Queue Unrest


Sri Lanka yesterday recorded the third ‘fuel queue’ death after UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed Premier by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the ‘backdoor’ 54 days ago on 12 May. The deceased was a 59-year-old, found dead at the wheel at a ‘fuel queue’ in Borella.

Meanwhile, the picture accompanying the lead story of yesterday’s edition of Ceylon Today showed an Army Officer kicking an unarmed civilian at another fuel station, at Yakgahapitiya, Polgahawela, Kurunegala.

This action cannot be condoned. Stern disciplinary action should be taken against this soldier immediately if the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) plans to regain whatever credibility it has. Whatever the status of the civilian – whether he was inebriated or not – or the commotion he caused at the fuel shed, the behaviour of the military officer cannot be condoned. For one, the civilian was unarmed and being held by two other soldiers, while the officer was seen kicking him full on the body.

Nonetheless, queues for essentials like fuel, medicine, food and cooking gas will be the norm, interspersed with more ‘queue’ deaths, daily power cuts, a thriving black market, nepotism, cronyism, corruption and more school closures due to the country being short of US dollars, unless there is a change of Government which can regain lost, international confidence, once more. 

However, ‘backdoor’ Premiership appointments don’t augur well with the international community (IC) comprising or jointly led by the USA, UK, EU, and Japan. ‘Backdoor,’ because Wickremesinghe’s appointment took place, as explained by SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva in Parliament yesterday, when discussions between Rajapaksa and SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa were ongoing for the latter to take this post.

Therefore, it’s unsurprising the sorry sight Sri Lanka cuts in the eyes of the IC today, where none are rushing to provide the island with succour due to their distrust of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe regime.

Wickremesinghe, speaking in Parliament yesterday, said this is the worst economic plight that has befallen the country. He further said, an IMF deal needs to precede for the receipt of foreign aid. The Premier said, preliminary steps for an IMF deal, that is, a staff-level agreement is expected next month after the GoSL submits a debt sustainability plan.

Generally, after a staff-level agreement is reached, it will take another two months (October) to obtain IMF Board approval, after which, almost simultaneously, the IMF’s first tranche will be disbursed to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka in a statement on Saturday said, “Government of Japan (GoJ) would like to consider its further contribution to Sri Lanka in consultation with the GoSL and other developing partners, while giving attention to the situation of Sri Lanka and the negotiation progress between Sri Lanka and IMF.” This was after GoJ recently ‘decided’ to provide emergency grant aid of USD 3 million through UNICEF and WFP to provide medicine and food in a “manner that would directly benefit the Sri Lankan people,” the Embassy said.

Coinciding with these developments, Wickremesinghe further said, on IMF approval, a donor conference will be held in partnership with Japan, India, and China. A conspicuous absentee, akin to ‘Admiral Horthy without a ship,’ from this ‘donor conference,’ is the West.

India, together with Japan looks at China with suspicion. Therefore, it’s unlikely that such a donor conference would ever take place, other than countries like Japan independently aiding the country.

While all these are taking place, civilian unrest keeps mounting. As queues grow longer, prices of essentials rise higher, more and more small and medium businesses falling, the people’s level of frustration keeps growing. The last thing the people in this country need right now is military excesses when controlling growing public anger.