From granary to waste-yard?
Posted on July 18th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Time was when this country was known as the Granary of the East. Today, it is apparently on its way to becoming what may be called the Dumpsite of the East. Consignments of foreign garbage are said to be imported. The Customs trade unions have said that as many as 122 containers of waste, brought from the UK, are currently sitting in the Colombo Port. These big boxes are said to contain hospital waste, plant and animal parts, restaurant trash and old mattresses. A lot of waste has been imported since 2013 and dumped in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone area, we are told. The government remains silent.

We are already stuck neck deep in garbage, so to speak. Successive governments have failed to find a lasting solution to the problem of municipal waste, which is being dumped haphazardly in various parts of the country, amidst howls of protest from the public. Mountains of garbage have appeared in some areas, as a result, and the one at Meethotamulla collapsed, burying more than 30 people alive, in 2017. Waste imports are sure to worsen the situation.

One of the main reasons why there has been so much of resistance to the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA) is that it provides for dumping garbage here. The government has sought to allay the fears of environmentalists and concerned citizens, but the controversial provision is there and the possibility of foreign garbage being brought here cannot be ruled out. Some of the bitterest critics of the SLSFTA are members of the Joint Opposition/the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. They warn that the SLSFTA may lead to an environmental disaster with shiploads of waste coming from and/or through Singapore. Ironically, it has now been revealed that the door to foreign waste imports was opened while they were in power. They have got badly exposed for their hypocrisy.

The Customs unions have said that in 2013, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a gazette notification to facilitate imports for BOI companies, and a loophole therein has been used by some persons to import garbage sans Customs checks. Fear has been expressed that even nuclear waste can be brought in at this rate—absit omen!

Rajapaksa should explain why he issued that gazette, effecting an amendment to the import regulatory system, and left the loophole at issue unattended until the end of his presidential term.

The grandees of the previous dispensation put through some crooked deals at the expense of the country while wrapping themselves in the flag. But most of what they did could have been undone following the 2015 regime change. If garbage importers have benefited from the aforesaid gazette notification, it must be done away with or amended urgently. Why the present government has not done so defies comprehension. Here is something that it can achieve at the stroke of a pen.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who is also the Minister of Environment, never misses an opportunity to make a public display of his environmental concerns and love for the country. He should have cancelled his predecessor’s gazette notification, years ago, putting an end to waste imports. The Ministry of Finance should have brought it to his notice or initiated action, on its own, to scrap the garbage-friendly import regulation.

After all, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have even changed the Constitution to achieve their political objectives. The 19th Amendment is a case in point. Scrapping a rotten import regulation, which helps some racketeers with their efforts to turn the country into an international landfill, should be child’s play for them. Why don’t they get cracking?

One Response to “From granary to waste-yard?”

  1. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    THEY HAVE LOST THEIR SENSE OF SMELL.

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