Either bakery owners or the Consumer Affairs Authority worthies or we the public must go back to school! We seem to have a serious numeracy problem. Wheat flour price has been jacked up by Rs. 3.50 per kilo again and the bakery owners have increased the price of a 450-gram loaf of bread by two rupees. That is two loaves weighing 900 grams fetch four rupees?fifty cents more than the price increase per kilo! So, in real terms, the paan eating public will see flour price has gone up by over four rupees per kilo!
Wayside eateries, upon which the ordinary people are dependent?they are not entitled to heavily subsidised food at the Parliament canteen?have beaten bakers at fleecing the consumer. They have increased the price of half a loaf of bread by five rupees! A paan bage and parippu or era rathal pan um sambarum, which earlier cost thirty rupees, has gone up to thirty-five rupees overnight! The public has to grin and bear it.
The government says it will take the Prima Company to courts for having increased the price of an essential commodity in defiance of the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) order. It is puzzling why the government has stopped short of taking the bakery owners also to courts for exploiting and cheating the public. Raids must be conducted to check whether bread weighs 450g as claimed by them and is transported and sold under hygienic conditions. The eatery owners must also be told in no uncertain terms that the sky is not the limit. Those unscrupulous bakers making an unconscionable profit are behaving just like that proverbial bull which gored a man who had fallen from a tree.
Ideally, the best antidote to wheat flour price hikes would be for the people to switch over to rice. That is also the way to help the local rice growers who are swallowing agro chemicals by the gallon, unable to sell their produce and to give the national economy a boost by helping reduce the burgeoning imports bill. But, that switch over is not going to be easy as wheat flour has got into the genes of Sri Lankans, who have been eating paan for centuries since the arrival of the Portuguese in the country. On the other hand, bread is the poor man`s staple and over one half of Sri Lankans are languishing in poverty. For, bread goes with almost anything, be it a banana or a cup of tea or a humble wade. More and more people are turning to bread because of the prohibitive gas prices which have made cooking a nightmare and the ever increasing rice and vegetable prices. Busy lifestyles of the urban and semi-urban folk have also pushed the demand for bread up considerably. So, paan reigns supreme, having dethroned rice. The day may not be far off when it is said: When washed of dough, the baker is fit for the throne!
The poor man writhing in pain following a fall from a tree and a bovine attack has been gored again by another multinational bull. Consumers have got a Shell shock! Gas price has gone up by Rs. 38.00. Whenever Shell tries to jack up prices, the CAA makes all sorts of noises and stages vehement protests. It vows to cut Shell down to size. But, finally Shell has the last Laughf! We are told that Shell wanted an increase of Rs. 161.00 but the CAA approved a hike of only Rs. 38.00. Now that CAA has authorised a gas price increase, it ought to justify its decision with a breakdown of production costs of gas etc. The public has a right to such details.
There is a local bull awaiting its turn to gore the bloodied consumer. It is the private bus operator. Diesel price increases are usually a blessing for the bus mudalalis, who make use of them to jack up bus fares as much as they like. Taxi drivers do likewise when petrol prices go up, as if their vehicles didn`t do more than one kilometre to a litre of petrol.
The CAA is doing precious little about the snowballing effect of price hikes. Mum`s the word on part of the government, which claims to be pro-people. The Consumer Affairs Minister is bellowing rhetoric but traders continue to fleece the public.
The progenitors of economic liberalisation here told us that in a market economy, the consumer would be the king. That may be so. But, the fact remains that in the half-baked open economy we are saddled with, the trader has become the king of kings. Do we have a free market economy in the first place? If so, how could there be a wheat flour monopoly, a near monopolistic exploitation of the gas consumers and a powerful cartel controlling the prices of imported essential food items?
What the people are facing is nothing but economic terrorism, which has had a far worse impact on their lives than the other forms of terror. They are hit in the solar plexus repeatedly on a daily basis. They cannot even say paan, as it is popularly said. Has the government ceased to exist? Where are those who promised food on everybody`s table at affordable prices before the last presidential election? Are they here or still in Barbados?
It is hoped that the people won`t be asked to substitute cake for bread, firewood for gas and hoofing it for bussing.