Sri Lanka today, is probably facing one of the most critical phases in its post-independence period. On the one hand, the country is being battered by the Covid-19 virus and the initially popular government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is rapidly losing support countrywide.
While the numbers of dead and infected persons have drastically dropped – with fatalities down to 23 on Tuesday – the medical fraternity has warned, another wave of the infection could hit the country if health disciplines and guidelines imposed to bring the pandemic under control are disregarded.
Economically the country has hit its nadir – the lowest or most unsuccessful point. Tourism one of the biggest foreign exchange earners has been at a ‘Ground Zero’ situation since the virus hit the country.
While the hotel trade and its workforce looks forward the lifting of restrictions, health care workers who bore the brunt of the battle against the pandemic are concerned and government needs the income.
Over 500,000 workers (mostly those dependent on a daily wage) have lost their source of income. Workers in the mercantile sector have also seen their wages slashed – in many instances between 35% – 50%.
The education sector on which the country’s future generations depend, has come to a near grinding halt. While on-line classes are available, more than 70% of the families in the country do not have access to the internet. This means nearly 70% or more of our children have been delinked from the education system.
According to the Central Bank (CBSL), the country’s foreign reserves (foreign assets held or controlled by the country’s Central Bank) have fallen from US$7430 million in August 2020 to US$ 2806 Million by July 2021 Sri Lanka Central Bank trading economics).
In contrast neighbouring India’s reserves stood at 536,693.million in March 2021.
Lanka is already suffering from heavy foreign debt repayments, and has to repay about US$ 2 billion in foreign debts by the end of the year. In the face of growing indebtedness, the government banned imports of non-essential goods, including vehicles, spare parts and appliances because of currency shortages.
Resultantly, the cost of living has been increasing by leaps and bounds with the Department of Census and Statistics (quoted by ‘Trading Economics’) reporting the cost of food in the country increasing by 11.50% in August of 2021 over the same month in the previous year. To curtail rising prices on August 31, the government declared a state of emergency over the food shortages and imposed a system of price controls. It also raided warehouses where ‘essential foods’ were stored/hidden.
However, nearly all traders withdrew from the market and the paddy millers lobby challenged the government, issuing its own price list for sale of rice. A few days later the Government bowed meekly before the powerful ‘rice lobby’. Since then, rice prices have escalated. The Government also deregulated prices for powdered milk, wheat flour, sugar and liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).
The price of powdered milk rose to Rs.1, 300! Since then there has been an all-round food price increase of around 30%. To add to the woes of a growing impoverished populace, the government increased the price of a cylinder of LP Gas to Rs. 2,840/- per cylinder!
With the cost of living now soaring and sources of income of the ordinary folk drying up, starvation stares the nation in the face. It appears there is precious little the government is prepared to do to relieve the poorer sections of the people who are in fact its main voter base.
Petty crime is on the increase, but with a big difference. This time around people are beginning to take the law into their hands. In several instances home owners have retaliated leading to numbers of accused robbers being hospitalized. Those defending their property are being taken into judicial custody. This in turn it is leading people to losing faith in the systems on justice in the country and is an excellent recipe for a future state of anarchy.
Unless the ruling clique is able to rein the cost of living, we may soon see an outbreak of food riots as hungry people turn on those whom they see as living off the fat of the land while they and their children toil in vain.
To make matters worse while many are on the verge of starvation, the scion of a Cabinet Minister is supposedly a central figure in the ongoing massive garlic scam! While the ‘Panama Papers’ revealed others.
The people need to see big time crooks caught and punished. Not a few small fry used to cover major criminals.
Disclaimer: Broken promises, Cost of Living and Covid-19 - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view