By Nalinda Jayatissa –
Socio-economic and the political crises in Sri Lanka have tremendously aggravated the suffering of the masses, leaving them high and dry in tatters at the hands of the rulers. It turns out that bad governance, lack of foresightedness and rigidity of incumbent rulers have paved the way for a dire calamity causing much suffering to our people. Drawing parallels with a volcanic mountain on the verge of eruption, crisis after crisis in Sri Lanka has reached dangerous proportions akin to a volcanic mountain. Notwithstanding, the seriousness of the situation, the rulers have taken the prevailing situation in a lighter vein. Without paying much heed, whilst neglecting the imminent consequences, rulers are seen to be picnicking atop a volcanic mountain putting the country’s interest at stake.
Over and above the current adversities of the pandemic, people have been sent from pillar to post to shoulder the heavy burden of the dwindling economy and it’s after effects. Sri Lanka seems to have fallen into a heavy debt trap making the country difficult to obtain any future loans in the long run. Obtaining a loan of 200 million American dollars from Bangladesh vividly explains this position. In addition to this, a loan of another 80.5 million dollars had be to be obtained for the purchase of Covid vaccines from the world bank. Today the incumbent government is not in a position to obtain any further overseas loans.In the wake of these dire financial crisis, intriguingly, Secretary to the President has come to announce that overseas loans are debt traps and overseas loans must be restricted.
Adverse effect of bad economic policies and the resultant wrong action taken by the government has inconvenienced every segment of the society. Prices of consumer items in the marketplace have sky-rocketed whilst the prices of day to day food items like coconut, rice etc are rapidly going up in price without any control. Nobody knows as to what happened to the gazette published to control the price of rice in order make it stable in the market. Interestingly, without recourse to the gazetted controlled prices of essential food items, prices have gone up many folds in the consumer market.
During the recent past, to save foreign exchange, Government took measures to restrict and control the outflow of funds from our country. In line with this decision, stringent measures were taken to ban the import of automobiles, ceramic items, spare parts including the import of turmeric. This course of action backfired and adversely impacted on the economy. Certain sectors involved in production have come to a sudden stand still. As a result, many workers have lost their livelihoods. Multitude of workers employed in the automobile sector (especially the workers employed in the assembly plants of three wheelers have lost their employment).
Meanwhile, government in a bid to restrict the use of agrochemicals has taken action to stop importing chemical fertilisers. Although, at a glance, one would visualise this decision as a wise and a radical action, it appears that this decision is ad hoc and without adequate planning and a enough breathing space given for phased withdrawal of chemical fertilisers and other agrochemicals. Obviously, sudden stoppage or withdrawal from age old practices of using agrochemicals and chemical fertilisers from Agricultural industry could pave the way for devastating consequences on the agricultural sector. Already, there exists a shortage of fertilisers for paddy cultivation in the market. The decision to stop Agro-Chemicals and chemical fertilisers has already unfavourably affected the cultivation of vegetables, fruit growing, horticulture, cinnamon, tea, and rubber plantations. As a result of this unwise decision, the agricultural industry in Sri Lanka is doomed totally to collapse soon. Undoubtedly, this decision in turn would have a profound impact on the rural economy resulting in its collapse including detrimental effects on the farmers and workers employed in the agricultural sector. Who knows, they might even lose their livelihood, which could create a severe food shortage sooner or later in Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, as a chain reaction, the impact on the cultivation of export crops like vegetables, fruits, horticulture, cinnamon, tea and rubber plantations would restrict the inflow of much needed foreign exchange to our country, resulting in the creation of another new crisis. One must not forget the fact that, Sri Lanka accrues 25 percent of foreign exchange through the export of Agricultural produce.Meanwhile, should the need arise to import consumer food commodities, in the absence of foreign exchange, Sri Lanka would be facing a precarious and a disastrous crisis.
The other dimension to this problem is that when agriculture is neglected and abandoned by the traditional farmers, multinationals will be eyeing to grab all fertile agricultural lands for a mere pittance. Perhaps, the overall result would be loss of livelihood of agricultural workers including direct and indirect agriculture workers. Invariably, this would give rise to an uprising by those involved in the agricultural sector. Already there are demonstrations to agitate against the the government decision.
Today, the whole Sri Lankan society is at stake due to the negligence and mismanagement of Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, income generation by medium and small-scale entrepreneurs is at an all time low. Thus, creating a new crisis and rendering them unable to pay back their monthly leasing and loan instalments to the banks.What is more, government, doesn’t have a suitable plan to solve this problem at hand. Notwithstanding, the pandemic, government is unethically making every effort to provide money making opportunities to the big companies. However, on the contrary, the male and female workers in the private sector are working under very stressful and minimal working conditions.
Vaccines meant for Covid-19 had not been distributed properly and inoculated to people according to priority. In addition, people contracting Covid-19 has been considered and treated like prisoners by the authorities. Daily wage earners, government workers, fishermen and those involved in cottage industry including people of all walks of life are in difficulty and all these categories of people are up in arms against the government policy.
The ruler’s effort to curb the agitations of the masses forcefully and stubbornly, instead of understanding their grievances to find a suitable solution to the current problem, has further aggravated the crisis. At the same time, the manner in which, authorities had demarcated the quarantine areas and the resultant public outcry provides ample testimony to the modus operandi of the government’s management of this problem. After lifting the restrictions on lockdown areas on 25th of May, authorities granted permission to allow one person from a household to go out for shopping of essential food items. They were required to walk from home to the market/shop and were not allowed to use any kind of transport to do shopping.Obviously; any sane person would know that essential food items including a cooking gas cylinder cannot be carried home by normal person. As an act of sarcastic joke and protest against the government, people made use of wheelbarrows to transport items from the shops to their homes. Government found this situation unbearable and resorted to apprehend a man pushing a wheelbarrow with food items for not wearing a mask.
Rulers are conveniently making use of the quarantine laws to silence and suppress the voice of the people and the rhetoric of the antigovernment groups who are complaining against the authorities. The masses are aware that rulers are breaking the quarantine law in broad daylight and this law is being made used to hunt those against their policies. Especially, there are moves initiated by the incumbent government through the FB to curb the dissemination of antigovernment propaganda.
Amidst the danger of Corona, Udayanga Weeratunga managed to get down some tourists from Ukraine, just to earn few dollars and ultimately Covid -19 was spread in the country. At the same time, masses are against the initiatives of the government to get down rich Indian businessmen for quarantine in Sr Lankan hotels. There is another government racket, whereby cronies of the rulers are given an opportunity to make money by getting down Sri Lankan workforce employed overseas to spend their quarantine in hotels and charging exorbitant rates from the poor workers. The work force who has returned from overseas is very unhappy about this exploitation and are harbouring a grudge against the rulers.
There is heavy opposition building up in the minds of the people and they are up in arms against transformingCorona pandemic into a business venture to make money. In respect of passing the Port city act in parliament, a major portion of the Port city land allocation has been allocated to China; as a result even the voters who brought Gotabaya Rajapaksa to power as the president are unhappy and disgruntled. All in all, it seems that there is dissension and opposition in the fabric of the society gaining momentum through the length and breadth of the country.
The reality is that right now there is tremendous pressure mounting on the government by the people creating an euphoria of opposition and dissension which is perceived as dangerous and could explode at any moment. Yet the rulers are dragging their feet like“live crabs in a pot of hot water”. However, in the face of this massive antigovernment euphoria of the masses it is the patriotic duty of the left and progressive forces to prevent any unhealthy political upheaval. Instead, all antigovernment forces must be marshalled and provided proper guidance and leadership to change the wrong direction of the capitalist forces for a better tomorrow.