By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Sri Lanka is facing an economic crisis and all consumer prices have gone up as a direct result because the Government did not have US dollars to pay for goods such as fuel, milk powder and gas. Six point nine million of the voting population elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa because he was not a politician. For the last 74 years all politicians failed to work towards a national interest. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, being a strict administrator and disciplinarian, proved his mettle as Defence Secretary during the separatist war.
When he was attached to the Urban Development Authority he became the pioneer of the ‘cleaning up’ operations of Colombo City and its suburbs introducing striking parks and walking paths. The majority of voters believed in him their expectations as the President were equally high. Voters were confident he would stick to his election pledges and the promises of ‘The Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which crippled the economy globally, the President worked towards the people’s safety, millions of Rupees was spent to import various types of Covid-19 vaccines. Because he was concerned about the daily earners during the shutdown period, he spent millions of rupees to solve their predicament. His main weakness was his over democratic stance.
The President invited all political parties to find a solution to the problem. There was no point in inviting all political parties or electing various types of commissions to find a solution after taking a bold decision to remove two of the Cabinet Ministers, who foresaw the future of the country. The two outgoing Ministers arranged an all-party conference and submitted several proposals to implement what is good for the country.
Apparently, the President was under heavy pressure in firing the two ministers! Even Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa remained silent about the matter when the two Ministers who were responsible for breathing new oxygen to the defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa a few years ago at the Nugegoda Rella (wave). The social media says ‘blood is thicker than water!’ The President should not have taken such rigid decisions immediately, but he is paying for it today when people are cursing and abusing the President when standing in queues for everything.
There is no other country in the world, except Sri Lanka, who allows duty free luxury vehicle importation for Ministers and Members of Parliament. It has turned into a swindle where some members of Parliament after, even getting nominated through the National List they qualify to buy luxury vehicles and sell them for millions keeping a generous profit!
There are many examples of several Prime Ministers’ using alternative transport in foreign countries. To quote a few, the ex-Conservative PM David Cameron used the underground Tube train for travel, Swedish PM Stefan rode a bicycle for general purposes! It is amazing how only Sri Lankan Ministers and Parliamentarians cannot travel by public transport. Instead, they require posh limousines costing millions of Rupees and that too minus any customs duties! After Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the President what he should have done was to abolish such incentives.
The writer has witnessed certain Ministers travelling by the London Underground when they travel privately visiting friends and relations and to universities to see their children. Of course, they cannot request London High Commission vehicles for such trips. At London airport they get subjected to stringent security tests, which they accepted meekly. But once they step onto Sri Lankan soil they completely change and become gods.
Another headache for the public was that Members of Parliament qualify for pension rights after being a member for five years. A normal person has to work hard until he reaches the pension age. Abolishing such perks could have saved millions of rupees on wastage. During the separatist war each Minister was given Police security and allocated more than one vehicle. There isn’t a terrorist war at present or a danger to national security either, still why should the Government allocate security to Ministers and give them more than one vehicle.
Under the current circumstances, where fuel prices are escalating the Government should put a stop to more than one vehicle to Ministers. What happened in the past is that wives of Ministers or their kith and kin use extra vehicles with fuel being provided for on the Government’s account. Before the Government asks everyone to tighten their belts, they should set an example first. Today what takes place is that VIPs enjoying all types of perks while the poor public has to put up with all sorts of inconveniences, the worst of which is the under privileged have to stand in various queues daily.
What happened to the President’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour ’? During Elections it was suggested that a VAT of 8 per cent will be introduced? VAT has now been increased to 15 per cent, including the Nation Building tax (NBT). According to Cabinet spokesperson Dullas Alahapperuma, the credibility of the Government is tried when some Cabinet Ministers come out with different statements on the power crises. How does that happen? Surely it is the Cabinet who makes decisions? If the Government policy is to sack any Minister who criticise the Government in good faith, then there are so many Cabinet and State Ministers who should be fired!
Why was the President silent when about the motor parade from Kuliyapitiya to Kalipinya? The parade was stopped by the enraged public at Suduwella, Madampe. The worst was that a journalist who recorded the incident was threatened stating permission was granted by Police top brass. This was reported in the Media but the President’s lips were sealed.
It is reported that due to union pressure the Petroleum Corporation pays a bonus three times a year amounting to millions of Rupees when the Petroleum Corporation is constantly making a record loss. There are deaths reported while people collapse in queues and there are constant fisticuffs or brawls occurring in various ques, especially in petrol and kerosene queues.
The opposition leader says he has two countries where he could obtain fuel at a reduced price for two years. Why does not he collaborate with the Government in this dark hour of the country is facing?
Tradesman cannot earn a living due to escalating price hikes of all commodities; schoolchildren cannot do their homework when power outages takes place at all odd hours. It is impossible to keep food afresh when electricity failures occur, as the refrigerators start melting ice when power cuts remain up to seven hours a day. In short living in Sri Lanka has turned into a hell!