Prices of food in the country are rising at an alarming rate. A plethora of basic food items such as powdered milk foods – a basic need for the nation’s children - are exorbitantly priced, or have completely disappeared from the shelves of markets. Empty shelves at supermarkets, which dot the city, tell their own tale.
Other necessities such as cooking gas (LPG) is in short supply and not available at points of distribution. Fears are rife that vehicular fuel too could soon not be available. Statements made by the minister in charge of the portfolio of energy have done little to calm the people’s worst fears.
Indeed, on the contrary his statements regarding the closure of the country’s only oil refinery and fanciful explanations as to how requirements of much needed fuel will be met are sparking fears among all sections of the Lankan community.
Prices of basic foods like rice – the staple food of the nation - have moved way beyond the reach of ordinary folk. Wheat flour needed for production of bread – also part of the poor man’s daily diet - is in short supply. In turn, it has led to many small-scale bakeries and confectionary producers having to put up shutters of their establishments and lay off their employees.
Another basic – coconut - that is an essential part of the country’s culinary, is fast moving out of the reach of ordinary Lankans.
Again, while the ban on importation and use of petroleum-based fertilizer, pesticides, weedicides etc. though good in principle, it was a short-sighted move, made without suitable alternatives being provided.
Resultantly, a crop shortfall is on the cards. Once again ministers and members of the ruling coalition have come up with ridiculous solutions. One of among these gems being that government will compensate farmers in the event of crop failure! How the resultant crop loss will be covered, is not mentioned, especially in light of the fact that the country is facing a chronic foreign exchange shortfall and cannot afford to meet a shortage in crop failure via importation of requirements. Among the crops affected by the ban on agro-chemical based fertilizer is tea – the major foreign exchange earner for the country.
According to ‘Trading Economics’ Sri Lanka Producer Inflation is at 5-month high. Producer prices in Sri Lanka jumped 11.0% year-on-year in September of 2021, following a 9.4% hike in the previous month, the fastest producer inflation since April.
The only section of the population which appear to be cushioned against or do not feel the scarcity of most basic items be it food products, cooking gas and or fuel, are the cabinet ministers entrusted with particular subjects.
A government-controlled newspaper reported on Friday - November 18, the Energy Minister claimed there was no fuel shortage in the country. The feedback at ground-level however, is totally different with petroleum and other vehicular fuel distributors informing the public that fuel trucks had not arrived for around two days and stocks could run out at any time.
Again Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) constitutes around 95% the main cooking fuel in urban areas. Today LPG is in short supply. People running hither and thither in search of this precious commodity is now a common sight in whichever urban area one may live in. Even distribution points run by the petroleum corporation itself, have run out of stocks.
To make matters worse, the standard domestic cooking gas cylinder (12.5 kg), which cost Rs. 1,400 on August 10, now costs for Rs. 2,657, a jump of Rs. 1,257! According to the subject minister there is no shortage of cooking gas either.
Government ministers and its press making pompous statements of different product’s availability does not convince the average person who cannot purchase his/her necessities because of its unavailability or is unable to purchase the same due to its exorbitant price. While prices have been rising, wages of workers which were at times halved (especially in the mercantile sector) when COVID-19 was at its height, are yet to be restored.
The numbers of beggars, especially women with babes in arms and younger people obviously unemployed, seeking alms at traffic lights and at market places points to a growing unemployment/underemployment issue.
Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa hit the nail on the head when he asked MPs of his party to check out why those young men and women who excitedly painted the streets when government was elected into power, are now queuing up at the passport office to leave the country. What the country needs are not smug explanations from smiling ministers, but rather practical solutions to the plethora of problems which beset them.