Ranil’s Faux Pas

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Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa was quick to pounce on a faux pas made by UNP Leader, Finance Minister and President Ranil Wickremesinghe (73) in his interim budget speech of Tuesday’s.

Wickremesinghe speaking by looking at notes said, “It has been reported that there are about 61,000 food insecure families who need urgent assistance. I will provide 10,000 per family for a period of a further four months.”

Premadasa responding to this statement published in yesterday’s CT under the heading “Cannot accept President’s underprivileged statistics – Sajith,” said, “Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said statistics related to underprivileged citizens of the country mentioned in the President’s interim budget speech cannot be accepted.

Speaking to the media after President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s speech, Premadasa said that those statistics are inaccurate.

‘For example, the President said in his speech that there are 61,000 underprivileged families. How can we accept these statistics? The recent UNICEF report on child malnutrition in Sri Lanka revealed grim details as to how many pregnant mothers and children are in danger. Therefore, we cannot agree with the President limiting underprivileged people to 61,000 families. There are more people who have become helpless owing to the economic crisis,’ the Opposition leader stressed. ”

Meanwhile, this newspaper in another article published yesterday under the heading “First batch of food aid from Japan arrives,” to quote excerpts, it said, “A recent survey by WFP and FAO indicates that many of the households-over 60 per cent — are resorting to coping mechanisms such as reducing portion sizes and eating less nutritious food which could aggravate the already high malnutrition rates among women and children.

In response, WFP is mobilising funds and support to provide emergency food assistance through food, cash or voucher assistance to 3.4 million people, including 1.4 million people who are in dire need of emergency assistance as well as one million schoolchildren and one million pregnant and breastfeeding women by supporting the existing national social safety net programmes.” The above quotes were from a Japanese Embassy statement.

According to the Census and Statistics Department (CSD) which functions under the President, there were 5.7 million households in Sri Lanka in 2019. With a population of 21.2 million in 2019 according to CSD, the average size of a household in Sri Lanka will have had been 3.7 in 2019.

According to Wickremesinghe, there are 61,000 underprivileged families in Sri Lanka. On the basis that the average household size in Sri Lanka is 3.7; 61,000 families, workout to 225,700 people or 6.64 per cent of the Japanese Embassy number.

The Embassy was quoting the WFP (World Food Programme). WFP is one of several organisations coming under the UN. WFP in a story dated 4 August 2022 found on their website and published under the heading “Sri Lanka: Rising prices reduce access to food for millions,” to quote excerpts said, “A recent assessment by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that 6.3 million people – nearly 30 per cent of the population – are food-insecure. It comes as WFP warns of an unprecedented global food crisis.

‘Through our emergency response, we aim to scale up and reach 3.4 million people with food and nutrition assistance,’ says WFP Representative and Country Director Abdur Rahim Siddiqui.” The President is yet to refute these WFP findings. Therefore, it may be presumed that at least WFP’s figure of 3.4 million is correct. A number of 3.4 million based on an average household size of 3.7 in Sri Lanka is equivalent to 918,919 households or families, 1,506 per cent more than Wickremesinghe’s 61,000 figure.

Therefore, the President’s abysmally low figure of 61,000 families requiring urgent and dire economic assistance may be imputed to one or all of three things. They are that it was a typographical error with no proof reading done to double check the number, that there are incompetent officers in the President’s office who prepared this document or that Wickremesinghe alone had prepared this document, carelessly. A correction from the President’s Office even at this “late” stage is not out of order.