An Appeal from the LSSP to the Government
The Government is facing an extremely difficult situation and everyone must give a helping hand. But the Government must give the lead to overcome the difficulties through correct policies and good leadership. Wrong policies and actions should be corrected and prevented on a priority basis. A proper national plan with expert advice should be formulated and properly implemented.
1) It is the opinion of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) that the main problem facing the people is hunger. Many people in the 60 per cent whose income is below the poverty line (the poor) and even of the middle class are barely managing to have one meal a day. The steep price rise in the cost of living and the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (closure of work places, Job losses etc.) leading to loss or reduction in income has made the situation even more difficult. The LSSP kindly requests the Government (to get grama sevaka’s and other officials) to identify the people who are affected in this way.
The Government should give the priority to providing these families with a free dry ration on a weekly basis. The other option is the issue of a ration card to them. In the past success was achieved by establishing a network of true people’s cooperatives with elected management as retail outlets at village and slum level throughout the island. While this is being done, private shops should be used to outsource and provide this service. All essential items should be made available at a reduced price with Government support.
2) The COVID-19 pandemic - • The lockdown helped to reduce the number of infections and to lower the epidemic. But the return to normal life can lead to a fourth wave of COVID-19, which must be prevented at all cost. This can be achieved by strict observance of the four health rules (low crowds, adequate social distancing, wearing of masks at all times when outside one’s home and washing hands frequently with soap and water, specially after touching any surface that has been touched by others).
The best results have been in towns and districts where these rules have been properly observed. To enforce this in the future Covid Committees working with public health officials must be established in all villages and towns (specially the slums). They must enforce the rules in all workplaces, schools etc. This would help to prevent the danger of a fourth epidemic wave.
Vaccination prevents the occurrence of severe disease and death, but it does not prevent the spread of infection. However the results of foreign studies suggest that the protection is short lived (about 4-5 months). Vaccination boosters at 6 months have been recommended as a result. This may need to be repeated several times. Imagine the high cost to the country.
As about 80 per cent of those who get infected show no illness or only very mild symptoms, there is no need to vaccinate all children. Vaccination should be confined to vulnerable groups - those over 60 years of age and those under 60 years, including children who have co-morbidities (other relevant illnesses). All pandemics have died down after a period of 2 or 3 years from the time of onset. If we act sensibly this should be the case with the COVID-19 also.
3) In the global history of pandemics no pandemic has gone on indefinitely. All pandemics have ended within about two years’ time. If people observe the health rules this pandemic too should end in some months. Under these circumstances everything must be done to get life in the country back to normal and ensure that the needs of the future generation (education etc.) are restored to normal.
But this will be a period of hardship for everybody. The LSSP appeals to the Government to restore the allowance given to the health and other frontline workers. The active cooperation of all sections of the public service will also be necessary. They together with the private informal sector are deeply in debt. It would be useful if the Government could make arrangements with those who have provided their credit to give a grace period of at least 3 months to make their payments.
4) The Government needs extra funding to tide over this difficult period. The policy of getting into further debt and printing more currency notes will create more problems for the future. Under the circumstances it is only fair that the super-rich share the burden with the Government. Not only have the share prices risen, but the multi-billionaires both here and abroad have made enormous profits.
It is only fair that they should share the burden by providing funds to the Government. The level of taxation in Sri Lanka is one of the lowest in the world (Company tax 18 per cent, Personal tax 14 per cent) as the upper limit. This must be increased, to about 60-70 per cent as was done by Dr. N.M. Perera when he was Finance Minister during the triple crises of 1972/73.
In this way he was able to meet the oil crisis (a 7 times rise in the cost of oil) and one of the most severe droughts in the history of the world (e.g. The price of imported sugar went up from £ 40 per ton to £ 600 per ton) He not only tided over this period but was able to reduce our foreign debt to the lowest level up to that time, and not only balance the budget but also a get budget surplus in 1 of the years. I strongly recommend a similar course of action.
5) The LSSP supports the decision of the Government to replace the chemical with organic fertiliser. But it would be better to do it gradually to suit each type of crop based on expert advice. Research needs to be done to obtain maximum benefit from organic fertiliser and with regard to finding the most suitable variety of seed which may differ from that used with chemical fertiliser. Government should frame policies taking these points into consideration. The above approach would have prevented the drop in yield that has occurred. The provision of some compensation to the small farmers may be considered.
6) Increase in the level of unemployment needs urgent action. One suggestion would be the restoration of the Vidatha Centres at Divisional level to help the SME’s (Small and Medium industries) to develop by value addition in both rural and urban areas. These together with the Nanotechnology Centre (SLINTEC) and other hi-tech centers could be used to promote exports by creating industries capable of competing internationally.
7) Recommendations by the Subodhini Commission Report that are suitable should be implemented.
8) Though the LSSP accepts the long delayed agreement between the representatives of the plantation unions and the Employers Federation. e.g. the Rs.1000/- minimum daily wage, it is unfortunate that the plantation companies are contriving to make changes for their own advantage. For instance many companies have re-introduced a quota system at a much higher level than was used in the past. The workers are complaining that this level is too high and is difficult to achieve, so that purpose of the salary increase will be lost. (As the plantation companies claim that they are running at a loss, the best course of action is to follow the example of Kerala, India. Here Tata company had 63,000 hectares of tea and ran at a loss, having similar labour problems. The Kerala Government took back the land and gave the ownership to the employees on the "Solidarity Principle”. Now they are running at a big profit and the employees who are shareholders are well off and working harder.)
9) The management of all companies is exerting pressure on the workers to increase their production to very high levels so that the management can obtain a reward from their employers. This is putting an extra pressure on the workers and should be prevented by Government.
10) The LSSP is preparing a list of proposals to be presented to the Finance Minister for the coming Budget.
Prof. Tissa Vitarana is the General Secretary, Lanka Sama Samaja Party.