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

Top officials of the CID 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 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 requirements, 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 and 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.

Alagiyawanna 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. Alagiywanna expressed his strong displeasure in this regard.

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