The bitter truth | Daily News

The bitter truth

True to his word, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his maiden Address to the Nation, laid bare the true picture of the country's economy with grim forebodings thrown in while calling upon the public to prepare for great sacrifices if the country is to see through the darkest phase in its post-Independence history. The Premier presented things as they are and was forthright when he stated that things can only get worse before they get better. He said the next couple of months will be the most difficult ones in the lives of all citizens.

The country, he said, had only enough foreign reserves left to pay for just one fuel shipment. There was a severe shortage of a number of medicines including medicine for heart diseases and the anti-rabies vaccine. The payments owed to medicines and medical equipment suppliers amounted to Rs.34 billion. The situation regarding kerosene and furnace oil is also urgent, he said, adding that there is a possibility of daily power outages increasing to 15 hours a day although they have already obtained funds to avert this crisis.

Premier Wickremesinghe also said he planned to present a Budget aimed at providing relief to people to tide over the immediate difficulties. This is welcome, because the people have come to the end of their tether and are getting desperate with each passing day. There is no knowing when the breaking point would come, unleashing social upheaval as never witnessed before in this country. We see an increase in flared tempers at filling stations and LP Gas outlets with people even dishing out rough treatment to the Police. The law enforcement is made to look increasing feeble and ineffective amidst the raging public anger which could develop into dangerous proportions.

Premier Wickremesinghe should take immediate steps to allay public frustration over chronic shortages of essential items and end the queues. He should take prompt measures to bring down the Cost of Living (CoL) that is spinning out of control with each passing day, causing hardship and oppression not only among the have-nots but also among the middle class and the reasonably wealthy.

As the Premier maintained in his address, the next two months will be an extremely difficult period since the promised aid would take that much time before being made available. However, he should consider providing some form of interim relief in his proposed Budget at least for the most vulnerable segments who are placed in a very precarious situation.

The Premier has also taken a firm decision to privatize the National Carrier which had been bleeding the economy all these years. The loss suffered by SriLankan as at March 2021 amounted to Rs. 372 billion. As the Premier succinctly put it, this loss is shouldered mainly by people who have not even seen the inside of a plane. He also hinted that the loss making Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) could go the same way. Hard decisions will have to be taken if the country is to come out of this rut.

This is no time for sentimentality and accusations of selling national assets. The country is not economically placed to continue to put up with loss making State institutions. The time has come for bold decisions and hard options. The bitter pill has to be swallowed. The IMF or any international aid agency will not give us aid on a platter. They will insist on reforms, the chief of which would be to seek alternatives vis-a-vis loss making State ventures. The CPC and the CEB, needless to say, are bursting at the seams made worse under Yahapalanaya, when both main parties ruling in harness packed these institutions with supporters of both parties.

We must at least now draw the line and henceforth all State institutions should be made profitable, economically viable institutions. Let the present crisis make the current leaders realize the follies of the past and do away with all populist projects and vote buying exercises that guzzle up public funds.

Premier Wickremesinghe, with his decades of experience, political acumen and international stature is the right man to clean up the Augean Stables. Even some prelates who were his bitterest critics have today hailed the UNP Leader as an intelligent and pragmatic politician whose international standing was never in doubt, through which means he would succeed in drawing the necessary foreign aid to pull the country out of the present economic crisis.

To those who make light of his achievement of becoming Prime Minister while having only himself representing Parliament from his party, the Premier has a ready answer in drawing a parallel with Winston Churchill. The British wartime Prime Minister had only three Members, including himself, in the House of Commons from his party, but was entrusted with the Premiership since it was widely thought that he was the right man for the job at the right time. Similarly in the minds of most, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the right man to win this country's economic war. It is indeed a case of horses for courses.



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