It is not anti-government forces running riot at village fairs, disfiguring wayside walls with posters and launching signature campaigns that will bring down the Rajapaksa regime. They are essaying an ouster of the government in vain. They are shifting from issue to issue not knowing, as a clich goes, whether they are coming or going. The Opposition worthies should not sully their tender hands with paappa (wheat flour paste) or shout themselves hoarse at protests in the scorching sun to achieve that objective. Without exerting themselves and dissipating their energies, they can stay at home and enjoy a pint of cool bitter. For, there is no need for anyone to dislodge the present dispensation. The government is going hell for leather to commit hara-kiri. With its friends ruining things for it at the present rate, it needs no enemies.
A hungry man is an angry man. There is no end in sight to the soaring CoL and the public consternaton knows no bounds. In a country, where governments have been dislodged over a mere measure of rice, what prevents the people from taking to the streets to kick out the present bunch of politicians, for their failure to ameliorate their lot, may be the government s commitment to the prosecution of the war effort, which has been crowned with tangible results. But, as is fairly well known, when the wolf is at the door, patriotism of many people flies out of the window. So, the government ought to realise that it is skating on thin ice on the political front.
The escalating rice prices jolted the government into action at long last. Rice was declared an essential commodity (as if steep rises in prices could be contained with gazette notifications alone). Thereafter precious little was done. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) informs us that since there are different kinds of rice, it cannot regulate prices without a list of rice varieties etc., from the government. The CAA will have to wait till kingdom come! It is surprising that a government which grants pay hikes and enhanced perks to parliamentarians and issue them and some public officials with duty free vehicle permits before you could say Jack Robinson, is dragging it feet on the list the CAA requires urgently. Is it that the mudalali Mafia is blocking it until their stocks are sold out?
Another measure the government hurriedly adopted to stabilise rice prices was to import it. India, which has, of late, suspended some food exports, relaxed those restrictions to help this country in dire straits. And the government imported 20,000 metric tons of rice to be released to the market through the co-operative network. It was only recently that we were treated to a big show where the government leaders handed over funds to co-operative societies with a view to reviving them in keeping with a proposal in President Mahinda Rajapaksa s Budget 2008. Alas, the much advertised consignment of rice is reported to have found its way into the Pettah market through the co-operatives! According to a report we carry today, the government failed to make sure that those rice stocks reached the target group the middle and low income groups who are the worst hit by the high rice prices.
We are not surprised at all. That the co-operatives would do so was a foregone conclusion. We warned the government against such sordid operations in our small way last January immediately after it announced its decision to import cheap rice. This is what we said in these columns on Jan. 19, 2008: `Co-operatives are notorious for inefficiency and corruption and the government will find it difficult to prevent the sale of rice to the private traders through the back door. It is hoped that the people won t have to get chits from politicians to obtain rice from co-operatives like in the bad old days.` Politicians are omniscient and consider it infra dig to heed such warnings. Or, is it that someone in the government saw to it that the market prices wouldn t be affected by a sudden increase in the supply of rice?
The government has gained notoriety for conflict of interest at higher echelons. Deputy Minister of Agrarian Services Siripala Gamlath owns one of the biggest rice mills in this country. Minister of Agriculture Maithripala Sirisena s brother is a big time rice miller capable of influencing market prices. The minister has sought to have us believe that he has nothing to do with his brother. A sucker may be born every minute but not every one of us is a sucker! With such politicians on board, how can the government pit itself against the private rice millers exploiting the public?
It was only the other day that the GMOA claimed it had reliable information that two government politicians were going to set up a pharmaceutical company, the insinuation being that the government s abortive attempt to prevent doctors from using brand names in prescriptions and to ban drug reps visiting hospitals was aimed at helping the new venture to come up. But, the good doctors seem to have dropped that charge as the government has capitulated to their demand for scrapping the scheme of prescribing drugs by generic names.
The sale of rice at issue smacks of some hanky-panky. It is also possible that the rice didn t reach the people through co-operative outlets owing to inefficiency and ineptitude of the state machinery. Successive governments have rendered state institutions empty shells by burdening them with their stooges. Politicisation has resulted in zero accountability in the state sector. No one gets punished for anything if he or she is in the good books of the ruling party politicians. Political appointees stay put no matter how corrupt or inefficient they are. Since Independence, politicians have busted all the systems that once held the state sector together as a cohesive whole for the benefit of the public. Their disintegration has placed governments and the public at the mercy of a commercial Mafia hell bent on profiteering. However, let no excuse be trotted out for what has happened to that consignment of rice.
It is imperative that a probe be ordered into the alleged rice racket forthwith. If someone has lined his or her pocket, he or she must be brought to book. Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva has famously said those who robbed public funds will end up in hell. That is, no doubt, the place where they belong. But, we venture to suggest that anyone who commits the shameful act of making a fast buck at the expense of the hungry be dragged to the Galle Face Green, pilloried and flogged generously, pending their hell bound journey.