The Import and Export Control Department has issued a statement suspending an order issued by a Gazette Notification by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Minister of Finance.
It is reported that the statement was issued under the influence of Secretary to the President, Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, which has created quite a stir in local political circles.
Reports circulating on social media say that the President's Secretary was influenced by the pressure exerted by business magnate Dhammika Perera.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Minister of Finance, issued a Gazette Notification on Tuesday (02) relaxing the import restrictions imposed on tiles and ceramicware.
The Controller General of the Import and Export Control Department, Damayanthi S. Karunarathne, yesterday (3), issued new operating instructions to Customs and commercial banks, to suspend the implementation of a Gazette permitting the importation of tile and ceramicware.
Accordingly, operating instructions were issued to Sri Lanka Customs and all commercial banks to suspend the implementation of the regulation Nos. 3 and 4 of the Gazette Extraordinary No. 2213/8 dated February 02, 2021, until further notice.
Meanwhile, it is reported that a consignment of tiles that was imported for the construction of a swimming pool at the Sri Dharmaloka College in Kelaniya has been held by the Customs Department. Since this has stopped the school from constructing the swimming pool, a past pupil had written to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapksa seeking redress a few days ago.
Accordingly, on January 22, the Additional Secretary to the Prime Minister, N.A. Weerasinghe had written to the Secretary of the Finance Ministry of Finance asking him to inquire into the matter and take appropriate action.
A senior official of the Ministry of Finance said that the Prime Minister's decision to revise the import restriction policy on tiles and ceramicware was due to the discovery of many underlying issues of the import ban.
Although the government decided to restrict imports of tiles and ceramicware with the objective of raising the standard of local industries, many local businessmen have said that a number of problems have arisen as a result.
They said that many businesses engaged in the sale of tiles and ceramicware had come to a standstill and that thousands of employees have been deprived of an income. They also noted that local manufacturers face severe hardships in obtaining raw materials for the manufacture of tiles.
The Prime Minister has also been informed that nearly 100 containers of tiles that had been imported before the import restrictions were imposed, have been held up at the Customs Department forcing entrepreneurs to incur substantial amounts in warehousing costs.
It has been brought to the notice of the Prime Minister that due to the import ban imposed on tiles and ceramicware, a few select businessmen like Dhammika Perera who have a monopoly in the local tile industry, have amassed huge profits as a result. Therefore, the Prime Minister had instructed to relax the import restrictions, the senior finance ministry official said.
It is reported that the stocks of Dhamikka Perera controlled tile and ceramicware companies in the Colombo Stock Exchange had decreased after the gazette notification issued by the Prime Minister. However, with the announcement by the Controller General of the Import and Export Control Department, stocks of his companies have increased again, it is reported.