Ball in GoSL’s Court

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Friday was the first day that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) implemented its first weekly ‘Friday off day’ for public servants employed in ‘non-essential’ work, in a bid to conserve fuel, a record!

The reason is that Sri Lanka lacks US dollars to import even essential goods and services like fuel, cooking gas, medicines, food, including rice and powdered milk, coal, resulting in daily power cuts and the list of misery goes on. 

An Indian news channel, quoting Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera on Friday, said that Sri Lanka has fuel stocks for only five days. On the same day Ceylon Today reported that the country received a 40,000 metric tons diesel shipment, the last shipment made under a US$ 500 million Indian credit line.

According to Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), 642,000 mts of diesel was sold in the country in the first quarter (1Q) of the year, averaging a daily diesel sale of 7,133 mts. Therefore, the above diesel shipment is sufficient to last for 5.6 days. Sri Lanka is currently negotiating a fresh $ 500 million Indian credit line, it’s reported.

 Nonetheless, the current consumption of diesel discounts those languishing in fuel station queues for days for their share, which, if taken into account, would show that that 642,000 mts of diesel sold in the 1Q will have had been inadequate to meet the full demand for diesel.

 Year-on-year (YoY), as at the end of the 1Q, data showed that diesel consumption increased by 92,000 mts (16.8 per cent), an indication of panic, resulting in overstocking. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s elder brother, two times President Mahinda was the Premier in the 1Q, while his younger brother Basil was the Finance Minister.

A local news website also quoting Wijesekera on Friday reported that People’s Bank has opened a Letter of Credit to import 300,000 barrels (40,323 mts) of petrol. According to CBSL, petrol sales in the 1Q increased by nine per cent (32,000 mts) YoY to 386,000 mts, equivalent to 4,289 mts petrol sales per day.  Therefore, this 300,000 barrel petrol shipment is sufficient for only 9.4 days.

 Further, it takes a certain number of days for such a shipment to not only arrive in Sri Lanka, but also to unload and its fuel distributed to fuel stations countrywide, before starting to disgorge it at the pump to the thousands of vehicles, lined up at fuel sheds for days, waiting for petrol, which current supply falls short of demand, leading to frustration and anger by those in the queues, deprived of their share.

 Amidst continuous fuel shortages, daily, fuel and cooking gas queues have been the order of the day for months, countrywide, with some even ‘living’ in queues for days and ‘queue deaths’ being not uncommon, with the last of such fatalities reported as late as Thursday.

Sri Lanka has been living a ‘hand to mouth’ existence for almost for the past 12 months, with no signs of improvement, but with all signs that the situation is getting worse, whatever GoSL says.

.The solution is dollars. But with dollars unavailable, the danger in the continuation of such a moribund situation is that it will lead to a state of anarchy, much worse than that which took place on 9 May.

The much needed dollars lie in the hands of the international community led by the West. They want Sri Lanka to fulfil only one condition to get those dollars, observance of ethics,  not land in exchange.

 Those ethics revolve round human rights (HR) and corruption. HR is tied to investigating GoSL’s prosecution of the LTTE war in May 2009 and attacks on peaceful demonstrators by GoSL goons in Colombo on 9 May 2022 and to investigate corruption, the root cause for Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic morass. Those are justifiable requests.

If not, the eruption of another ‘5 April 1971’, ‘24 July 1983’, ‘29 July 1987’ or a ‘9 May 2022’ upheaval may well be; on the cards. The ball is in GoSL’s court. Treat the causes of this malaise and not its symptoms. Otherwise, the much needed dollars will only be a distant dream.