The cumulative effect of the fuel price hike likely to bring in disastrous consequences.

We have never been great fans of Gammanpila for he brings to mind the saying that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and his public posturing has had racism written all over it, but this claim from Kariyawasam is ridiculous.

 

The Sinhalese language has a penchant to capture situations in its unique way. One such saying is ‘gahen wetuna minihata gona annawagey’ which, translated, means the man who fell from a tree has been gored by a bull. That sums up the current plight of the Sri Lankan citizen in a nutshell.

The public has now been under lockdown (or, as the government prefers to call it, ‘travel restrictions’) for several weeks. That is no doubt necessary. Nevertheless, had the government acted swiftly before the Sinhala New Year when health experts first warned of an impending wave of infections, a shorter lockdown would have sufficed- and saved hundreds of lives which have now been lost.

As a result of the prolonged lockdown many a wage earner has been deprived of their income and are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families.

Enter, the government. One would have thought they would have come up with an innovative way in which to support the most vulnerable groups in our society. Apparently, that hasn’t even crossed their minds. Instead, they announce a fuel price hike!

 

A price hike in fuel, any Ordinary Level Student will tell you, has a domino effect on prices of almost every other product or service in the economy because almost every product or service is subject to transport charges. In much more practical terms, for the man or woman struggling to make do with what little money he or she has got, they would be able to afford even less now.  And this from a government which said it would listen to the professionals- or, at least their own ‘viyathmaga’- when they made important policy decisions!

Well, at least one ‘professional’ in the government did have his say on the matter. State Minister of Finance, Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal took to social media to virtually justify the decision. “Even after increasing the fuel prices, Sri Lanka is having the lowest prices in South Asia,” Minister Cabral had tweeted.

Cabraal must know a thing or two about how these things work, being an accountant by profession and also being a former Governor of the Central Bank for nine long years during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. We must ask then, if that is Cabraal’s position, is it that of the government as well?  

Then, there is little sideshow that is staged to distract the public from the real drama. The General Secretary of the main party in government, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP), Sagara Kariyawasam, issues a statement blaming Energy Minister UdayaGammanpila for the oil price hike and calling on him to resign.

We have never been great fans of Gammanpilafor he brings to mind the saying that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and his public posturing has had racism written all over it, but this claim from Kariyawasam is ridiculous.

 

Since when did the Minister of Energy, be it Gammanpila or anyone else, have the sole authority to suddenly and arbitrarily decide to increase fuel prices in this country? Isn’t a decision with such far reaching consequences the collective responsibility of the Cabinet and more specifically the likes of the Minister of Finance who, in this instance, happens to be Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa?

That then brings us to the more relevant question. Is Kariyawasam simply a loose cannon firing of his own accord? Surely not, given that he is also the all-important General Secretary of the ruling party, the SLPP? Then, is he trying to simply echo His Master’s Voice and do His bidding? If so, is the government merely trying to find a scapegoat to blame the oil price hike on?

The other leaders of the constituent parties that form the coalition government have condemned Kariyawasam for his actions. That though is neither here nor there. Even collectively, they do not have the clout to dictate terms to the SLPP or the government which is a Rajapaksa-led oligarchy.

What of those who do have clout within the government? The up-and-coming Minister of Sports, Namal Rajapaksa was asked about the tight corner the government found itself in, vis-à-vis Kariyawasam vs. Gammanpila.

The younger Rajapaksa’s reply went something like ‘Every government has to sometimes increases prices because they have to respond to market fluctuations in the world, but maybe they shouldn’t have done so at this time’. We certainly hadn’t heard of wildly fluctuating world oil prices in recent times and the youthful minister was clearly stumped for an answer and might as well have said ‘please don’t ask me about issues of which I know nothing about’!

 

But, we digress. What must matter to us more is not the plight of Udaya Prabhath Gammanpilaor Namal Rajapaksa for that matter but the dire circumstances confronting millions of citizens who are struggling desperately to keep their heads above the poverty line.

The government keeps reassuring the public that they will take measures to alleviate the distress of the public by giving them 5000 rupee handouts. That is better than nothing but the last time that was done, there were accusations that the money was given to party faithful and those who were identified as not being among them were marginalised. Besides, how much can 5000 rupees buy, especially after the fuel price hike pushes up prices even further?

The underlying message is that the government, which has failed in its management of the Corona virus pandemic after initially earning plaudits for keeping the country safe from the deadly virus, has flunked in managing the economy as well. Resorting to borrowing more than it can repay from the Chinese who are ever willing to lend and as a result, ridden by debts it can ill-afford to pay, it now has to tighten the purse strings.

The fuel price hike is a first step in that direction. The domino effects of that will surely follow and we, the people, will have to pay!

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