Prevent Another ‘9 May’ Conflagration

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The Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government, now backed by his Premier UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in only two years and seven months in power has raised the price of petrol 92 octane, used by many including three-wheeler taxis, by a record 206.57 per cent (Rs 283) to Rs 420 a litre.

Among some of the other record price increases were petrol 95 octane by 179.50 per cent (Rs 289) to Rs 450 a litre, auto diesel, used by buses, by 284.62 per cent (Rs 296) to Rs 400 a litre and super diesel by 237.12 per cent (Rs 313) to Rs 445 a litre, respectively.  

These include yesterday’s increases of a price of a litre of petrol 92 octane by 24.26 per cent (Rs 82) to Rs 420 a litre, petrol 95 by 20.64 per cent (Rs 77) to Rs 450 a litre, auto diesel by 38.41 per cent (Rs 111) to Rs 400 a litre and super diesel by 35.26 per cent (Rs 116) to Rs 445 a litre, respectively.

In the midst of these fuel increases, it was only a few days ago, Wickremesinghe announced, that to alleviate the cooking gas shortage, cooking gas would be distributed at the daily rate of 80,000 cylinders.

But, without warning, on Monday, State-owned Litro Gas, which has a virtual monopoly in the sale of cooking gas, announced the suspension of such sales yesterday, coinciding with the day that State-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation announced the above fuel hikes.

Rajapaksa, in the two years and seven months he has been in power and at the time of writing yesterday, has increased the price of a 12.5 kilo cylinder of cooking gas by a record 225.52 per cent (Rs 3,367) to Rs 4,860.

Meanwhile, with the recent increase in fuel prices, the minimum bus fare for adults is expected to increase by 18.52 per cent (Rs 5) to Rs 32. Since Rajapaksa was elected to power at the 16 November 2019 Presidential Poll, he will have had upped this minimum bus fare rate  by a record 166.67 per cent (Rs 20) to Rs 32 as at today, if the expected bus fare increase is to take place.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, in respect of the recent fuel price increases and the proposed bus fare hikes, is reported to have said that these increases are as per recently adopted fuel price formulas.

However, Wijesekera’s and Wickremesinghe’s President, Rajapaksa, at the launch of his Presidential Manifesto, made on the eve of the  2019 Presidential Poll, said that as a means to alleviate the cost of living, the fuel formula introduced by Mangala Samaraweera, the Finance Minister of the previous Government, of which too Wickremesinghe was the Premier, would be scrapped.

Rajapaksa kept his election pledge and discarded the fuel price formula after being elected to power. But, instead of reducing fuel prices and bus fares, since being elected to power, such prices, discounting an expected bus fares hike, have increased by 125 per cent to nearly 300 per cent, with cascading effects on the rest of the economy as well.  One wonders what Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe and Wijesekera now have to say?

For instance, the price of a loaf of bread in this short period of two years and seven months, that the Rajapaksa Government has been in power, has been increased by 183.33 per cent (Rs 110) to Rs 170.

But, a couple of years ago, fuel prices at the pump in fact fell, with the price of a litre of petrol (92 octane) declining by 8.67 per cent (Rs 13) to Rs 137 a litre, auto diesel by 6.31 per cent (Rs seven) to Rs 104 a litre and super diesel by 4.35 per cent (Rs six) to Rs 132 a litre, respectively.

And, minimum bus fares  increased by a modest 33.33 per cent (Rs three) to Rs 12, while the price of a 12.5 litre of cooking gas (LPG) fell by 38.56 per cent (Rs 937) to Rs 1,493.

The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe Government needs to get their act together soon to prevent a mayhem, which may be worse than that of 9 May, from taking place.