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Emergency regulations were only way to prevent food shortage: M.U.M. Ali Sabry

  • Sabry says CAA Act only to impose control prices, take legal action
  • Claims people’s rights not undermined by emergency regulations

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

As the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Act No. 9 of 2003 as amended only enables setting a control price for goods and initiate legal action against traders who sell goods beyond those control prices, the only way to provide the people with essential food items without any shortage is to enforce emergency regulations on the provision of essential foods under the Public Security Ordinance, claimed the Justice Minister President’s Counsel (PC) M.U.M. Ali Sabry.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday (6), he said that he was surprised by the Opposition’s allegations regarding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to declare emergency regulations on the provision of essential foods.

“We were asked as to why this could not be done under the CAA Act. The CAA Act can only be used to set a control price for goods, which we have already done. When a control price is set, the court can be informed if any trader sells goods in excess of that price. The perpetrators will then be given some punishment at the end of the relevant legal proceedings, or they will be fined,” he elaborated.

He added that racketeers are always trying to earn more money, and that imposing emergency regulations is therefore the only way to protect the people and to provide them with essential food items in such a situation.

President Rajapaksa, on 30 August 2021, declared emergency regulations on the provision of essential foods, with the aim of preventing market irregularities that could cause inconveniences to consumers owing to the concealing of stocks of essential food items including paddy, rice, and sugar, and by in turn charging exorbitant prices for them.

Following the President’s decision, several parties, including the Opposition’s Samagi Jana Balawegaya, Tamil National Alliance, and National People’s Power have alleged that the declaration of emergency regulations could lead to a state of repression in the country.

However, Ali Sabry PC denied such allegations and said that the declaration of such would only apply to matters pertaining to the supply of essential food items and that it would not undermine the rights of the people.

“If anyone tries to make profit by not selling goods and keeping them, the Government can take over such goods and distribute them to the people at a reasonable price under these emergency regulations. So who is the ultimate beneficiary of this? It is the people,” he said.

Ali Sabry PC added however that the solution to the problem at the ground level is not to sue under the CAA Act.

“It is appropriate for them to be punished for what they have done, but the current problem is the ensuring of an uninterrupted distribution of essential food items during this period. Against that backdrop, it is not possible to address the issues under the CAA Act alone,” he said.

Therefore, the Opposition has also requested to support this programme which eventually benefits the people, he said, and added that all must act without any party affiliation in the current situation to save the country from this catastrophic situation. 

Speaking further, he queried: “The Opposition tells us to control the US dollar, to increase salaries, to solve the problems of teachers that have been there for nearly 28 years, to fully vaccinate the people with Covid-19 vaccines, to give the people an allowance of Rs. 20,000 instead of Rs. 5,000, and to stop the devaluation of the rupee. How can we do all this?”

Adding that there are ways in which the Government receives foreign exchange (forex), he noted that the tourism industry has now collapsed while foreign remittances sent to Sri Lanka by Lankan migrant workers have also been greatly reduced, noting that these were not matters that the Government could control.

Ali Sabry PC further said that in addition to this, the local revenue to the Government has also been reduced. He explained: “At present, the revenue received by the Excise Department has been reduced, and the income tax has also gone down due to the lockdown status. Also, with the cessation of imports, the revenue received through Customs decreases. Therefore, we have to accept that no matter which Government is in power, the Government is under a lot of pressure.”

The emergency regulations prepared for the supply of essential food items was passed in Parliament yesterday evening, with a majority of 81 votes, where 132 voted in favour and 51 voted against.