“To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant” – Alcott Bronson
Lest we forget to remember, we begin today’s column by once again highlighting the fact that those most affected by Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic and political crises are those in no way responsible for causing it. In that case who is?
Without doubt the crises ensnaring this country and the people have resulted from the cumulative effects of the arbitrary and capricious decisions taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa while the then Cabinet ministers, most of whom are continuing to hold Cabinet portfolios, the then Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, his successor, the then Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and State ministers meekly nodded in acquiescence. Main among these short-sighted and irrational decisions that contributed to the current predicament were the dismantling of the tax structure in November 2019; the ban on the import and use of chemical fertilizers, weedicides, pesticides and fungicides on April 26, 2021 that not only destroyed the agriculture sector but also resulted in the current food shortage; the payment of US$6.7 million for a rejected consignment of organic fertilizer and the infamous sugar and palm oil scams, which caused the government to incur a loss of more than Rs.16 billion. However, no one has been held accountable for this debacle or for the pain and misery caused as a result to the tens of thousands of people, who are continuing to languishing in queues for the past several months pleading for the means to survive during these difficult times.
The newly-appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in his first interview to the BBC said he would ensure that every family in this country would have three meals a day. “Whenever I functioned as prime minister of the country, I always ensured that people were able to have three meals a day,” he said. “So, I want to end this era of queues and shortages and create an environment where they can go back to their normal way of living.” But not many days later, changing gears, the very same Prime Minister was quoted in media reports as saying that Sri Lankans will soon have to survive on two meals a day. He said a food shortage, precipitated by the Russian-Ukrainian war would occur in September and last through 2024. For reasons best known to him, he conveniently avoided mention of the devastation caused to Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector, with our farming community left in the lurch and out on the streets because of the President’s botched up, egotistic experiment with organic farming.
It is in the backdrop of the severe shortage of essential food items, domestic gas and kerosene oil and the cost of living soaring way beyond the reach of a majority of our people that Sri Lankans are struggling to have even one meal a day leave alone two meals. No wonder that they have lost confidence in this government, which is rapidly losing its credibility. Those who are compelled to waste their time in long queues for the past couple of months are heard to say and say it loud and clear that they rue the day they were misled into voting for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his SLPP government, which sold them ‘vistas of prosperity and splendour’, but delivered nothing but poverty and penury.
The President and his government if alert should have anticipated the crisis that was waiting to engulf Sri Lanka and taken meaningful measures to avert this major calamity instead of blithely mouthing empty rhetoric and continuing with short term solutions such as that of taking loans, more loans and still more loans to repay these loans at pay-back time.
Meanwhile, basic food items remain in short supply with prices expected to rise even higher following last week’s sharp increase in taxes. According to the Central Bank, this year’s food inflation which stood at 46.6% in April has increased to 57.4% in May. A case in point is the price increase of a 12.5 kg cylinder of LAUGFS gas from Rs.4,199 three months ago to Rs.6,850 from Sunday!
Governance is a serious business and decisions taken by those in the echelons of power impacts on the people depending on whether the decisions are prudent or rash. There is no denying the fact that we are in this dilemma as a result of a surfeit of rash decisions and with a failed political leadership at the helm, is there any hope for Sri Lanka?