Same spoon for all, please | Daily News

Same spoon for all, please

The Cabinet has approved a Rs.695 billion Supplementary Estimate to be utilized as an Assistance Package to Public Servants and vulnerable sections among the community to overcome the present day hardships, Cabinet Spokesman Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena said at the Cabinet press briefing on Tuesday.

According to him, Samurdhi Beneficiaries, plantation workers, pensioners and Government Servants will benefit. The proposal was submitted by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also the Finance Minister.

No doubt this will be Godsend to the poorest of the poor who are today reeling under the soaring Cost of Living (CoL) and shortages of goods. Public Servants whose earning capacity has sharply diminished since the COVID days too would eagerly welcome this bonanza.

However, Public Servants comprise only around 1.5 million of the workforce. There are some eight million people who do not belong to the Public Service but hold jobs in the Private Sector and of course the self-employed. What about these segments? Not only have their incomes drastically diminished, most were thrown out of employment due to closure of businesses due to the economic collapse resulting from the pandemic. Their plight too should be addressed. At least the Public Servants continued to be paid during the COVID lockdowns and managed to survive. But there was no assistance for the rest. They too have mouths to feed and look after their families.

With the sharp rise in CoL, it is anybody’s guess how these souls are putting up with things. Their domestic lives certainly must be one hell of a misery. With no prospects of the collapsed businesses reopening given the current state of the economy, the situation is going to be dire.

The Government must find ways to provide assistance to these segments too. With warnings of a famine in the offing, these folk are going to be driven to desperation and are liable to resort to desperate measures to survive. Already there are reports of a rising trend in robberies. These are not necessarily resorted to by common thieves only. There may be others to whom criminal acts are alien, who are nevertheless driven to such a life purely to keep the home fires burning.

Former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa in his Budget Speech mentioned a plan to assist all collapsed businesses and individuals thrown out of employment. What has become of this proposal is not clear.

The worst affected is the tourism sector where tens of thousands have lost their jobs. With the ongoing protests, queues for fuel and other essentials, the picture is bleak with Western countries advising citizens to steer clear of Sri Lanka, and, worse, that they could risk starvation should they decide to visit the country.

Countries planning to send sports teams here for tournaments too appear to be on the verge of changing their minds. Already plans are afoot to shift the Asia Cup Cricket tournament from Sri Lanka to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in what could be termed as a telling indictment on this country.

Planes belonging to the National Carrier are forced to beg for aviation fuel from neighbouring India. SriLankan is being compelled to keep the planes grounded for long periods at South Indian Airports, according to reports. How will this state of affairs be viewed by the outside world, particularly our key tourism markets?

It certainly is not going to be a good advertisement for the country in respect of attracting the travel trade. Constant reminders by Ministers to the public to prepare themselves for an impending food crisis too are bound to drive away any prospective tourists. Tourism Minister Harin Fernando’s pleading to TV channels against airing news and programmes that would discourage tourists from coming here are of no avail when his Ministerial colleagues are letting the cat out of the bag.

In any case, relief programmes aimed at Public Servants should also include other segments that are having it rough. Most Public Servants hardly deserve what they are even receiving at present, many of them being political appointees with no skills or competence to hold their present jobs.

In fact, it is high time that the Public Sector bursting at the seams is trimmed of its fat and whittled down to size. Perhaps, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) possibly had sounded out the Government on this score, as one of the conditions for a bailout package is bound to be a pruned-down Public Sector. The abolition of fuel subsidies (though the subsidy on Kerosene is still intact) and the impending three-fold increase in electricity tariffs are certain indications that we will have to bite the bullet. With the World Bank (WB) too insisting on a feasible economic programme and measures to be taken to show debt servicing sustainability, compounded by the uncertain political climate, harder times are staring the public in the face which could give rise to upheaval. It will need only a tiny spark to set things ablaze and will this be the food shortage that is to be upon us very soon? The country certainly is sitting on a time bomb.


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