POWER CUT EFFECTS – by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
The Government needs to refrain from obtaining short-term at high interest rates. It will further compound Sri Lanka’s woes and reflect on the foreign debt trap. The country became paralysed by the Covid-19 Pandemic and a global economic crisis. Rather than repeating the same mantra repeatedly, Sri Lanka should re-negotiate and restructure the repayment of our sovereign debt by coming to a moratorium agreement.
Reeling under its worst economic crisis Sri Lanka’s power cuts continue for up to 13 hours a day. The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) indicated that power disruptions will be according to a zone system. Yet, invariably the power cuts and restoration times vary. It confuses the public as no one can organise anything properly.
Hungry and sweaty children have to use candlelight to attend to their schoolwork in the dark. Housewives cannot keep frozen food in refrigerators as everything thaws due to extended power cuts. Many industries are crippled, while hotels and caterers cannot perform without electricity and gas. Mothers cannot feed young babies without milk powder in shops. So, darkness makes everything worse. In short, living now in Sri Lanka is worse than living in hell.
On 1 April, there was a blow to the construction industry. Cement prices for a 50 kg bag increased from Rs 1,350 to Rs 1,850. The latest price of cement is Rs.2350 + transport charges .The cost of living has rocketed to such an extent that the average person cannot manage.
In the UK, for example, (during the 1980s) people experienced similar power cuts, which ousted the Labour Government. Still, the London Electricity Board organised a system to warn the public before a pow er cut by switching it on and off for a minute as a warning. In Sri Lanka the authorities switch the power on and off according to their convenience ignoring the schedule. It is a disgrace why these controllers cannot operate efficiently.
This kind of erratic scheduling makes the issue even more complex. The public gets confused due to the lackadaisical approach by those in charge of power cuts. Many have had to spend long hours in petrol, gas or kerosene queues. Despite such agony, consumer prices are up daily. The President of the Electricity Board’s Union (CEBEU) states that “their proposals to overcome the present crisis got hindered by the Politicians and the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).” Also, they predict the current electricity crisis could continue for some time.
Shipping cost’s increase
The global cost of living has risen sharply due to inflation. Oil prices slumped at the start of the Pandemic, but the recent demand has made fuel prices hit a seven-year high. The global increase in fuel and gas prices and the surging demand has also resulted in an increase in international shipping costs. For example, sending a 40ft container from Asia to Europe costs £12,480 or Rs.4,812,392.43/-. This is ten times more than the year before, when it cost only £1,101.
During the pandemic many lost their jobs. The Government was forced to add additional taxes to consumer goods, which was why the cost of living went up. Recently, VAT was increased to 15 per cent, along with indirect taxation on other consumables creating a greater burden on the consumer.
The privileged few
The CEB says that 191 zones are exempt from islandwide power cuts. This includes the Parliament Complex, the President’s House and the Madiwela Members of Parliament Housing complex. For economic reasons and humanitarian motives, it is understandable why the CEB decided to supply electricity to 24 hospitals including the Apeksha Hospital and airports at Katunayake, Ratmalana and Mattala, respectively. The public is enraged about the Ministers, MP’s and (V) VIPs being exempt from power cuts.
Public emotion runs high when MP’s get this unique facility while most parts of the country is in darkness. The President does not occupy his official residence, but has chosen to live in Mirihana in his private home. Therefore, it is not fair for the privileged lot to waste electricity and live in comfort at the expense of the public who are undergoing immense suffering. People may question that the Presidential Palace is hardly used daily but occasionally to entertain foreign visitors and emergencies. Should the staff at the Presidential mansion enjoy such privileges under such circumstances? Such arrangements make the exasperated public go out of control.
Do the people know how Ministers can be sensitive to public outcry when they are not affected by darkness even for a minute? It is not justifiable at all, and fits the saying: ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.’ According to the latest information, around forty parliamentarians avoid public functions out of fear of getting beaten by the public. There is no justice when the privileged lot is looked after while the poor and middle classes suffer endlessly. After all, the voters elect VIPs to serve people as ‘servants’ of the public, but it seems the VIPs in Sri Lanka behave as if they have descended from heaven!
Despite many warnings, the advisers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa seem to have provided incorrect guidance, which has resulted what the country faces today. What is required is to get rid of the ‘Kewattya’ type of advisers (as Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera, the Chancellor of the University of Colombo says). Only then is the President free to act independently according to his aspirations. It is also important to choose efficient, honest parliamentarians, irrespective of party politics, who display a sense of patriotism for the country during the selection process. If the present situation is allowed to continue the Government is sure to face unwelcome consequences.
Health is wealth!
Taking care of the people’s health should be prioritised as the President did when the Covid-19 Pandemic wrapped up the nation. It is equally vital to strengthen the economy, which allows slipping away! According to global financial experts, Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy because of the lack of dollar reserves.
Foreign debt traps
According to financial experts, Sri Lanka is heading towards bankruptcy. Dollar resources are the oxygen required now for Sri Lanka to breathe. Therefore, inviting foreign investors to Sri Lanka with substantial projects would also help. As everyone knows, ‘corrupt and corrugated’ officials and ministers will not be suitable to work on the new scheme as people have seen it happen repeatedly. Foreign firms who were willing to set up various projects for export purposes were driven away due to senior officials and ministers’ attempt to get fat commissions.
Usually, any project is associated with a standard acceptable commission. Still, in Sri Lanka, it is the opposite. The officials claim the bigger half of the project’s cost as commissions, so the frustrated foreign firms have to abandon their projects. The major weakness of Sri Lankan Ministers is they expect foreigners to come ‘to their feet’ as against Indian Ministers who go all out to meet the foreigners in hotels to get the job done. We seem to live on cloud nine all the time. Therefore, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should handle every such project personally to ensure no corruption.
The Government needs to refrain from obtaining short-term loans at high-interest rates. It will further compound Sri Lanka’s woes and reflect on the foreign debt trap. The country became paralysed by the Covid-19 Pandemic and a global economic crisis. Rather than repeating the same mantra repeatedly, Sri Lanka should re-negotiate and restructure the repayment of our sovereign debt by coming to a moratorium agreement. Then only Sri Lanka will be able to bring about the requisite policy changes resulting in sustainable development.
We, as a nation, go through hardships where citizens endure immense hardship at present as a result of importation of non-essential goods, which was the leading cause of our foreign reserves depleting. People’s agitations are immeasurable, and people have lost complete faith in the current Administration. Therefore, the Government has to rebuild their trust in the future.
Detrimental administrations created the current crisis over the past few decades. The people of this nation are paying for it today due to a severe-socio-economic nature. There are signs of the country heading towards a complete bankruptcy situation. Therefore, as a nation, it is up to every citizen and parliamentarian to forget about political advantages and work diligently to rebuild the country.
At the time of editing this article, the latest news is that the entire Cabinet of Ministers has resigned. In selecting a new Cabinet of Ministers, it would be more prudent to select efficient members out of all political parties rather than adhering to old politics! What is required is to salvage the country from the present chaos. Development of projects at hand should not be immediately crucial, but what matters is peoples’ agitations and woes of hunger and being in the dark!