The cost of hope

For a very long time, hope has been keeping the Sri Lankan people alive. Ravaged by war, plundered by her leaders and even hoodwinked by fate, the people of this country have proven time and again they will not give up on hope to wish for a better day tomorrow. Even though the collective intelligence of the population may indicate otherwise, the masses have repeatedly gone to the polls to cast their ballots to alternate between two political parties hoping against all odds that they will do something, a little thing to better our lives. Each time we, the people, have been played for a bunch of suckers. While we watch with awe the rapid development of our neighbouring nations, we are left to digest the many creative excuses that are milled to keep that ever enduring Sri Lankan hope alive.

There has now come a time when even the resilience of the Sri Lankan people is being tested as never before. It is not a happy state of affairs when one has to barter ones dignity just to have three square meals a day. It is the ultimate humiliation as a human being when the realisation dawns that you are not able to provide the basic necessities for your dependents. Many Sri Lankans had to face that humiliating prospect this Avurudu season. With the cost of essentials skyrocketing beyond the grasp of even the middle class citizen, it was no wonder that the nation’s Avurudu spirit was damp and gloomy. A country which used to pride itself on her self-sufficiency of yester years, particularly over its staple rice, today is reduced to a pauper, going around with a begging bowl to feed its people. Ironically, the powers that be project as a great victory the ability to get another country to sell the commodity to us.

In a desperate attempt to control the price of rice, the government has now imposed a price ceiling on the item. It brings back memories of another administration which tried to force retailers to sell bread at Rs.3.50 some years ago. That ill-conceived adventure failed miserably as soon as the market forces dictated otherwise and bread prices doubled. Of course, bread at Rs. 7- double the cost at which it was promised back in that administration is starting to look very good, given that the poor man on the street now pays a whopping Rs.35 for his loaf every day.

It is important to understand the reasons for this exuberant cost of living in our country. We are told that it is soaring because of the ‘world market forces.’ There is some truth in that claim. Globally, there is a food crisis which has prevented certain countries from importing items such as rice and corn. It is also a fact that world oil prices have risen to an unprecedented level. Yet, to blame the world for the suffering of the people of this country is to be oblivious to the truth, hoping that it would ease the pain of having to deal with the grim reality.

That reality is that the economic policies of this country have failed time and again which has resulted in us being mere spectators while our neighbours are making giant strides towards development. Mismanagement and corruption that have been plaguing this nation for decades, is more to blame for our precarious situation rather than the word oil prices. If this were not true, then inflation at the rate of 28% should be experienced in regional countries which are maintaining their inflation at single digit levels. If an economy is generating wealth for its population, then inflation is a natural phenomenon but when the income of the average household remains the same, this hyper inflation becomes a death blow which will drag many below the poverty line.

Hardships in the kitchen are nothing new to our people. The long ration queues and the Hal Polla are still engraved in the nation’s memory. Whatever challenge is thrown in their path, people in this country, true to their reputation will endure it. Then they will walk to the polls and express what they have to say with their ballot. It is hoped that during these difficult times the leaders of this land will be sensitive to the suffering of her people. When they lavishly spend while on foreign tours, when they allow their stooges to plunder the country’s wealth and when incompetent people are placed in crucial positions based on association rather than merit, it is best remembered that the Sri Lankan people will always have the last say. It is naïve to hope that it will be any different to what they have said in the past.