Alahapperuma’s job it is to put a positive spin on matters and sing for his supper, so he says that the humble admission of the President clearly manifests the democratic and down to earth attitude of President Rajapaksa and the democratic thinking of his government. Ah, what semantics!



Some months ago, when Minister Udaya Gammanpila was facing a motion of no confidence in Parliament over a fuel price hike, some ruling party parliamentarians went to town saying that if Basil Rajapaksa was the Minister of Finance, a price increase would never have happened.

Today, Basil Rajapaksa is indeed the Finance Minister (and another purported economic whiz kid, Ajith Nivard Cabraal has been rocketed from Parliament to the Governor’s seat in the Central Bank), but Gammanpila is talking about the prospect of raising fuel prices- yet again.

The entire government is at sixes and sevens with conflicting reports emerging from different ministers. As a result, the economy is in a shambles and the cost of living is sky rocketing and the long-suffering public is supposed to grin and bear it.

Take a look at the price hikes announced recently. It all began with the announcement that the prices of gas were to be raised. What shocked the public was not so much the decision to increase prices but the quantum of the hike- almost 50 per cent.

The prices of both Laugfs and Litro gas were increased and those who were responsible couldn’t even get that right, with Litro gas first announcing a massive increase in prices and then a declaring a marginal decrease the next day, still leaving consumers with a hefty hike in prices.

That triggered a chain reaction. All food items went up in price. That included ‘essentials’ such as lunch packets, tea, and of course, bread. This will be sufficient for every other sector to increase the prices of the goods and services citing the increased cost of living as a result of the gas price hike.

And what does the government do? Chimes in Minister Gammanpila to say that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) does not receive any concession from the government and unable to bear the loss, there will be no choice but to increase the fuel prices.

Gammanpila reveals that the CPC is incurring a significant loss with every litre of fuel it sells, be it petrol or diesel and that the Corporation would lose some 70 billion rupees by the end of this month if it continues doing so. Gammanpila is essentially asking the government to bail out the CPC.

Parliamentarian Dilan Perera has added his wisdom to the debate about increasing prices. The prices are decided by fluctuations in the world market and the government can do nothing to influence that, he says. We have heard that theory before. One might ask, why have a government, then?

Feeling the pressure, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa apparently told Minister Gammanpila that he wouldn’t allow a fuel price hike. He also asked brother Basil to explore ways and means of reducing prices of essential items. We haven’t heard of any reductions so far and this is easier said than done.

To long suffering Sri Lankans, battered by a mismanaged Covid-19 pandemic and now bruised by a massive increase in the cost of living, whether the President threw a tantrum at the cabinet meeting and said ‘I don’t know how to do this anymore’, is a moot point.

We do not know whether he said those words or words to that effect but social media was rife with speculation, so much so that Media minister Dullas Alahapperuma was forced to defend his boss at a media briefing and deny that Rajapaksa has confirmed what many had been saying: ‘Sir fail’.

According to Alahapperuma, what Rajapaksa said was that he and the Cabinet were not able to fulfill fully the aspirations of the 6.9 million people who voted for him. Now, whether this amounts to being the same as ‘Sir fail’, we can leave that 6.9 million to decide, if we can find them now.

Alahapperuma’s job it is to put a positive spin on matters and sing for his supper, so he says that the humble admission of the President clearly manifests the democratic and down to earth attitude of President Rajapaksa and the democratic thinking of his government. Ah, what semantics!

Someone ought to tell the President that politics is not all about plotting parliamentary cross-overs to pass the 20th Amendment so that one can enjoy unbridled power. It is about working for the betterment of the people by identifying their issues and then rectifying them.

For that, one needs to be clever, astute, far-sighted, honest and have sincere motives. Merely barking out commands as if one were in the military and expecting that everyone else will follow instructions and get the job done, does not work in politics. If the President has any doubts, he can ask his brother.

Right now, though, we cannot see any evidence of decisive leadership aimed at defusing the economic time bomb the country is sitting on. Already, foreign reserves have dwindled to a bare minimum and experts have warned of an impending financial crisis of humongous proportions.

We haven’t heard anything from the President- or any of his three brothers in the Cabinet- that acknowledges the current crisis and gives us the confidence that our rulers are toiling hard to ease our burdens. Instead, we hear pundits like Mahindananda Aluthgamage saying ‘we have enough money’.

This government, in its brief period in office, has had two major challenges, one linked to the other: the Covid-19 pandemic and resurrecting the resulting economic downturn. It flunked the first spectacularly, costing thousands of lives. Now, it is clearly failing the second- and by a wide margin.

We knew that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was never a politician. However, he was sold to gullible 6.9 million Sri Lankans as a ‘man who gets things done’- based largely on his record in prosecuting the Eelam war to a finish. Now, he is learning that winning a war and running a country are not the same.

What Gotabaya Rajapaksa- and indeed all the Rajapaksas- cares about is returning to power at the next elections. They won’t be able to do so on the Rajapaksas’ track record of winning the war in 2009. There is only one way to do so. As someone famously said, ‘It is the economy, stupid’.


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