Alleviating the people's lot
There is some comfort in the thought that the cost of
living burden is receiving the attention of no less a person
than President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has called on his officials
to come out with practicable programmes to ease the consumers'
lot and this is how it has to be.
This amounts to an admission that the state machinery and
bureaucracy are not doing enough on this front and frankness is
a first step towards taking on the very substantive problem of
the current cost of living.
The addressing of such issues at a time when the Cooperative
Movement is very much in focus on account of the anniversary of
its founding is most appropriate. The spirit of cooperation
needs to be strongly established among the people and the state
would do well to revive those institutions of the past, such as
the traditional cooperative outlet, which did not prove to be
the most vibrant of public institutions but helped to a degree
in alleviating the cost of living burden by providing for the
people essential commodities at reasonable, purse-easy prices.
Today's Sathosa outlets are to some extent meeting the aims
of the 'cooperative stores' of yore and our hope is that these
institutions would continue to function dynamically. However,
they need to be popularized more and more among the public and
this task too must be taken on by the state.
It cannot be overlooked that price control is central to the
task of containing the cost of living. This approach is no
longer fashionable in these times of mainly the 'market economy'
but the state would need to have a degree of supervisory control
over the prices of food commodities in particular, if a dent is
to be made in the living costs question. The Consumer Affairs
Authority is a state organization of the desired kind in this
context and one could be glad that it is doing its best to check
and contain the prices of essential goods and services. However,
bodies such as the CAA should project themselves more
pronouncedly in public for a more effective controlling of
As the state authorities themselves have noted, some relief
given by the state to importers of essential goods are not
percolating down to the consumer. This is an aspect of the cost
of living question which must be examined further and remedied.
The state would need to ensure, by evolving the necessary
machinery, that relief offered to the producer or importer is
passed on to the consumer. In the normal course of things, the
numerous middlemen who stand in between the producer and the
consumer earn substantially by progressively inflating prices,
very often very arbitrarily.
It is for these reasons that the spirit of cooperation and
the institutions that go with it need to be revived and rendered
robust once again. It is our belief that if these middlemen
could be side-stepped, goods and services could be offered to
consumers at reasonable prices.
President Rajapaksa is doing right by visiting the provinces
and seeing for himself how local level public institutions in
particular are functioning.
If the cost of living burden is to be lightened, it must be
ensured that these bodies prove truly participatory
organizations where people could interact and work out solutions
to their problems in a spirit of unity. Besides, they must agree
on ways of getting their produce to the markets independently
and on distributing the proceeds equally.
However, consumers must themselves work more vibrantly
towards their just interests. This spirit is sadly lacking among
the local public. 'Anything goes' seems to be their attitude on
If the consumer is to get value for his money, not only must
the state work towards this end, consumers themselves must forge
ahead collectively and vibrantly towards the fulfillment of