Thursday 16th December, 2021
The government has got telling lies down to a fine art. A few weeks ago, it declared that it would not pay for a consignment of contaminated Chinese fertiliser, whose samples had been found to contain some harmful bacteria. In October, Minister of Agriculture Mahindananda Aluthgamage said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had informed the Chinese Embassy in Colombo of the government’s decision to reject the fertiliser stock in question. His ministry even ordered that a ship carrying the rejected fertiliser be prevented from entering Sri Lankan ports. The vessel went away after a long wait, but China true to form tightened screws very diplomatically. It has now been announced that the government will pay as much as USD 6.7 million to the Chinese company, which even challenged the results of tests the National Plant Quarantine Service conducted on the fertiliser samples.
According to media reports and what transpired in Parliament, the Chinese fertiliser company, Quingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co., Ltd. shipped its fertiliser stock even though Sri Lanka had rejected it. Then it refused to accept the test results, and sent a letter of demand to the National Plant Quarantine Service. China went to the extent of blacklisting a Sri Lankan bank, which, acting on a court order, suspended the payment for the contaminated fertiliser stock. The SLPP politicians bellowed rhetoric and pretended to have got tough with the Chinese company, but the discerning public knew it was only a ruse because some government grandees were behind the dirty fertiliser deal. Everybody knew the government would give in eventually; the Chinese company would have the last laugh and some ruling party cronies would laugh all the way to the bank––either here or in Beijing.
The Ministry of Agriculture says it will continue to buy fertiliser from the same Chinese company. What if its fertiliser samples happen to contain harmful microorganisms again? The company is likely to ship its fertiliser to Sri Lanka, while tests are being conducted on the samples of its product at this end, and then refuse to accept the test results, thus giving the latter a choice between buying the contaminated fertiliser and paying compensation. There’s the rub.
Now that China has blacklisted a local bank for taking action based on a court order, the question is why the government of Sri Lanka, whose leaders claim be the greatest patriots the country has ever produced, does not blacklist the Chinese fertiliser company for its high-handed act of dispatching a stock of rejected fertiliser, and demanding compensation.
The government seems to have taken the masses for asses. Otherwise, it would not have insulted their intelligence by telling so many lies. It however cannot be faulted for its assessment of the Sri Lankan public, who fell for its election pledges hook, line, and sinker, and voted overwhelmingly for a bunch of misfits who pretended to be saviours.
It is doubtful whether the Chinese company would have shipped rejected fertiliser unless it had received an assurance from someone influential in this country that the deal was done and payment would be made. Strangely, the LC was opened even before the completion of quaratine tests.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena has rightly said the amount paid to the Chinese company as compensation must be recovered from those who ordered the fertiliser consignment. Disputes over questionable deals that government politicians and their cronies cut with foreign companies must not be settled at the expense of the hapless public, crying out for help, unable to keep the wolf from the door. The masterminds behind the fertiliser scam must be made to pay the Chinese company from their personal funds.