Sunday, January 6, 2008

Govt. shouldn't try to walk on one leg
-By C P Kuruppu

The People know that the government is winning the war on terrorism and they salute the heroic forces for the sacrifices they make while achieving the victories. But the government should not expect to remain popular only on its military achievements. It is just like trying to walk with one leg.

The fact is that 2008 does appear a happy year to consumers. With the start of the New Year the consumers have had to pay more for their essential food items like dhal, sugar and potatoes. The Shell gas price has gone up by Rs. 175. The prices of bakery products had shot up two weeks ago due to the increased price of wheat flour by the Prima Company. The average price of rice is around Rs.60 per kilo and a coconut is Rs. 30.

The people expect the government to take steps in the New Year to ease their unbearable burden on the commodity prices. But it has not happened and this could be a stumbling block in achieving national. The government knew that the prices will go up. The import tax concessions given to the importers of essential food items came to an end on the 25th December 2007 . The Consumer Protection Authority (CPA) has allowed the Shell Gas Company to increase the price of a gas cylinder. Prima increased the flour prices with informing the CPA.

During the budget debate the government said that it has given many concessions under the budget and has taken many other steps to reduce the prices. The Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardene now says the prices of essential goods will be stabilised by April 2008. Does that mean the government expect the consumers to wait for another three months till April to buy their essential commodities at reasonable prices? We hope not. The budget proposals are for a whole year. The ordinary consumer cannot wait for a full year till the proposals are materialised. They expect the government to take steps, even out side the scope of the budget to ease their burden.

The Commodity Importers say that with the lifting of the tax concessions given to them the prices of eight commodities like, potatoes, green gram, gram, dry chillies, sugar two types of dhal and tin fish had gone up. Apart from the prices of those products the prices of local products like rice and coconut and vegetables also have also gone up.
It is unlikely that the prices of the rice and coconut would come down unless the government steps in. The traders say that the December floods in the paddy and vegetable producing areas and coconut tree disease in the Matara District helped the prices to go up. But the consumers believe that the real reason is hoarding and black marketing.

The Prima Company increased wheat flour prices for the sixth time in one year making the prices of bakery products to shot up again. The government is going to introduce an amended Consumer Protection Bill to prod the Prima. In the mean time the government imported from China a thousand ton consignment of wheat flour and distributed among low income groups.
The CPA has again allowed the Shell Gas Company to increase the gas prices by Rs.175. Its new price is Rs. 1488. This is the sixth time that the Shell Gas increased its prices in 2007. With regard to gas and other fuel prices not only the government of Sri Lanka but also the government of America is unable to keep the price down as the world crude oil prices have again shot up again nearing $100 mark.

There are two other commodities of which the prices have sky rocketed. They are the wheat flour and the milk powder. The government has given long and mid term concession given to develop the production of rice which is the best alternative to wheat flour and the production milk and animal husbandry. But the consumers believe that the government should have given them subsidies to cushion the high cost of wheat flour and the milk powder, at least until their international prices come down. The people expected the government to take sufficient steps in the New Year to ease out their burden.

The rising cost of wheat flour and milk powder is a temporary one. The prices of these two commodities have gone up due to the prevailing severe drought conditions for more than a year in the wheat and milk producing countries. We all know that just after a drought a good weather prevails. Then the wheat and milk production will naturally go up and the prices will come down. Until such time the government must step in to ease the burden on the people.
It is important that with out delay the government must identify some of the projects and areas where the wastage and corruption is high and try to curb them immediately. The money saved from those projects may be diverted to give concessions to needy consumers of essential goods, especially to those of the low income groups. If immediate action is not taken the government's popularity will slump.

The government should not forget that people's stomachs too speak. Not only the UNP but also the JVP, a constituent party of the UPFA that won on betel leaf symbol is attacking the government on rising cost of living. They do it because it is one of the issues that directly affect the common man and an issue that they can capitalise to the fullest. The Mahinda Rajapaksa government must remember that Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike's government did a lot of good work for the wellbeing of the common man but her government was defeated at the 1977 General Elections on cost of living issue.