Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

LET’S BRACE OURSELVES TO FACE THE HARD TIMES AHEAD

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While on the one hand, Sri Lankans are battling the Covid19 pandemic, on the other hand, they are compelled to grapple with the sky rocketing cost of living and the shortage of essential commoditie­s such as milk powder, domestic gas, wheat flour and rice among several others. There were several reports of unscrupulo­us retailers forcing consumers to buy other dairy products or to buy goods to the value of about Rs.4,000 to be eligible to buy a kilogram pack of milk powder, that too only one packet to a customer. Thousands of anxious consumers, some even carrying little children, were seen queuing up outside various food outlets even before opening time awaiting their turn to buy hard to get milk powder.

Meanwhile, as has been the trend in recent months, another government gazette notice has fallen by the way side, less than a month after it was issued. The latest casualty was the one dated September 2, 2021 which fixed the maximum retail price for rice, especially local Basmati, Samba and Keeri Samba. With Monday’s Cabinetapp­roved rescinding or reversing of this gazette notice; rice will be sold at prices dictated by the rice-mill owners.

In the wake of Trade Minister Bandula Gunawarden­a warning people to brace themselves to face the spiraling cost-of-living, several consumers were seen rushing to retail outlets to buy their household requisites fearing rumours of an imminent increase in the prices of other essential commoditie­s as well.

The minister is reported to have told a weekend newspaper that world market prices had increased and as such the local prices of milk powder, domestic gas, wheat flour and cement, among other items were set to increase drasticall­y.

He said the government could no longer hide the fact that it was facing a crisis with regard to US Dollars amid the rising world market prices and that providing concession­s was out of the question.

At a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on Friday, importers were told they would be informed about the government’s decision on price increases. The importers had pointed out that due to the lack of US Dollars in local banks, they were unable to clear their goods held up at the Colombo Port. According to a leading importer, the government had assured them it would intervene to resolve these matters.

Be that as it may, importers complained of a backlog of nearly 1,300 containers, carrying essential food items at the Colombo Port during the past three months, mainly because of the difficulty in obtaining bank documents relating to Letters of Credit as a result of the US Dollar crisis and also because of a limited workforce at the Port.

A spokesman for the Food Importers’ Associatio­n is reported to have said the delay in clearing the containers was bound to create an artificial shortage leading to a price hike, and therefore it was essential to expedite the Customs clearance process. On Friday, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa directed the Customs and other relevant authoritie­s to take immediate action to release the containers as expeditiou­sly as possible.

In such a scenario, the plight of the poor and the daily wage earners, with most of them having lost their livelihood­s and surviving under difficult circumstan­ces to barely eke out a living is not difficult to imagine. The government should in no way ignore them. They too are Sri Lankans, many of them voted to elect the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidenti­al candidate and the SLPP government at the 2020 general elections, most probably carried away by the fantastic promises made in the manifesto attractive­ly titled, ‘Rata Hadana Saubagya Dakma’ or the ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, but sadly though must be a disappoint­ed people some two years later with no prosperity but hardship staring them in their faces. It will do well for the government to carry out a check on how much of the promises made on election platforms were fulfilled if at all. Where has the government gone wrong and at what point did it lose its grip on governance leave alone good governance, ethnic harmony, human rights, the much-hyped concept of one country one law and not less importantl­y, the economy, now in the doldrums.

People who might have heaved a sigh of relief when considerin­g the decreasing numbers of new COVID cases and deaths have little or nothing to be happy about when envisaging a future with food shortages, queues and possibly an era of food rationing, which were part of everyday life in Sri Lanka in the 1970s.

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