Our Independence Day celebrations are now over. The reality however, is we – everyone of us – irrespective of his/her political party affiliation faces is the international debt, which we have to pay. It hangs like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ over our collective necks.
Our country is bankrupt. Until we become internationally credit worthy, we will be unable to purchase basic food and drugs, to name a few commodities we are dependent on.
To get out of this problem we have approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a debt restructuring facility. To make us eligible to receive this facility, the IMF demands we put our house in order. In plain language no living beyond our means – via government subsidies we have enjoyed since independence.
Resultantly the cost of living (COL) has risen way beyond the means of the ordinary wage earner. Low-paid workers have taken to the streets demanding the COL be brought under control. Professionals in the health sector, university academics and others in higher income groups protest the new tax structure, claiming they are bankrolling the lower income groups.
This is completely untrue. Even having a meal involves taxation. Whether it be personal or indirect taxes, this sector forms the largest segment of the tax structure. The cost of food and drink is the same for all sectors of society irrespective of income differences.
Personal taxation starts at Rs. 100,000/-. The poorest 20% living below the poverty line receiving less than Rs. 25,000/- per month. Between 50% to 60% receive income of lower than Rs. 60,000/-. It is only those earning over Rs. 100,000/- are those within the new tax structure.
All of us – rich or poor – know government is bankrupt, and can only increase revenue needed to govern through taxation. Similarly, government realizes the inability of the poorer segments of society to bear the increased price hikes and ongoing inflation. But there is very little the government can do about this in the face of IMF requirements. This is our reality.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized this during his address to the nation on Saturday.
There are no short cuts to heal today’s problems of hunger and indebtedness. ‘We the people’ will have to go through a period of suffering and pain to drag the country out its present morass, if we are to receive the IMF facility.
The fact is, it was we the people, who continued voting for those with political agendas who offered us a ‘mess of pottage’ instead of solutions to the problems of poverty in our land. Measures like free education, food and medicine at subsidized rates gave us a facade of being a welfare state. But has brought us to the position where are now, bankrupt by spending more than we earn.
These state handouts simply made us more dependent. Power-hungry politicians roused racial ethnic and religious divisions to take our minds away from the real problem of poverty via creating false foes.
Opportunists even today rouse fake nationalism as a means of getting over economic problems. In Germany, millions of German-Jewish citizens were murdered under the mistaken belief that Jews were responsible for poverty in that country and a need to keep the German race pure.
Even today these same bogies are being raised in our country by so-called responsible politicians and even by men of the cloth. This needs to stop.
We need to change this situation of poverty and dependency. It is the only way those at the bottom of the social ladder will be able to get out of their poverty and dependency. Political fanaticism and hate speech need to be banned.
Hopefully the pain and hardship we and our fellow-countrymen and women are presently undergoing could bring us together as a people, not seeing each other as Sinhalese, Buddhist, Tamil, Christian, Hindu or Muslim.
Politicians and political leaders alike need to stop emphasizing racial, ethnic and religious differences, if we are to ever get out of this crisis and look on ourselves as citizens of Sri Lanka.
Extremism can only spell disaster. Political extremism in Cambodia resulted in the killing of between 1.5 to 3 million people dying at the hands of the Khmer Rouge – between 1973-1975 – nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s then population. A similar situation arose in Germany as mentioned earlier.
If we do not stop raising false foes and continue promising food and basics from the moon or elsewhere, we Lankans will face ever growing hunger, greater dependence on foreign powers and foreign interference in every aspect of our lives.
Let’s wise up, eliminate our differences and march forward to a more stable future
courtesy Daily Mirror
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