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COPA calls for prompt probe on unloading 102 spoiled fish containers

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The Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) instructed the officials of the Ministry of Finance to immediately report the matter of unloading 102 spoiled fish containers in Sri Lanka to the Criminal Investigation Department as it appears to be a criminal matter. 

Furthermore, high officials of the Criminal Investigation Department who were present at the Committee meeting held were informed to expedite the investigation in this regard.

This was notified when the Committee on Public Accounts met recently (March 20) under the Chairmanship of Lasantha Alagiyawanna to examine the facts disclosed by the audit inquiry regarding the entry of a ship which sailed from Seychelles to Thailand with spoiled fish containers, was let into the country from the port of Colombo.

A ship carrying 102 containers of fish (over 2700 mt) from Seychelles to Thailand has suffered a technical fault near Sri Lanka. It was also disclosed that the fish had been spoiled due to the ship’s power failure. Accordingly, the Auditor-General W.P.C. Wickramaratne stated that the ship arrived at the port of Colombo on 13.01.2022 and instead of leaving following the ship’s repair many issues have arisen due to the intake of these containers to Sri Lanka.

In the event of an emergency, though certain facilities are provided at the nearest port, the Auditor-General pointed out that the decision to unload this stock of fish in Sri Lanka despite the fact that the Customs Ordinance states “the importation of rotten, odorous, disease-causing small fish, grains and other things unfit for consumption are prohibited” is deeply concerning.

As it is against the existing law of the land to unload spoiled fish in Sri Lanka, it was disclosed that the containers were landed in Sri Lanka by obtaining a new CUSDEC permit using a buyer as an importer to Sri Lanka on the recommendations of a committee consisting of senior Customs officials appointed by the Customs. The fact that it is a fraud to showcase non imported containers as imports was also discussed here. Furthermore, the Auditor-General pointed out that the date of the invoice presented as an import is marked as 10.12.2021 which is a date prior to 13.01.2022 which is the date the ship arrived at the port. The Auditor-General emphasized that it is thus problematic.

However, the Import and Export Control General stated that according to the report of the Customs Committee, on the recommendations of the Central Environment Authority, the relevant agency applied for the import of this fish for the production of organic fertilizer and the relevant permission was obtained according to the Import and Export Control Act.

It was disclosed that 4 of the 102 containers were destroyed, 43 of the remaining 98 were used to produce fertilizer, 40 were re-exported and 15 were still remaining in the country. It was also discussed that during a physical inspection conducted in July 2023, it was observed that the remaining 15 containers were oozing with an odour of rotten fish. It was also discussed that the re-export of such fish containers taken into the country stating it is for the purpose of making organic fertilizers is also problematic.

Moreover, the Auditor-General stated that the main business of the company that obtained this stock of fish to make fertilizer is salmon production which is concerning. However, the customs officials who were present stated that it is two distinct businesses and therefore, the officials testify to the fact that these fish were not used to make salmon.

The Committee Chair stated that although there is no issue in assisting a ship when it is in distress, it is clear that in this context, it is not the case. He pointed out that bringing a stock of rotten fish that no one wants to buy into the country is a serious situation and a threat to the environment and lives. Hon. Lasantha Alagiyawanna further stated that there is a doubt as to whether these fish have been used for human consumption and that there are many issues observed in this entire process.

Moreover, the Chair pointed out that though it was recommended to the Department of Import and Export Control during the COPA held on 23.01.2024 to appoint a committee consisting of all relevant institutions in relation to this incident for the purpose of conducting a field tour and report how much fertilizer has been produced, it was disclosed that the said committee was appointed after receiving the summoning letters for this meeting. The Chair of the Committee expressed his strong displeasure in this regard.

Furthermore, the Chair stated that it appears that the customs officials have been working with great interest to get the containers into Sri Lanka and thus, the same interest should be there for other activities as well.

State Ministers Mohan Priyadarshana De Silva, Diana Gamage, Chamara Sampath Dasanayake, Members of Parliament Tissa Attanayake, Isuru Dodangoda, Dr. Ms. Harini Amarasuriya, officials representing the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Finance, Department of Import and Export Control, Sri Lanka Customs, Sri Lanka Police, Criminal Investigation Department and Auditor General’s Department were present at this Committee meeting held.

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Japanese grant to strengthen facilities at BIA & Colombo Port

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With almost 1.5 million visitor arrivals and 7.5 million passenger turnovers recorded in 2023, Sri Lanka is on its way to recovery, stability, and growth after the Easter Sunday attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the devastating economic crisis in 2022. 

