What price New Year celebrations?
Shopping malls are promising the sun and the moon to shoppers
for the upcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Newspaper
advertisements scream that customers will receive discounts up
to 60%. Too bad, we can’t afford to go on shopping sprees, as
before. Sri Lankans have been receiving blows below the belt for
some time, with regard to the government policy on price control
of essential commodities. Special offers, discounts and the
sales staff greeting customers with bright smiles don’t reflect
the true atmosphere at shopping malls. From the moment patrons
grab their carts and wind up at the cashiers, hearts beat aloud
for fear of not being able to survive the month, after settling
a thumping bill.
Apart from the luxuries that these shopping malls have to offer,
most Sri Lankans wonder to what levels they should curtail their
spending, when shopping for the New Year. New Year traditions
and the much praised Sri Lankan hospitality could take a beating
this festive season, due to the high prices of goods. Be the
least surprised this New Year, if the kevum, kokis and aasmi
have shrunk in size and the much loved katta sambal is served
only for the first helping of milk rice.
The news segment on one of the country’s television channels, on
Wednesday, brought a shock. The news presenter read that the
businessmen, who stock rice in bulk, would be compelled to jack
up prices during the festive season. The reason for this, they
say, is due to the fluctuating patterns in the present weather
conditions. Television viewers wouldn’t doubt the credibility of
the television channel’s reporting. But they wouldn’t ‘buy’ the
story that the price hike on rice was influenced by the weather.
The present rice stocks would have been accumulated from
harvests many months ago, probably, when the weather was fine.
We all know that businessmen, who stock rice, have the habit of
making life miserable for us by creating an artificial shortage
of rice. However confusing the reasons given for these price
hikes are, one thing is clear: the government’s role in
controlling the prices of an essential item such as rice, seems
inadequate. Rice is an essential commodity but, big time
businessmen, with vested interests, seem so powerful in deciding
what price we pay for rice and its supply to the market.
Already, essentials such as meat and eggs are off the Consumer
Price Index. Isn’t the presence of rice, amongst essential
There was also much speculation in the past few days of a price
increase on petrol. The Sri Lankan Government has mastered
reading the minds of the people. They wouldn’t be that foolish
to jack up prices of essential goods, especially at a time when
the country’s majority is gearing up to celebrate an event as
important as the New Year. We may not see price hikes in fuel,
the whole of next month. This would give us an opportunity to
use our vehicles generously during the New Year, a period when
all work, including the public transport service comes to a
The New Year is a time when one could measure a person’s
progress. There would be little to talk of progress, if one has
to make do with the previous year’s budget, when celebrating the
New Year. While we toil to earn that extra income to have a
decent assortment of food on New Year’s day, the government
continues to spend lavishly on an ongoing war and maintaining a
‘jumbo’ Cabinet. The living standards of the present
government’s ministers are higher than that compared with those
in the previous governments. In reality, this reflects the
progress of the citizenry, because they are paying more taxes to
the government than before.
The New Year won’t be complete, if only the Sinhalese celebrate
it. The Hindus love to make milk rice just as we do, attend
religious ceremonies in the kovil and, most importantly, visit
their loved ones and relatives, even if they have to travel far
and wide within the island. But the prevailing security
situation in the country has curtailed their liberties. They
might have visions of hiring a vehicle to visit their loved
ones. Most of these looked-forward-to visits could be best
termed as family reunions they dream of. With regard to the
majority, their visions of such visits remain blurred.
The Koha will sing, the world will spin and April 13 will come
in a jiffy. All of this is inevitable. Anywhere in the world, a
difference that upgrades the life of people comes when focus is
shifted from the inevitable to what can be changed. Change need
not be a prominent word in the vocabularies of kids and
teenagers only. Grownups too, could change themselves, even the
world. (Hail Dr. Spencer Johnson for penning the bestseller ‘Who
moved my cheese’). Flipping through this week’s newspapers, it
was disheartening for to read that the government plans to
appoint a unit, with powers to curtail media freedom further.
Finishing with that bad news, I spotted something that cheered
me up. A New Year advertisement published by a renowned company,
had the words ‘An aluth attitude’ alongside a picture of a
bundle of unlit crackers. The rest of the advertisement read,
‘You don’t have to make a big noise’.
Sri Lanka, as a country, needs an attitude change from the top,
where the focus should be on the welfare of its citizenry.