Govt's move to reduce COL
With the Sinhala and Tamil New Year
around the corner, traders and retailers make the highest profits,
exploiting consumers to the maximum.
The Government taking cognizance of it took measures to reduce the
prices of several essential items.
The Cost-of-Living (COL) has been generally used as an effective tool
by successive oppositions to pressurise a Government. But the situation
has changed drastically this New Year as far reaching decisions taken by
the Government have been instrumental in slashing the prices of
When the Government initially looked at ways and means to find a
solution to the rising COL, big-time importers of essential goods were
summoned to Temple Trees for a fruitful discussion with President
Under the initiative of the President, a mechanism was formulated to
reduce the prices of essential goods. Eventually, the wholesalers agreed
to maintain the maximum price of ten additional essential items, apart
from the four items which already had a maximum price tag. The current
open wholesale price on some commodities such as sugar is a couple of
rupees less than what was agreed upon.
As the Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardena quite rightly pointed out
at a recent news conference, only four items were declared essential
items in the UNP's Presidential election manifesto of 2005. For example,
a kilogram of sprats was stipulated at Rs. 185, that too only for a
specified period of one year.
Thanks to the agreement reached between the Government and the Pettah
wholesalers, it has been agreed to maintain the maximum price of Rs. 165
for a kilogram of sprats, which is much lower than what the 2005 UNP
Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe promised.
As Minister Gunawardena points out, the prices of dried chillies and
sprats have come down by a significant margin per kilogram.
Similarly, the prices of 14 essential items, including canned fish,
dhal, green gram, wheat flour, potatoes and big onions, have dropped
sharply after the agreement was signed. Political opponents, who look
for opportunities to capitalise on achieving their ends, may argue where
on earth could one buy those commodities at these prices. But economist
heavyweight turned Minister, Bandula Gunawardena has drawn up made an
effective plan to meet the challenge.
Though the previous Government destroyed the CWE, Minister
Gunawardena has opened nearly 55 Lak Sathosa outlets to offer those
essentials at affordable prices. In order to strengthen this mechanism
and maintain an islandwide distribution, the Government would make use
of 6,000 odd multipurpose co-operative outlets to offer essential goods
at affordable prices.
There are ten economic centres, including those at Dambulla and
Welisara, operating smoothly. The brainchild of Minister Gunawardena,
the economic centre concept has thrown most middlemen out, thereby
passing on that price advantage to consumers. Simultaneously, Minister
Gunawardena has created a set of enemies who have been adversely hit by
the new move, which makes both the wholesale and retail prices a public
secret. Hence, the prices of those essential commodities are public
knowledge and suppliers to government institutions and other
establishments cannot quote the high prices they have been used to for
The Trade Ministry has also given more muscle to the Consumer
Protection Authority by invoking clauses of the existing Act, in the
best interests of the public.This is not just the beginning, but a
commendable effort by the Government to protect consumers. There have
been wholesalers who made extraordinary profits at the expense of the
poor consumers. Even though the prices in the international market have
virtually been the same, many of our traders exploited the consumers to
the maximum, especially during the festive season, be it the Sinhala and
Tamil New Year or Christmas.
The Government has now found an effective mechanism to protect
consumers against all odds. Instead of trying to take political
advantages, it's the duty of a responsible opposition to support the
Government in this cause.
No political party would like to remain in the opposition for too
long. Losing 14 successive elections, including two Presidential
elections is no doubt a long wait for any party. But that does not
justify the UNP making use of the New Year to harm national interests.
Responsible politicians should have an open mind and acknowledge the
good initiatives even by their opponents. This is absolutely necessary
if those politicians are genuinely interested in the well-being of their
people, not merely their party supporters. Constructive criticism is
welcome by all means so that the Government could rectify whatever
weaknesses associated with the mechanism introduced to reduce the COL.
Price control may not be the only solution to meet the challenge of the
Fluctuations in world prices and stability of the rupee against the
dollar are decisive factors. Nevertheless, if we could draw up a
mechanism to curtail excessive profit margins by the middlemen, we would
be in a position to meet the challenge. There may be certain areas that
could be strengthened in this mechanism. It's the duty of all
politicians, who too are consumers, to point out the plus and minus
points and help Minister Bandula Gunawardena in his unrelenting efforts
to protect consumers.