By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The matchbox factories in Sri Lanka are not operating due to national security concerns over importing gunpowder, as was revealed during the fifth Ease of Doing Business Forum held last week.
“We are unable to do our business with ease because of the non-availability of vital chemicals required to manufacture safety matches—that is potassium chlorate and red phosphorous,” Sri Lanka Matchbox Manufacturers’ Association representative Hyder Ali said.
The country’s requirement is 300 metric tonnes of potassium chlorate and 20 metric tonnes of red phosphorous for civilian use annually.
Ali said that the Defence Ministry and Sri Lanka Navy, which are responsible for importing the chemicals, haven’t done so recently, and that all matchbox factories have been closed down for the second time in 2015, with the first closure in May.
“Twice, our factories have been closed. This year, we were forced to close in May too. Now they have remained closed for the third week and we haven’t got our chemicals,” Ali said.
He said that despite the shortage, one or two factories remain operational, which is open to investigation by the authorities.
“How can one or two factories operate while all the others are closed? This is a serious allegation,” he added.
A Sri Lanka Navy officer present at the event said due to the delays in tender procedures and inclement weather in India, which had delayed production, the company(s) concerned had been awarded tenders to directly import gunpowder.
“We need to create transparency. We also need to forecast for the future, so make sure that this is implemented before January,” Finance Ministry Ravi Karunanayake ordered.
The Navy officer said that the procurement process will be simplified, and that the importation of the chemicals, which usually happens twice a year, will be spread among three shipments in the future to reduce the chances of the non-availability of chemicals.
“We have no freedom over anything. We would like to suggest that you let the companies import and let the Navy maintain the stocks,” Ali requested.
Karunanayake was not pleased with the suggestion.
“I don’t think we can liberalize to that extent. It will be maintained by the Defence Ministry. They are in control of that. We will ensure that there are no delays in the future,” he said.