Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday (14) said, only 50 per cent of the total demand for fuel would be distributed for the next five months, after prioritising electricity generation, hospitals and other essential services.
This was a clear indication of the continuity of another few days, weeks or even months of long queues circling fuel stations and the country would be lucky if the long lines for fuel and gas end by the end of the year.
Wickremesinghe said fuel shipments have been secured for this month and the next month at present. While the country is aware of the current predicaments being due to a dearth of foreign reserves, the Prime Minister revealed that a leading State bank did not even have rupees which prompted him to get Cabinet approval to print more and more bundles of rupees.
“A 40,000 MT shipment of fuel will arrive today (16). It will be enough for the next two weeks. After obtaining a new USD 500 million Indian credit line, fuel shipments for the four months after July will be secured. However, the fuel will be distributed for 50 per cent of the total demand. That too would be after providing fuel for electricity generation and other essential services,” the Premier said.
Speaking about the present domestic gas shortage, Wickremesinghe said a ship carrying 3,500 MT of gas has arrived and it will be distributed, prioritising essential services such as hotels, hospitals and crematoriums. The next shipments which are due to arrive in July will be enough for four months. However, discussions are underway to possibly secure a gas shipment before July, he said.
Further, the Premier said representatives of heavyweight financial and legal advisers, Lazard and Clifford Chance, arrived in the country to provide advice on the difficult task of debt restructuring.
“We have begun discussions with Japan to fix our broken diplomatic ties following my personal intervention. Our Ambassador in Japan has met the Japanese Foreign Minister and conveyed our desire to fix broken ties between the two nations. Several countries including the USA and China have expressed their willingness to assist us. We hope to initiate discussions with Russia, the European Union and the United Kingdom. The international community is ready to assist us. We need a proper plan to present them,” Wickremesinghe said.
While some countries in the world like Iceland and the United Kingdom have declared shorter work weeks aimed at boosting worker productivity and happiness, our Cabinet of Ministers also approved a four-day work week for over one million public sector employees as a measure to cope with food and fuel shortages.
This, as per the Government’s explanation, was a measure to get public sector employees to engage in cultivation to face impending food crises. Out of one million public sector employees how many would actually engaged in cultivation is the priceless question. And, majority of them do not have their own lands or places to cultivate.
While the public sector is given a four-day work week, the rest of the workforce which belongs to the private, apparel, estate, formal and informal sectors also spend a majority of their ‘work time’ in either a fuel queue or a domestic gas cylinder queue. Doctors, nurses, teachers, university lecturers and even bankers spend hours and hours in these queues, sometimes without even having an assurance of receiving required fuel or gas stocks.
The amount of man hours collectively lost at these long lines is unaccounted for and will definitely have a ripple effect on society and the country as a whole sooner or later. Even though it is only one person that waste productive hours in queues there may be hundred others, who come searching for that person’s service, wasting their time elsewhere.
With no solace in sight, citizens are trying to sail through each day as it dawns one by one, not knowing what predicament awaits in a day or two, while, the Government also does the same.
However, what authorities and leaders keep in mind is the day is not far that people will lose their patience as inflation and shortages hit not just for fuel and gas, but for other basic needs as well. There will be a day that comes soon where people will be back on the streets once they have no way of feeding their children- the day children and loved ones start departing due to acute shortage of medicines. The country right now is a volcano that awaits eruption and the Cabinet and all 225 legislators should take the situation seriously and must prioritise resolving the crises putting aside their differences and fight for petty benefits before it is too late!