By K. Arvind
Ballistic CoL pushes people to starvation stage; It was only last week that Minister Fowzie assured the country there will be no fuel hike in the immediate future. Then he raised the price of Oct 90 Petrol by a hefty Rs.7 (from Rs.97 to Rs. 104/ltr). The excuse, as usual, was the US$/SLRs. parity and world market price hike. The fact is from US$70 + per barrel some months ago prices dropped to US$50+ ppbl levels. The government did not pass on the benefit of the difference to the already- suffering motorists. The many requests from the Public, articulated through the Press, to bring down the prices fell on deaf ears. Last night’s incredible increase has little to do with world market prices. The price of Crude Oil today is around US$60 ppbl. There is the speculation that prices may go up in the event of a UN-led military attack on Iran. But this fear has been there for months now. Prices also did not go up as expected because many of the big fuel-consuming countries are now changing to alternative fuels — developed by Brazil and others to avoid the OPEC black-mail.
A military attack, in any case, is unlikely, because the UN has already imposed soft- sanctions on Iraq with hints to make them harder in the event Iran does not carry out UN Resolutions calling for inspections of her nuclear sites. Iran has already begun private contacts with the USA and the UN. President Ahmedinajed is softening his vituperative language, threats and attitude. Whereas Sri Lanka is concerned, the price of Oct 90 at the pump should have been around Rs.60 to 65/litre allowing the government a very wide margin for conversion and other profits to meet the State’s welfare subsidies.
It is believed the government refuses to pass on the benefit of lower prices to the consumer because the State is called upon to meet very high expenditure in the regular jaunts of Ministers and MPs for their 1st Class airfare and their 5-star hotel expenses; the maintenance of nearly 150 MPs and Ministers with their huge house rent bills, super-luxury cars (imported) expenditure, monthly fuel bills etc.., The Press carries regular reports of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and others using dozens of cars at a time whereas they are entitled to just two or three. The system of government with its strict checks and balances on State expenditure of which we were so proud of is now a thing of the past. It is also unfortunate the alarmed Press, for its own reasons of survival in a hostile environment where the State has caused the closure of some newspapers and threatened many journalists, is reluctant to lead the campaign to force the government to be reasonable by the consumer.
Already the cost of living has gone ballistic. The middle and lower middle class people are missing meals on account of high prices, the lower middle are pushed to marginal levels and those in the lower strata are going through near starvation conditions. Already fish and chicken prices are beyond the reach of the vast section of the people. The present high-hike of fuel prices will impose unbearable burdens on an already suffering people to an extent there could be food-riots – for the first time in the history of this country. The Police already attribute the increasing spate of robberies and lawlessness throughout the country to causes where people have no money to buy essential foodstuffs. Now that the UNP is paralyzed, it is the JVP, the Trade Unions and civil society leaders who should create the necessary pressure on the government to withdraw this anti-people move of a government which is clearly not up to meeting the day to day demands of its office. As to the CPC, most people believe it is good only to play pandu and quite unable to provide fuel at reasonable prices.