In a democracy, it is the public interest that should take precedence over everything else. But, in this country, it has been relegated to the dustbin. The various institutions that have been set up to safeguard the public interest have undergone castration at the hands of powerful politicians and businessmen. The surreptitious insertion of Section 77 into the CAA Act in favour of Prima Company is a case in point. Obviously, a corrupt politician meddled with that Act to line his or her pocket at the public expense. But, who did it? Where are those parliamentarians campaigning for good governance? Why is the Opposition silent over this crucial matter, from which they can gain a great deal of political mileage? Is it because it fears that an SLFP leader who has now combined forces with it will get exposed?
It is reported that several new appointments have been made to the CAA. Why should the government waste public funds on that mechanism which has pathetically failed to protect the interests of consumers and become a rubber stamp in the hands of big companies pricing their products according to their whims and fancies?
Ideally, the CAA should function as a guard dog to hold unscrupulous businesses hell bent on exploiting consumers at bay. But, in practice, the CAA is no better than an ordinary canine sitting in the way of a killer private bus driver. It has to jump into a wayside gutter for survival! Similarly, when confronted by a multinational, the CAA retreats with its tail between legs. So, the government might as well abolish the CAA without spending any more money on that empty shell.
What is needed urgently is for the government to stand up to the traders` Mafia. The CWE was the best weapon that the state had at its disposal to deal with the private sector and regulate prices. It was systematically debilitated. Today, it is not even a shadow of its former self.
A country dependent on imports cannot ward off inflation that comes from overseas and the high prices of essential food items are attributable to price increases in the world market as well. But, the exorbitant prices we are being made to pay for certain commodities are largely due to price manipulations by business cartels. The Pettah Mafia, as is well known, controls prices of many imports over the telephone at will. The need for the CWE is felt more than ever! It must be restored to its pristine position for the benefit of consumers.
Increasing the local production is the only way to reduce the country`s dependence on imports. The government recently launched an ambitious cultivation drive but nothing much is heard of it these days. Why? Many people laughed like a drain, when Siddhalepa Vedamattaya (Victor Hettigoda), who was in the last presidential fray promised a milch cow to each and every family in case of his victory. But, the fact remains that he at least put his finger on a serious problem besetting the people and suggested a remedy in his own way. The solution to the soaring milk prices in the long run is developing the local dairy industry. (Having said that, we would like to draw our readers` attention to a well researched article in the Leisureland section today, which sheds light on ill-effects of milk consumption.)
Besides unconscionable profits made by importers, the high rate of inflation in this country, too, has, through its contribution to the devaluation of the rupee, led to increases in the prices of imports. This is something that the government is entirely responsible for. It has failed to boost its revenue by battling corruption, curtailing expenditure and preventing the dissipation of public funds. It is mostly dependent on indirect taxes, printing money and borrowing from highly inflationary sources. At present, Inland Revenue is said to be all out to recover its income tax dues. But, revenue from direct taxes will have to be at least 20 per cent of the GDP, if it is to be considered satisfactory. It is said to be still around 16 to 17 per cent.
Poor targeting of subsidies and handouts has constituted a drain on the state revenue thus aggravating the government`s economic woes, which automatically get translated into printing money or tax increases. Unless the economy is better managed and the rupee strengthened, there is no way of preventing the country from hurtling down a spiral of economic chaos.
Corruption takes its toll on the economy. Last week, US Ambassador in Sri Lanka Robert Blake pointed out, quoting a recent study on Sri Lanka, that the country`s GDP would have grown at least by two percentage points last year but for corruption. Battling corruption doesn`t cost the government anything. It only requires the will of the rulers to do so for the benefit of the public.
Thus, it should be seen that helping consumers requires much more than propping up scrawny institutions which are capable of taking on only soft targets like a humble shop keeper cheating a customer but buckle under pressure from big businesses. The government ought to have a programme of action to build the economy by, inter alia, increasing local production, eliminating waste and corruption.
Toothless poodles are of little use!