Head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Governments around the world yesterday (22), unless steps are taken to subsidise the cost of food and energy for the poorest members of society, protests seen in Sri Lanka could be repeated in other countries as well.
IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva told the BBC that support needs to be provided “in a very targeted manner, preferably by providing subsidies directly to people”. Many Governments are providing some help but critics argue it’s not enough, she asserted.
She explained that when it comes to the cost of living crisis, there are two priorities, one the very poor people, segments of society that are now struggling with high food and energy prices and the other is to support those businesses that have been “most damaged” by the war in Ukraine.
However, what is both disheartening and distressing about her assertion on Sri Lanka is that the country that was steadily becoming a mid-income economy only a couple of years ago being cited as an example for a failed economy.
How Sri Lanka arrived at this juncture is no mystery. One bad policy decision after the other, starting from the ill-advised overnight ban on chemical fertiliser, failure to reach out to international aid agencies including the IMF on time despite appeals by many experts, and not providing subsidies for those who were worst affected by the soaring cost of living, has plunged the country into anarchy.
What we see today in terms of the explosion of public anger is months of frustration boiling over for not receiving domestic gas on time, having to wait hours on long queues just to receive Rs 5,000 worth fuel, long hours of power cuts that hamper both daily lives as well as small businesses, and rising energy costs that has a ripple effect on every single commodity and service.
Simply put, Sri Lanka has today become unliveable. Not just for the poorer sections of society but for a significant portion of the middle class as well. Thousands lost their jobs due to the pandemic and now many find it difficult to travel to work due to dearth of public transport and inability to afford private transport – both due to shortage as well as high cost of fuel. On the other hand, working from home is no longer an option for many due to long hours of power cuts which also affect internet connectivity.
Many who lived a comfortable life are now living a hand-to-mouth existence. Many who were below the poverty line have today become destitute.
So, when hundreds of people waiting for fuel at a filling station, after waiting for hours, wasting the time they could spend earning an income, contributing to the national economy, are suddenly told to go back as the fuel is over and there is no telling when the next stock will arrive, how would one expect the people to react – to calmly turn around and return home to their starving families or lose all sense and behave irrationally?
People elect a Government to resolve problems on their behalf. That is the point of representative democracy – Government by the people, of the people and for the people. If elected representatives start acting surprised when a dollar crisis hits the country following two years of lockdowns and travel bans due to a pandemic, then what is the point of having a Government?
This Government had two years to prepare for this crisis. They had enough experts in their fold to predict how a tourism-dependent country would be affected by the massive drop in tourist arrivals. Other than banning import of non-essential items, what did this Government do to prepare the country and its people to face this crisis?
And now, the crisis has hit home and public react in anger demanding the Government step down for the failure to govern. And, Government members now act surprised why the public anger is directed at them!