Elections, poverty and shortage of essentials - EDITORIAL

11 November 2019 12:03 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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n Sri Lanka, the period just after election results are announced, is often chaotic, marked by trade union action, blockading of the roads by worker and student organisations, as well as a bending and breaking of the rules guiding elections as well as day-today activities.
It is also a time when governments of the day ensure that essentials are available and prices remain stable to a greater extent. But in this aspect, the November 16 presidential election has been different. All of a sudden, LPG now a basic necessity countrywide, suddenly went out 
of stock. 
The government has yet to let us know how it came to be literally caught with its pants down at this critical stage. Neither the Premier, nor any members of his Cabinet has let us, the ordinary citizens in on why or how it came about that there is a chronic shortage of cooking gas in the market. For the past few days, authorities are assuring us that an uninterrupted supply of this commodity and it will be freely available. Unfortunately this is not the reality. 


Workers’ organisations - trade unions - have been agitating and it will not be surprising to see one or the other of the unions commence TU action. Unfortunately, one of their main forms of agitation has been to disrupt the flow of vehicles at the height of traffic movement. Unfortunately this disruptive behaviour only takes away from very real worker grievances. The reality is that a majority of workers in this country, do have grievances. The basic minimum monthly wage of an ordinary worker is set by the government at Rs.12,500/-. 
Samurdhi benefits are provided to families receiving a monthly income of below Rs. 2,000/-. According to the FAO report, 100,000 of these families belong to the poorest of poor category, and earn a monthly income of about Rs.700, while the remaining families were estimated to earn an average of Rs 1,200/- per month - around 23% of our population. A family exits the programme if its income has exceeded Rs 2,000/- per month for a continual period of six months, or when at least one member of the family finds employment.


In 2000, the Samurdhi Authority of Sri Lanka reported that the welfare programme had already covered 21 administrative districts with 1,982,017 family beneficiaries. The Ceylon Workers Congress Senior Media Consultant Devadas emphasised the Samurdhi Programme does not cover the plantation workers of this country. Tea estate workers receive work for a maximum of 21 days per month and receive Rs.750/- per day! He/she has also to meet the minimum plucking norms. Payment is less if targets are not met. 
In other words, a plantation worker could earn around Rs. 15,700/- a month.


A quick calculation (at present market trend) revealed that for a family of four - consisting of mother, father and two children - to have two simple meals per day, the family would require at least a sum of Rs.19,294/22 per month. This does not include children’s education, clothing, medication and/or recreation. 
This means that nearly two million of our countrymen and women are not blessed to have two square meals a day on regular basis.
It tells us that these people are forced into debt and penury, as they are forced to borrow at exorbitant rates of interest, the monetary resource that needed to meet the cost for food alone. These folks can never expect to repay the loans and they need to keep their bodies and souls together and therefore, are forced into penury.
The statistics show that around one million of our children too, do not have the luxury of attending schools regularly. It means they are not able to compete on a level-playing field in the job markets and are caught in an eternal debt trap. It also means that these unfortunate children are malnourished and the development of their brains is retarded. They are being forced into slave-like conditions, where they have little alternative but to accept whatever the low income they are offered by giant conglomerates and the privileged class of 
this country. 


All our presidential candidates are promising electors heaven and earth, they promise to uplift the poor and rid the country of poverty. But are these merely election promises? Or is there at least one among them who has any realistic plan to end the dire poverty in this country. 
We need to weed out the unrealistic promises from ground realities before we vote.

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