Up, up and away!

Yes this is another editorial on the cost of living. Yes most probably nothing much will come out of it, and most definitely this editorial too will be ignored by the powers that be. Yet it remains the duty of the media to highlight the plight of the masses who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet, hope that at least their children will have a better deal in life, and silently endure the many hardships that have been strewn across their path through no fault of their own.

If this was a practical joke, this would have been about the time that someone in government would say “gotcha”. For it is impossible to imagine that it is anything less than a big joke that electricity rates are to be raised by 40 percent for the average citizen, petrol prices rising at a dizzying pace and overall inflation remains above 20 percent for many a month. LP Gas, a near vital necessity to about 30 percent of all households in the country, has also not been spared by the never ending price hikes. Last week, prices increased by Rs. 260 overnight. Rail fares have doubled, and bus fares are on the constant up and up, thanks to the fuel price hikes.

This blasphemous badgering of the average citizen is taking place while those who are responsible for this pathetic state of affairs, are happily indulging themselves along with their extended families, in the luxuries afforded by the tax payer.

Many of these woes of the masses are not the result of the world market prices, or the result of the many “uncontrollable factors” that are said to affect our daily existence. If that is the case countries like India should be showing similar symptoms of a bad economy. Yet that country maintains its inflation at around four to five percent, and the Indian rupee has been continuously strengthening against the dollar in the recent past.

Contrary to the manthra that is being chanted that global price hikes are affecting the Sri Lankan consumer, the ironic truth is that the weak dollar is making global commodities cheaper, at least for the rest of the world.

The war has become a good selling point for this administration, not only to maintain popular support even though little has been achieved on any other front, but also to provide an excuse for a spectrum of issues from rising gasoline prices to the increase in the price of coconuts. President Rajapaksa has repeatedly asked for the general public to tighten their belts, promising that the final victory against the terrorists is nigh, and the Utopia we are all dreaming of is not too far away.

The time for excuses and eloquent speeches are long past. If the government does not realise the dire straits the people of this country have fallen into, just to make a decent living with three square meals per day, then the day that there will be mass unrest is not be too far away. That day will need not be politically motivated or require political leadership. The inability of this country’s opposition to rally a soul will not stand in the way of the stampede of the masses driven by the hunger in their stomachs. If not acted upon now to ease the suffering of the people, that day of mass unrest will be nearer than we think.

Even the likes of those who rule our country, with their limited knowledge should know with a little bit of common sense that if wastage is minimised, corruption is reduced, and this country lives within its means, then the conditions for the man on the street can be infinitely better.

While asking the public to tighten their belts, has the government taken any measures to reduce the colossal waste it incurs in maintaining a mammoth cabinet? Has a single political figure, even as a token shown that they are willing to minimise the wastage that has resulted from their extravagant lifestyles? After repeated cries of corruption, has a single minister or public official been held accountable for their actions?

The Chief Justice recently said that those who pilfer public money are cursed. In a country where justice to be served against those pilfering takes far too long in coming, let us hope that at least the curses of the masses will encourage those in power to open their eyes to the plight of those they claim to rule.


Leave the scribes alone

Incongruously, the Rajapaksa administration has got together a ‘media policy aimed at creating a responsible media culture’ in the country. Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa announced the government’s grand plans for the establishment of a responsible media at the cabinet press briefing on Friday.

Of all recent governments that have reigned in Sri Lanka in the recent past, the Rajapaksa administration has one of the worst track records with regard to guaranteeing the media is allowed to function freely and without interference in the country. Scribes have been killed, beaten and harassed in the last two years that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been in office. So bad has the situation become that the government Minister who stormed the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation with his pet thug in tow to ‘thrash’ the News Director of the station, has not even been admonished. He continues to hold a ministerial post.

He was made to beat it by the staff members of SLRC, who braved the wrath of this regime to ensure justice was done by their colleague, and no doubt he rues the day he stepped in. But the fact remains that Mervyn Silva has not only got off scotfree, but is also at liberty to continue to harass and abuse SLRC staff members and have them assaulted on the way home at night. Their children are being sliced up in their sleep. If all that was not bad enough, the powers that be have also set the CID upon them to ‘investigate’ this grave wrong done to their precious Minister Mervyn Silva.

Under circumstances, we can do nothing but scoff at this latest media policy. The best media policy any government can come up with right now would be to leave the scribes well and truly alone. Nothing further will be necessary. We do not need policies to teach us to be responsible: nor guidelines within which to practice our profession. What we require is for government tentacles to be removed from the realm of news reporting in Sri Lanka once and for all.