4th June 2000

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Citizen Perera shot down

Shell Lanka, which has nonchalantly raised gas prices enjoying the monopoly granted to it by the government, says that the company is merely 'breaking even' in its local operations. If Shell is to be believed, it means that the average citizen of this country cannot meet today's prices with today's incomes.

An old coinage, 'clean suit empty pocket' can be modified then to read, LP gas economy on a kerosene oil budget. On the one hand, the economy has been sluggish, and has not looked buoyant, resilient or any of those sanguine things for a long time now. The war expenditure has been a drain the national exchequer for a long time, and this aspect of things needs no special elaboration.

The expenditure of the war has entailed wastage from top to bottom, and the government has done nothing worthwhile to streamline defence expenditure. Tender fixing has been second nature to the local brand of arms procurers, and the results of their operations are obvious from the huge towers that stick out like sore thumbs in Colombo and its environs. The conspicuous consumption of commission agents are denoted by these, and newly constructed bungalows with huge boundary walls in cities such as some in the hills, for instance.

But we are told in spite of the existence of these visible trappings of the trade, that we lost the engagement at Elephant Pass due to superior weapons that the enemy possessed. We are also told that the fall of Jaffna was inevitable if the government had not contacted arms dealers, and rushed them to Colombo five star hotels, and the Foreign Ministry had not worked overtime to contact Tel Aviv, Islamabad and Beijing to beg for arms at any price.

Whose bungling exactly was responsible for this state of affairs? The total war cost now by all accounts is twelve billion rupees pushed up by a two billion rupees due to the recent escalation of the crisis.

There has been a fallacy of sorts maintained by various interested parties that the war has not effected the domestic economy, which is a contention that is nailed securely by this week's price hikes of, not just gas but electricity, water and telephone tariffs. There has been a domino effect of failures in economic planning, and the effect was first felt in the Defence Establishment. The war has exposed the soft vulnerable underbelly of national fiscal policy, and now, the country is at the mercy of various rapacious elements such as transnational companies and assorted robber barons.

The state cannot divest itself of the responsibly of keeping the economy on an even keel by uttering the manthra that the war effort is a drain on the national coffers.

The war was badly prosecuted, and this is the first point at which the economy was exposed to the ravages of the merciless global monetary order.

Now, the attempt is to turn the argument on the flip side. It's the war per se and not the bad management of the war effort, we are told, which led to this predicament in which more money needs to be channelled for arms purchases. But in fact we came to this pass, because the war-economy was not handled well in the first place. There is no way in which any political dispensation can escape accountability on that count.

It may now definitely be too late to keep the war economy and the domestic economy entirely separate. But, if the atmosphere of insecurity that is engendered by the war is exacerbated by burgeoning economic chaos, that will be a short route to the ultimate disintegration of the social fabric. We hope this government does not want to have that disaster on its collective conscience.

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