Wednesday 9th February, 2022
Those who can, do; those who cannot, blame others, one may say with apologies to Bernard Shaw, on hearing some ministers make absurd claims in a bid to extenuate the government’s blunders. They are apparently labouring under the delusion that the people are stupid enough to fall for their lies, hook, line, and sinker.
Chief Government Whip and Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando is one of the ministers who are adept at concocting conspiracy theories at the drop of a hat. A few weeks ago, he claimed that there was a conspiracy behind domestic gas explosions. A report in this newspaper yesterday quoted him as having said that gas blasts had come to an end following his ‘revelation’.
It is only natural that ministers see ‘more devils than vast hell can hold’. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself said something to that effect in his recent Independence Day speech. “On certain matters, both local and foreign forces organise against us. Sometimes it may seem that everything that happens around you is conspiring against you.” However, let Minister Fernando be told the reason why gas explosions have ceased to be.
The political fallout of gas explosions and public anger prompted the government to order the gas companies to adopt proper safety measures. Chairman of Litro Gas Theshara Jayasinghe, giving reasons for the LPG shortage in the local market, unwittingly admitted, a few weeks ago, that the number of cylinder valve replacements had increased from 300 to 3,000 a day. In other words, cylinders with defective valves had been released to the market previously, endangering the lives of gas consumers. Litro also admitted that the butane-propane ratio in gas had been changed.
Thus, it may be seen that explosions are not occurring in kitchens because cooking gas is now properly tested before being unloaded from ships to ensure that it has the right composition, and the cylinders they come in undergo thorough safety testing. If ministers cannot understand something so simple, how can they grasp complex economic issues and find solutions thereto.
Much publicity has been given to a meeting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had with Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and some state officials on Monday to discuss the issue of freight containers of essential commodities being held up at the Colombo Port. The President reportedly instructed the officials present to ensure that the containers were released expeditiously so that essential commodities therein would be freely available, especially during the upcoming festive season. A committee headed by the Finance Minister was also appointed for that purpose, we are told.
Monday’s meeting may have given the impression that there had been lapses on the part of the ministers and the officials tasked with ensuring a smooth supply of imported essential commodities, and their failure had warranted a presidential intervention; the situation was now under control. But reality suggests otherwise. Containers of essential commodities are piling up at the Colombo Port owing to the current foreign exchange crunch. Importers are without enough dollars to have their goods released. Dollars will have to be made available if the shortages of essential goods are to be overcome.
The President is reported to have ordered that precautions be taken to prevent unscrupulous elements from making the most of the situation through hoarding, etc. This is a task for the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), which unfortunately seems to be in slumber. Some commodities are in short supply due to hoarding. The cement shortage is a case in point.
Cement is available on the black market at prices above Rs. 2,000 a bag. Only a limited number of bags of cement are sold at the government-mandated maximum price, but retailers sell cement at that price only to those who agree to buy other building materials from them at exorbitant prices. They have become a law unto themselves because the CAA is slumbering, and the people are left with no one to turn to. The government should order the CAA to carry out raids.
The only way to overcome the shortage of essential goods is to find foreign exchange to pay for imports, and shake the CAA awake.