest comes to the
market, the JVP and the UNP say there is no mechanism to purchase paddy.
The Government has a good mechanism to purchase paddy and paddy is
being purchased by the Government. I challenge to point out even a
single occasion where paddy which has been purchased not being upto the
recommended standard. But the Government does not purchase wet paddy
from farmers. The JVP through this paddy issue attempts to create a vote
base with the help of paddy farmers.
Earlier it was the JVP which burnt the Agrarian Service Centres, rice
mills and killed farmers. The UNP did not give a fertiliser subsidy to
farmers and they did not look into the grievances of farmers.
The UNP which did not do anything for the farmers, today appear for
them. It is the UPFA Government which provided every possible relief
measure to farmers to carryon their agriculture activities.
The Government has reserved Rs. 40 billion for the fertiliser
subsidy. The fertiliser subsidy has been continuously given to the
farmers by the Government since 2005. It is the present Government which
is responsible to make the country self-sufficient in rice.
The Government introduced a certified price for paddy and prevented
the attempts made by the private sector to exploit farmers. These
irresponsible statements are made by the JVP and the UNP by looking at
this issue through tinted glasses They also appear on behalf for
companies who produce wheat flour. When paddy and rice prices are
increased, rice consumption will reduce so that people would then be
compelled to consume more wheat flour.
Q: Is it presumed that plastic crates have largely helped to minimise
post harvest losses. What is the progress?
A: Over 50 percent progress has been achieved. It will take to reach
hundred per cent. Post harvest losses of vegetables at the Dambulla,
Narahenpita and Negombo Economic Centres have been drastically reduced
due to the introduction of these plastic crates. This has facilitated
price reduction of vegetables. If we can achieve hundred percent
progress on the use of these plastic crates, it would be really good.
Q: What are the initiatives taken by your Ministry to upgrade
Economic Centres to provide a reliable service to consumers?
A: At present Economic Centres are a great success. Massive
development has taken place at the Dambulla Economic Centre. Steps have
also been taken to develop the Meegoda, Narahenpita and Ratmalana
Economic Centres. We have also decided to open new Economic Centres in
Kilinochchi and Kurunegala.
Q: Trade and Co-operatives have a strong bearing on the lives of poor
people. The Minister in charge of Trade and Co-operatives is always at
the butt end of criticism. How have you managed to walk on a tight rope
successfully facing challenges?
A: I have been able to face this challenge successfully. This is a
Ministry which has been subjected to various challenges. For the first
time in the history of this Ministry, I could bring down the price of
commodities during the last festive season.
I have also been able to bring the prices of commodities to a stable
position without creating any shortage in the market.
When the shortage of eggs and coconuts were created in the market,
the Ministry introduced alternatives. We have been able to succeed all
challenges faced by the Ministry.
We have also promoted the concept of “fair trading” and safeguarded
consumers as well. We don’t bow down to private companies by allowing
them to increase prices of consumer goods haphazardly.
I have tried my level best to safeguard consumers. Whatever pressure
is mounted or if people appear on behalf of companies, as the
Minister-in-Charge I am for the consumer. President Mahinda Rajapaksa
has entrusted me to carry out the functions of this Ministry. I would
like to say I have that successfully carried out activities of the
Ministry with the help of my officials.