Buckling Under Strain of High CoL

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 9 2021

From long queues gathering to purchase essentials due to shortages in the market, to fluctuating prices of such essentials, it is inevitably evident that the public have had to face a double whammy amidst the pandemic.

Repeated affirmation from the authorities that there is no shortage of essential food items in the country and that prices of commodities will not be increased unfairly, seems to only be a fairytale that would continuously taunt consumers. 

Previously, two Extraordinary Gazette Notifications were issued imposing maximum retail price (MRP) on sugar and rice, following which shortages were reported in the market. The Cabinet of Ministers, however, later decided to remove the price controls imposed on rice by annulling the previously issued Gazette Notification. 

Following such annulment, large-scale rice mill owners’ association announced retail prices for rice far above the controlled prices set by way of the Gazette Notification and currently the price of the country’s staple is uncontrolled and is of an immense burden on consumers. The Emergency Regulations invoked by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the supply of essential food items was also passed in Parliament on 6 September and was a much debated topic over the recent past while the Government stated that the Regulations, aimed to prevent concealment of stocks and subsequent selling at a higher price of essential food including paddy, rice, and sugar. 

It is understandable that the COVID-19 Pandemic has affected the economy and that several measures are adopted for economic revival, but what will be the fate of consumers who fall prey to the surge in cost of living, especially daily wage earners who lost their source of income during the lockdown pushing them into poverty and are now trying their utmost to get back on their feet? It is in such backdrop that the Cabinet of Ministers decided to import 100,000 metric tonnes of rice to maintain a buffer stock, in a bid to prevent any unfair increase in the price of rice in the local market but the question as to when such importation will take place and if it will in any manner be of a concession to the consumers have arisen. 

Although Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa previously instructed to release over 800 containers of essential items held at the Port due to the shortage of dollars, this involves obtaining the instructions of the Attorney General as certain of the containers are case productions. 

While the prices of rice remained an issue to consumers, there came about a shortage in milk powder, owing to the reduction of the importation and due to the inability for importers to release stocks of milk powder held at the port. Over 80 per cent of the national milk powder consumption is met through milk powder importation while at the time the shortage in milk powder arose, there was only a 20 per cent local milk powder production. 

Due to the shortage of milk powder, long queues were observed outside economic centres and retail stores to purchase milk powder with most frustrated consumers having to return after hours being in the queue without products. Although milk powder has been disregarded in view of the health risk,the fact that 7,000 to 8,000 MT of milk powder is required monthly could not be merely ignored and it is vital for such demand to be met. Meanwhile, on 7 Thursday, a decision was taken to remove the current price controls on LP Gas, wheat flour, milk powder and cement which will further result in an increase in the price of these essentials as well. 

Following such decision, the milk powder importers announced the revised prices of milk powder which would be an increase in Rs 350 per kilo while the price of 400 grams of milk powder will be raised by Rs 140, while stating that prices will further increase if there are any additional payable taxes. One main reason that has been observed for the reduction in supply is the controversies surrounding fertilizer required for crops. 

With the decision made by the Government to ban the importation of chemical fertilizer in a bid to promote the use of carbonic fertilizer, farmers voiced their concerns on the shortage of fertilizer. They stated that the available compost has affected their crops and produce. The farmers have constantly stated that due to the shortage in produce, their only source of livelihood has been affected while demanding for fertilizer that is not necessarily chemical but would not impact their produce. 

The measures taken by the Government to control the shortages in the market, to minimise the unfair hoarding and increase in the price of essentials, every measure in itself has only resulted in consumers either not having access to the products or in them having to pay exorbitant amounts to feed their families. There are several authorities in charge of protecting consumers but have they taken into consideration the plight of consumers when dealing with shortages and changes in prices of goods?

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 9 2021

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