|Thursday, 12 February 2004|
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What VAT relief?
Contrary to effusive claims by the Government on the cost of living issue, current price trends indicate that although the VAT burden has been removed from most essentials, they remain well beyond the reach of most consumers.
Recently, for instance, we had Rural Economy and Finance Deputy Minister Bandula Gunawardena speaking on the removal of VAT from essential commodities and on its favourable impact on the prices of these consumables, but to our chagrin we learn that, instead of going down, prices are only going-up.
A couple of days back we gave readers a break-down of these prices which were obtained from the grocery stores in the city and outstation towns. It was revealed that the prices of essentials, such as sugar, dhal, milkfood and rice had risen sharply and not come down as claimed by the erstwhile Mr. Gunawardena.
Where, then, are the curbs on the cost of living, which has emerged as a hot election issue? It is clear that the Government is either blissfully ignorant of the most basic economic conditions or that their heads are way up in the clouds, lost in a mesmeric spell of indifference and self-complacency.
Obviously, they need to come down several notches lower from these heights to test the pulse of the people and to realise that all is not well, down here below. Nevertheless, the cost of living burden should be keeping the pulse rate of the people racing wildly.
Coming to think of it, we are not short of the institutional mechanisms to keep the cost of living at affordable, endurable levels. We have a number of CWE sales outlets which could match any of the privately-owned shopping malls, from the point of view of glamour and seductive charm.
However, the pull factor in these places of enchantment, for the common man, are the prices of essential commodities. Reasonably priced goods would always prove an attraction.
Besides, there is the Consumer Affairs Authority, whose principal duty it is to keep a tab on unfair trading practices and price manipulation by parasitic businessmen. Apparently, the public visibility of these bodies is insufficient and the cost of living continues to soar.
There is no getting away from the need for a down-to-earth approach in tackling these problems. While consumers need to report cases of inflated prices and other irregularities to the authorities, the latter should exercise their power to bring to book the vampirical among our trading community.
There is no getting away from the need for on-the-spot checks and, of course, fines.
Television came to Sri Lanka only in 1978. By joining the TV club rather late, Sri Lanka had the advantage of starting afresh with the latest technology available at that time, including the PAL 625B colour standard.
Television in Sri Lanka has achieved several milestones over the last 26 years. Rupavahini, the National Television station, began transmissions in 1982. The first private TV station went on air in 1992.
Rupavahini has introduced NICAM digital sound, which enables bilingual/stereo broadcasts to be received on compatible TV sets. A wireless subscription based 'cable' TV system is also in operation.
Now, Rupavahini is poised to introduce another breakthrough to local television: terrestrial digital transmissions. Rupavahini has taken a step in the right direction in tune with modern trends.
The main advantages of MPEG2-based digital TV are obvious: Crystal clear pictures and the possibility of having surround sound and interactive services.
Last but not least, compressed digital signals need much less bandwidth than their analogue equivalent, freeing valuable portions of the radio spectrum for other uses. It also means that more digital channels can be transmitted using the same bandwidth.
A major drawback is that viewers need extra equipment to receive the digital signal. This can either be a Set Top Box (STB) - a digital to analogue converter - or an Integrated Digital Television (IDTV) which has the digital circuitry built-in.
Prices of STBs have come down drastically recently. More IDTVs are also being manufactured. Rupavahini should talk to leading manufacturers in order to make STBs available at reasonable prices to viewers. In the long term, IDTVs will become cheaper as manufacturers realise economies of scale.
Rupavahini should also ponder several trends in the TV industry. Television is going widescreen. Square TVs are on the way out. The latest plasma and LCD TVs, which will replace conventional CRT TVs in a few years, have wide screens.
LCD TVs are estimated to corner 90 per cent of the market by 2009. More and more international programmes are being made in the widescreen format. Rupavahini should thus gradually move into widescreen programming.
Even digital widescreen is only a stopgap until the ultimate television experience arrives: High-Definition Television. HDTV is already available in a few countries.
However, there is no proper international HDTV standard. We must patiently await such a standard before taking the plunge - it will certainly be worth the wait.
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