Riding the fuel crisis | Daily News

Riding the fuel crisis

The economy is today placed in such a perilous position that all efforts should be made to ensure that no precious resource is needlessly squandered away through deliberate waste and carefree attitudes. One such priceless resource that needs to be carefully preserved is fuel, stocks of which are fast running out and which the Government is hard put to replenish due to the worsening dollar crisis. Doubts have been cast as to whether there are sufficient stocks of fuel for this month amidst a looming power crisis.

Already the crude oil refinery at Sapugaskanda has been shut down for want of dollars to import crude oil and the country will have to carry on with the existing stocks that are fast depleting with the drastic increase in the use of diesel and petrol by motorists now that the country has returned to normality.

In this backdrop, it has been reported that Rs. 1.5 billion worth of fuel was wasted due to traffic congestion in Colombo on Monday when the go-ahead was given for all activities stalled due to the Coronavirus to resume. According to Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) Chairman Gemunu Wijeratne, this was the highest loss ever recorded after two years. He said buses were operated at speeds of 4 to 5 kilometres per hour in Colombo City. “Two years ago, it was reported as a Rs.1 billion fuel loss on a single day. Now it has increased by another Rs. 0.5 million due to ad-hoc planning,” he told the media. He estimated that about 60 per cent of public transport is operating and most of the private vehicles are back on the roads. One can only imagine the position when all the vehicles start hitting the roads. Some remedial steps will thus have to be taken by the authorities in the face of an impending fuel crisis of gigantic proportions.

The situation already appears to be reaching crisis proportions from the looks of things. Given the importance of fuel in the daily lives of people all efforts should be directed at conserving fuel wherever possible until such time the balance of payment crisis is brought to manageable levels. If push comes to shove, fuel rationing should be considered as an option. One way of controlling the number of vehicles on the road is to adopt a two-tier fuel pricing scheme for the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, so that rich vehicle owners will be made to pay for their fuel at the increased price while those with lesser means continue to receive fuel at a subsidized rate. Today, a person who travels in a Mercedes Benz and a three wheeler driver are charged the same price for fuel at the filling station, which is unfair and unjust.

This is at a time when the Government is striving hard to conserve fuel given the dollar crunch. In fact, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila has already asked the CEB which is in debt to the CPC to the tune of Rs.9 billion to order its own fuel. A similar ultimatum has also gone out to the National Carrier which too is heavily in debt to the CPC. It is time that stricter measures are adopted to save fuel before the crisis gets out of hand.

We see many vehicles with only the driver being the sole occupant. Vehicle owners should be encouraged to give ‘lifts’ to other motorists in their neighbourhood to get to their workplaces so that there would be fewer vehicles on the roads thus saving fuel on a large scale.

Sometime ago a scheme was arranged for vehicle owners to drive their vehicles to a designated spot from where they could be ferried to their workplaces in the City, by A/C buses. This would have made the City not only free of traffic jams but also saved a lot of fuel. Alas, like all such schemes this one too was not very successful. If it took off, the present crisis could have been minimized to a great degree. The increased fuel prices are having a domino effect with almost all consumer items linked to transport shooting through the roof.

The fuel subsidy is not the only way by which the rich benefit. They also benefit by price reductions granted by the State for essential consumer items targeting the poor, by way of subsidies. It is time the Government finds ways to tax the ‘haves’ in more tangible ways than at present and pass on the benefit to the needy. We must also have more direct taxes than indirect taxes such as VAT. The rich ought to make sacrifices during these hard times.

Our politicians can certainly lead the way by doing away with their lavish lifestyles. Holidaying abroad in their numbers is hardly the example that will inspire the public to make sacrifices themselves. Moreover, protests launched by the Opposition against the rising Cost of Living are not going to change things overnight. This is a time for all to act with maturity and a sense of responsibility, putting aside parochial considerations.

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