Rebuilding Broken Bridges

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It’s the duty of the Government to pass on the benefits of the current fall in global crude oil prices and freight rates backed by a stable local exchange rate, according to reports filed by CME Group, USA and Drewry Supply Chain Advisers, UK, yesterday, to the masses of this country.

However, falling global crude oil prices or not, there is not only no fuel at the pump for the  masses, but also cooking gas and kerosene as well to name a few unavailable essentials, underlined by miles-long queues seen at fuel stations in particular, on a daily basis, currently.

This is because Sri Lanka has run out of US dollars to import such essentials. Matters have been made worse, because, as reported in our sister newspaper Mawbima, in a news item published yesterday, under the heading , “Essential medicines are available for only three months,” and, in a supporting bottom strapline, “Absence of anti-venom serum and anti-rabies vaccines cause 20 deaths”.

 Sri Lanka either doesn’t manufacture or if manufacturing, supplies are insufficient to meet the demand of both anti-venom and anti-rabies vaccines. Therefore, it’s dependent on imports to meet demand. But, like fossil fuel imports, Sri Lanka has insufficient dollars to import medicines, including anti-venom serum and anti-rabies vaccines, the primary cause of those 20 deaths.

 Sri Lanka’s Parliament is quick to condole the death of an MP, but is nonchalant of the deaths of the above 20 voiceless poor who died due to the sins of omission and commission committed by Parliament, together with the Executive President, beginning with the tenure of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (17 November 2005 – 8 January 2015) to the present, ie of younger brother President Gotabaya, elected on 16 November 2019 and continuing.

However, a silver lining is that this newspaper yesterday reported that a team from the US Treasury is expected in the island on Monday.  A priority of the US Treasury officials should be to ensure to aid Sri Lankan State hospitals to stock adequate anti-venom and anti-rabies vaccines to strengthen the prevention of such deaths.

 According to reports, whilst anti-venom may be stored at room temperature, not so rabies vaccines, which may be stored only up to a maximum of 25 degrees centigrade. But, Sri Lanka doesn’t have money to import coal to provide uninterrupted electricity to the masses, or even if it has the required dollars, which, however, is unlikely, the 900 MW multimillion US dollar coal fired power plant, built by the Chinese during Mahinda’s era, without calling for tenders, is more out of order, than in order.

Therefore, it’s also essential that the visiting US Treasury officials aid Sri Lankan State hospitals to have uninterrupted power by ensuring a steady supply of diesel to run their generators, thereby helping to keep their cold rooms/refrigerators and medical refrigerator trucks, also operable. Other needs are to ensure that the required public/private transport, including ambulances have enough fuel to transport patients to hospitals.

These are tall orders, but if Sri Lanka gets its diplomatic act right, these are not impossibilities. For example, US President Jimmy Carter in 1978 promised President J.R. Jayewardene aid for five years, which would be more than all the aid the USA had provided Sri Lanka in the preceding 25 years.

To quote Carter’s letter to Jayewardene, dated 26 April 1978, found on the US State Department’s website, “From 1976 through to 1979 we will provide more assistance to Sri Lanka than we did during the previous quarter century.”

In other words, Carter in that letter pledged to Jayewardene, aid, covering the four-year period to 1979, to be more than what the USA gave Sri Lanka from 1951 to 1975! Jayewardene was elected to power on 21 July 1977. That was the relationship that Sri Lanka enjoyed with the USA, then.

It’s now up to Jayewardene’s nephew, current UNP leader and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe to rebuild those broken bridges.