As cross-border travel is expected to rise rapidly in the coming months, preparedness of Points of Entry (PoE) to Sri Lanka to operate without any closure has become a national priority than ever before.  

In this hopeful setting, the Government of Japan, a longstanding development partner to the people of Sri Lanka, has provided a grant of USD 8.4 million through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to strengthen PoE facilities in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

The grant component for Sri Lanka aims to strengthen capacities at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and the Colombo Port – vital gateways to Sri Lanka, to be future-ready for responding to any public health emergencies such as pandemics and infectious diseases. The event for handing over the first part of the donation took place on 10th April 2024 at Bandaranaike International Airport. (BIA)

Under this initiative, BIA and Colombo Port are set to receive cutting-edge equipment and facilities, including advanced baggage scanners, full body scanners, Automated Border Control (ABC) gates equipped with a Face Recognition System (AFRS), full-page e-passport scanners, and biometric-based access control systems. Additionally, the project renovates approximately 150 washrooms at BIA with sensor-operated, touchless equipment providing hygienic benefits for passengers, crew, and staff.  

At the event, the Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka, – Mr. Mizukoshi Hideaki stated “I am proud to reaffirm Japan’s unwavering commitment to the recovery, growth, and development of Sri Lanka. Our support extends particularly to the enhancement of PoE, with a special focus on BIA and Colombo Port. Through this initiative, Japan aims to fortify PoE capabilities, ensuring seamless management of future emergencies, especially during pandemics.”

In addition, the project will provide much-needed medical equipment, and renovate and equip the isolation room at BIA in line with International Health Regulations (IHR), alongside enhancements to both BIA and Colombo Port waste disposal capabilities.

A four-story office building will be constructed for the Port Health Service at Colombo Port and 25 Sri Lankan Diplomatic Missions will receive biometric enrollment workstations enabling linking up with the Department of Immigration and Emigration to speed up passport issuance for Sri Lankans living overseas. For a greater outcome, the project will provide comprehensive training and staff capacity building to strengthen border health compliance in line with international standards enabling swift response to public health emergencies.  

Commenting on the timely initiative, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation, Nimal Siripala De Silva,  at the ceremony  stated  “I am immensely grateful for the generous financial support given by the Government of Japan and IOM Sri Lanka for this important initiative which will significantly bolster health preparedness at Sri Lanka’s main Airport and the Colombo Port, in consonance with International Health Regulations, and in turn garner public confidence for uninterrupted, safe, and secure cross-border operations benefitting passengers, crew, and staff.”

This project is implemented by IOM under the guidance of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Aviation in close coordination with the Airport & Aviation Services Sri Lanka Limited (AASL), Sri Lanka Ports Authority, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, and the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs. 

Commenting on the occasion, the Chief of Mission of the International Organization for Migration for Sri Lanka & the Maldives, Mr. Sarat Dash stated that “IOM strongly believes that strengthening the PoE is an investment for the future. The focus of the project extends beyond physical infrastructure and encompasses efforts for the economy, security, and digital landscape. IOM feels privileged to be a part of this project of national significance and is grateful for the support extended by all stakeholders for its successful implementation.”

The project intervention will reduce physical contact points, waiting time and congestion at points of entry for efficient, secure, and safe operations at BIA and Colombo Port. It will further improve traveller confidence, driving the potential for a boost in tourism and business travel offering an opportunity for mobility to return to pre-pandemic levels and adapt to the post-pandemic reality.

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Boy’s play with giraffe statue ends in death

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An eight-year-old boy, the only son of a millionaire businessman in Hettipola, died on Sunday after a statue of a giraffe made of cement, placed in front of the house of the businessman, fell on him while he was playing with it.

Police investigations have revealed that the boy had climbed onto the eight-foot-tall statue.

While on top, the child fell with the statue and the neck of the giraffe broke into two and a part of it hit the child’s chest.

However, the boy had gone to the kitchen and had told his mother about the incident and she had promptly informed her husband.

(dailynews.lk)

(This story, originally published by dailynews.lk has not been edited by SLM staff)

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Chamara Sampath’s vehicle catches fire

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The vehicle of State Minister Chamara Sampath Dissanayake has suddenly caught fire in the early hours of today, reports say.

According to reports, the State Minister was travelling from Mahiyanganaya to Ella when the vehicle caught fire at around 12.45am in Halpe, Bandarawela.

The State minister and the driver had escaped unscathed while the Fire Brigade of the Bandarawela Municipal Council residents had doused the fire.

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